Extra inning baseball book reviews for 2020: Throw, catch, repeat, listen, learn

On the official website for actor Dwier Brown, who played John Kinsella in the movie “Field of Dreams” with Kevin Costner, this autographed item is available for $24.99.

A Year of Playing Catch:
What A Simply Daily Experiment Taught Me About Life

The author:
Ethan D. Bryan

The publishing info:
Zonderveran Publishing
240 pages
Released Sept. 8, 2020

The links:
At the publisher’s website
At Amazon.com
At BarnesAndNoble.com
At Powells.com
At Indiebound.org
At Target.com
At the author’s website

The review in 90 feet or less

There isn’t much else at the intersection of sports and religion — specifically, of baseball and the soul — that evokes such a deep emotional response like a game of catch.

Of course, the “Field of Dreams” aspect of a father and son having a moment of mystical qualities has made this even more powerful. It led to actor Dwier Brown coming out with his own book in the summer of 2014 to explain how he’s been affected by those who’ve been affected by his brief moment at the end of the 1989 movie.

“They are like confessions,” Brown once told us, looking at the age of 55 pretty near the same now as he did as when he was 30, “and I start to feel like a priest when those moments happen.”

Ethan Bryan’s confession is he didn’t do this book on purpose.

This “Catch365” project involved him meeting up with more than 500 people from all walks of life.

“Thankfully, God seems to have a place for whimsey in this wonderful world,” he writes in the preface, expanding on how having a toss with each of his two daughters on Jan. 1, 2018 led to another, and another, and …

Bryan, a Kansas City Royals fan from Springfield, Mo., packed up six Wilson gloves and ended up on a road trip in quest of not just having a catch with someone on every day of the calendar, but also finding out what it means to connect with people in such an intimate, otherwise taken-for-granted activity.

From finding catch partners who are from his own family – his wife, on Valentine’s Day; his mom on Mother’s Day – to sports writers, preachers, kids, school teachers, musicians and comedians, his trip also went to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, his college alma mater, some minor-league baseball parks and whatever else might draw him to a destination – covering 10 states, 12,000 miles and a sense of faith.

From the start of Chapter 12, page 113:

The catch-playing year grew into a project of the heart. Each day, I gave all my attention to my catch-playing partners, learning their stories while delighting in shared time tossing a ball. In the early days and weeks, I was concerned I would burn out halfway through the year or never want to play catch again if I actually succeeded in completing every day. Neither one could be farther from the truth. As the year progressed, I grew more passionate about playing catch, about discovering fun each and every day. Throughout the year, I felt as if I was discovering the real me, the me God whispered into creating, with each and every game of catch. Play is that sacred space where we can best join in and the divine laughter and delight in who we were made to be. No wonder we lost track of time playing: we are dancing with one foot in eternity.

At a certain point, you have a book, even if it doesn’t reveal itself to you until the process begins, and then unfolds are you decide not to write it as a journal, but connect dots, soak in the experience and start penning chapters — starting with his own journey to Dyersville, Iowa to the Field of Dreams site, with his dad, on Day No. 206.

“I could live in Iowa,” dad admits. Bryan even connected with Brown to relay the experience.

One more story from Jeff Passan, author of “The Arm,” whose research on those who had Tommy John surgery even made Bryan think about what would happen if his project got derailed by an arm injury he didn’t see coming.

“My favorite story was my biggest screwup,” Passan admits to Bryan, “saying (eventual Angels free-agent signee) Shohei Ohtani couldn’t hit. It reminds me how fallible I am and how incredible baseball is. Some of the brighest minds in the game can look at someone and see something and be incredibly wrong. To me, that encapsulates the beauty of the game.”

How it goes in the scorebook

If “Eat, Pray, Love” is one method for someone in search of clarity, God only knows a glove, ball and time works too.

Consume the activity. Play to pray. Love every aspect of it. And be thankful for the experience.

We don’t need to complicate things. It’s about the ability to stay in the moment, and find impact on how it can ignite pure joy.

And here’s the catch: When you come across this book by accident, as we did browsing the shelves at the local bookstore, it feels far more organic, much like the exercise Bryan did. Perhaps telling someone else about this book takes away some of that magic, but we’re willing to take that chance.

If not on the spot where other baseball books are found, also look for it on places designated for  inspiration & spirituality or Christian self help.

It may not have a profound impact on this reader for awhile. Until I’m comfortable getting the glove out again, finding someone to social distance with, and let the experience take over. For now, I’ll let it simmer.

OK, one more quote for the road from Bryan, from page 36:

“Playing catch was an education with the best curriculum: stories. It was not only physical exercise, it was a daily workout in empathy, communication and compassion. Thanks to my catch partners, I received first-rate instruction in being a better human.”

More baseball-related work by the author

= “America at the Seams: 50 Stories in 50 States of How Baseball Unites our Country,” released in 2017, with Nathan Rueckert. If you have not yet connected with Rueckert’s Baseball Seams Co. website — he crafts pieces of art out of old baseballs — it is a must-visit site for unique gift ideas. Yes, Rueckert is a catch partner in this new book as well and has a blurb for the book: “Ethan’s whimsical, fun-loving journey, told beautifully, combined with his take on life and relationships is a breath of fresh air. It also took me on my own unexpected journey of self-reflection that inspired me to once again chase my dreams, to make room for play, and to prioritize listening to people with experiences much different from my own.”

= “Dreamfield,” released 2017: Bryan tries to relive high senior year of high school at 41.

= “Striking Out ALS: A Hero’s Tale,” released in 2013. Bryan goes to the Kansas City Royals’ Fantasy Camp in Surprise, Arizona, to raise money and awareness for high school baseball coach Howard Bell, a Springfield, Missouri legend recently diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease.

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