Perhaps the shortest of all baseball books may also be the best ...
A few months ago the 19th Century Charitable Association held an event called "Chicago Blues," a combination concert and book signing. Being both book and blues lovers, and friends of one of the guys in the band, we ventured to Oak Park, Illinois, for what sounded like a fun evening at the Association's historic building on Forest Avenue, just north of Lake Street.
Authors Libby Fischer Hellmann and Kevin Guilfoile, who both contributed short stories to the anthology Chicago Blues: A New Collection of Crime Stories about the Real Windy City (edited by Hellman), talked about the book, and then a blues band featuring the amazing Pistol Pete (plays every Monday at B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted) played two killer sets.
There was a break before the music started. The authors retired to the building's lobby to sign books. Since I have my name on a couple of books myself (Waiting for the Cubs and Old Comiskey Park), I like to support other writers whenever possible. So we strolled back to their table to buy an autographed copy of Chicago Blues.
But there was another book on the table.
Guilfoile has written a number of books, including Cast of Shadows which was named one of the best books of 2005 by both the Chicago Tribune and the Kansas City Star. But the volume we noticed was small and simply bound in stiff green cardboard, much like a pocket-sized notebook. This makes sense because A Drive into the Gap is published by Field Notes, a company that specializes in "memo" notebooks.
Wife of Admin chatted about it briefly with the author. Guilfoile described it as a nonfiction book about baseball, and about his father. It was only a few additional bucks, so we added it to our purchase of Chicago Blues.
And then I forgot we had it. A couple of weeks ago Wife of Admin picked it up and read it in one sitting. She immediately told me that I had to read it. But, again, I put it on my stack of books and soon it was buried by more recently purchased volumes.
A few days ago I was looking for a quick read. I picked up Chicago Blues thinking a short story would do the trick. A Drive into the Gap lay under the much more hefty collection (456 pages!), almost disappearing among thicker tomes. The Cubs had been playing good ball (this was before the Samardzija trade) and the All-Star Game was approaching, so I thought a baseball story was just the ticket.
A Drive into the Gap is more of an extended essay than a full-length book. The chapters are very short, sometimes only a single paragraph. But within its 69 pages Guilfoile creates a literary gem that seamlessly intertwines autobiographical sketches of his family life, his father's heartbreaking slide into dementia caused by Alzheimer's, and a mystery surrounding a Roberto Clemente bat on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
His father was a baseball executive who during his career worked for the Yankees, the Pirates, and the Hall of Fame. While growing up in Cooperstown, young Guilfoile played baseball almost every waking hour, weather permitting, at Doubleday Field. He met a lot of players and other celebrities while living there, and in Pittsburgh. Among his briefly described memories are an especially touching one featuring Marilyn Monroe, and an equally damning indictment of Barry Bonds.
But it's the counterpoint between his story of his father's illness and the mystery of the bat that captured me.
"Everybody loved your dad," Guilfoile was told over and over, and he makes you believe it. And you can feel in your soul, by the end of the book, that no one loved him more than Guilfoile himself.
The mystery of the bat was especially entertaining for this blogger because the author solves it through the study of archival photos and films. It all reminded me of a Wrigley Field mural and a certain blog of a couple of months ago!
Here's what I suggest. The next time you're ordering books online and you're a few bucks short of qualifying for free shipping, add A Drive into the Gap to your order, just like we did at the book signing. You'll be very happy you did.
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