Tuesday, December 28, 2004


Baseball book preaches to Red Sox ‘Faithful’

Early on, while the snow still flew in New England, writers Stephen King and Stewart O'Nan had summer on their minds. The two were ardent Red Sox fans, which is akin to saying, at least until last year, that they believed in futility.

Hell must have frozen over last year, for the prayers of the Red Sox fans were answered in dramatic fashion. That championship season, from the promise of spring training through the blossoming of a World Series champion,is chronicled in "Faithful," ($26, Simon and Schuster)

Not since the ‘war to end all wars’ ended in 1918 had the Red Sox won the World Series. Yet a combination of enduring belief and a good crop of off-season acquisitions by the Socks left King, O'Nan and a host of Red Sox nation diehards looking toward the promised land.

"We knew we had a good team, with our offense and adding (pitcher Curt) Schilling," said O'Nan during a phone interview. "And we got better and better as the season went on."

Nevertheless, that's hindsight. At one point during last year’s run, O'Nan, King and their fellow fans suffered a serious summer of discontent.

Here's how O'Nan described one tortuous night in that summer of pain:

"Sitting there by myself in the dark house, facing the screen, I have nothing to distract myself from the terrible baseball I'm seeing. There's no one to commiserate with or to help absorb the loss; it's all mine. We've hit the ball well enough and while our outfield isn’t close to their cannon-armed trio of Jose Guillen, Raul Mondesi and Vladi Guererro, we've fielded decently, but our pitching had been horrendous. All three pitchers we ran out there tonight got their butts whipped...It’s one o'clock, only a three-hour game, though with all the scoring it feels like four, four and a half. I feel crappy and blue. I feel like I've earned the day off tomorrow."

If, as they say, success has many fathers but failure is an orphan, imagine tens of thousands of orphaned souls among the Red Sox fans during those days. For many, wrote King and O'Nan, it looked like more of the same, another season doomed to end in whimpering futility.

But for the two writers, their collaboration helped make the worst of the season more than endurable.

O'Nan said he basically would write about every game, while King would compile about a month's worth of notes and material.

What he got from the experience, he said, is some of King's ability to encapsulate details.

"Concision," he said. "Steve is good at working in miniature, knowing how to describe events that then take on a greater significance...."

The two had become regular correspondents long before last season, but the book idea was born after the two finally met for a game.

"We had been e-mailing, and I proposed that we get together for a game," recalled O'Nan. "You know how it is, sometimes after you've been e-mailing someone and you meet them, you don’t always hit it off. But we hit it off pretty well; we're both huge baseball fans. And Steve is very much an average Joe."

Horror fiction, at which King has established himself as a master, was once the preserve of the titled and wealthy. Lord Dunsany, the author credited with developing the horror novel, was himself a peer. Dracula, of course, was a count. But King rose to fame by writing about everyman and his experience with the supernatural. Likewise, O'Nan, particularly in his "The Circus Fire," writes from the bottom up, telling how the average person feels when slapped by catastrophe.

That common touch is essential to "Faithful," for without the book is reduced to being a collection of musings from two extraordinarily literate guys. Their passion for baseball and their unpretentious manner, however, buoys the book, making the endless e-mail exchanges and the sometimes-confusing changes in narrators easy to digest.

O'Nan, however, is quick to disavow one section of the book that comes across as pretty snotty, his description of Ft. Myers, where the Red Sox play winter ball:

"...Fort Myers is an endless grid of strip malls and stoplights, and everyone drives like they’re either having a heart attack or trying to find an emergency room for someone who is. We fly past Mattress World, Bath World, Rug World. It's Hicksville, Long Island with palm trees and pelicans.”

But before beaning the Beantown backer, consider this: O'Nan said that the majority of material about Fort Myers, from the shrimp festival his family enjoyed to his happy gabbing with concessionaires and others at the city's two ball-parks, was cut by an editor.

That may be, but it’s a good thing there’s no winter ball in Port Charlotte – I’d hate to see him describe some of the cultural attractions and driving patterns along our stretch of the Tamiami Trail.

However, this is a book about being a fan, about loving a sport that has transcended its business nature to become a national icon

And what better fan is there than one who remains, through the good seasons and bad, “Faithful?”

James M. Abraham, a syndicated book columnist, can be reached at jabrajot@hpotmail.com.

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