My story, “The Face of Major League Baseball,” is out now in a chapbook from WhiskeyPaper Press along with two other short stories. The story will also appear in Volume 28:2 of CALYX Journal. I’m very excited about both of these things.
The chapbook is called The Face of Baseball and includes three linked short stories. All the stories involve baseball in some way. They hover around the lives of three women—Jean, her mother, Lorena, and Aunt Bea. For these women, baseball is a filter that helps them make sense of the world. It connects them to each other. Like all the best things, baseball brings them great joy and their fair share of pain. I am so happy thinking about these stories and these women being out there for people to read. You can buy the chapbook here, and if you wait until November 14, there’ll be a giveaway on Goodreads, too.
CALYX Journal was the first magazine in the U.S. to publish the art of Frida Kahlo in color. They’ve published women writers like Barbara Kingsolver, Sharon Olds, Julia Alvarez and Natalie Goldberg. That my words get to go in a journal where those women’s words and images have been—it’s more than amazing.
As you can see below, I’ve been waiting to write about this story for a long time, so here’s a bit more about “The Face of Major League Baseball.”
First draft written: April 2013
Number of drafts written: lots
Number of rejections: 18
From submission to publication: 2 years
There really is a pre-season Twitter contest to decide who is the face of major league baseball. The year I wrote the story, Joey Votto won. I watch a lot of pre-season baseball shows with my husband and they were talking about the contest. I had just joined Twitter, and so, of course, I had to vote for Joey Votto.
My daughter had been wanting to get on Facebook for at least a couple of years, and we wouldn’t let her. So I thought about what it would be like if you were a kid who wanted to vote for your favorite player, but couldn’t. What would you do?
All that was happening, but mostly what I thought was that I wanted to write a story about baseball. I wanted to write a story about something I love and something that’s connected deeply for me to family and home. I’d been thinking at the time about that idea—writing love rather than despair or cynicism or sadness. What kind of story would it make? That’s where I started on a very visceral level. I love baseball and I love my dad and the two of those are kind of inseparable. That’s what this story is about for me.
The first line
Then the first line came to me—“Joey Votto should be the face of major league baseball.” Emphatic, the way kids are. This is how the world should be—no questions, no quibbling, no intellectual discussion. The voice of a kid who feels left out and confused, but there’s this one certainty. Joey Votto should win this contest. That was what Jean believed deep down in her heart of hearts.
There were times when folks told me the real beginning of the story was later. They pointed to other lines, and I could see what they were talking about. The opening few sentences of the story introduce a lot of characters, a lot of names, and generally that’s a no-no when starting a story. But this line was where it started for me, because how often do you get to say something with such conviction? I’m an academic and a sociologist. I spend my life thinking about how the world is socially constructed and truth might be relative.
But all that goes out the door when it comes to sports. The Pittsburgh Steelers are evil. Period. The Reds should play the first game of the season every year. You cannot just pick and choose which team is yours—it has to be rooted in geography or family. Joey Votto should be the face of major league baseball. These things are unchanging and true. That’s the kind of certainty Jean feels.
If I was writing into love, which is kind of how I thought about it, I had to put Jean someplace I love. But she had to still be in Reds territory, too. The great thing about sports and teams is that they stretch out. The Cincinnati Reds don’t just belong to Cincinnati. They belonged to me growing up across the river in Kentucky and they belong to folks down the river in Indiana. It was completely plausible that Jean could be a Reds fan and live in Madison. So I put her in Madison.
When her and Deven get off the bus, they’re getting off the bus on Main St. When they’re in the library at the computers, I know exactly where they’re sitting. I know which house Jacie Green lives in.
The only thing in the story that’s not true to Madison is that Jean catches the bus to get to the game in Cincinnati, and you cannot catch a bus in Madison. I did find out, however, that in one Indiana town, you catch the bus at a Burger King. There was a scene that got cut in which Jean waits at the Burger King for the bus. I loved the scene, but the story was too long, so it had to go.
About small towns
So, this is my dead horse and I will just go on beating it. Life in small towns is not as homogeneous as people think. We’re not all the same. There’s diversity here, though it might be harder to see. I don’t think that in order to write about a diverse world you have to set your stories in a city. You just have to pay attention to where you live. I think there are quite a lot of people in cities who don’t have to work too hard to never encounter anyone who’s different from them. In a small town like Madison, that becomes a bit harder.
This is good and bad. I’m not saying small towns are utopias. Bad things happen here. Bad things have happened here lately. It’s much easier for me to live in Madison as a straight, upper middle class, white woman. But it’s easier to live almost everywhere in the U.S. as a straight, upper middle class, white person.
I guess what I would say is that I believe in the power of writing to reveal and perhaps create a different kind of reality. When I write about small-town life, that’s part of what I’m trying to do.
I wrote this story for Joey Votto and my dad, but mostly for my dad. When I think of baseball, I think of my dad listening to Reds games on the radio. Or trying to teach me to keep a box score at the game. Playing catch with me and telling me to suck it up when the ball hit my chest and I couldn’t breathe.
In “The Face of Baseball,” Jean’s dad is gone. He’s not a good father, so you might wonder what that has to do with my dad. Sometimes I find it easiest to write about the things I love by imagining they’re already gone. I wrote a series of stories about Madison in which the town has been destroyed by an apocalypse. I took Jean’s dad away from her and imagined the gaping hole it might leave in her life.
I could see that hole, feel its edges, by thinking about all the space in my own life that my dad fills. Who would I be without my dad, telling me I could do whatever I wanted, but it was going to take some work, so I better stop messing around and get to it. Maybe the kind of girl who becomes obsessed with Joey Votto.
I think this might be the best story I’ve ever written. I love these characters. I love the world. I love the pluckiness of Jean. I love the way she’s surrounded by people who love her. I love that even when she ventures out on her own into the world, she encounters kindness. In adding two other stories for the chapbook, I had a lot of material to draw on. I know Jean and Lorena and Aunt Bea really well. There’s a lot about their lives that didn’t make it into the pages of the chapbook.
I’m so happy they’re in the world. I hope other people love them, too.
The big launch for the chapbook will be at Village Lights Bookstore, on December 4th. I’m also honored to be this year’s honorary bookseller at Village Lights on Small Business Saturday, November 28, from 11-3.