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The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. - Jane Austen

Review: Dirk Hayhurst – Bigger Than the Game

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Dirk Hayhurst - Bigger Than the GameDirk Hayhurst was one of the first people I followed on Twitter, way back in 2009, and I’ve been keeping a keen eye on him ever since. I absolutely adored his first two books, The Bullpen Gospels and Out of My League, and I was very excited for this one too. When it first came out, I already had a to-read pile longer than my arm, so I left it for a little while before I bought it, but I really wish I hadn’t!

And as I expected, I finished the book within a day, just like the last two. Dirk is the first ballplayer to really let you inside the clubhouse and show you what the world of baseball is really like, and this book shows more of the struggles associated with being that person than the last two books did. During the time period of this book, Dirk is publishing his first book and it’s common knowledge within the clubhouse of his new team. And not everyone is happy with that, in fact, some people are downright angry.

This book contained a lot less baseball than the first two books, and as a result it felt a whole lot more personal. It’s very brave of Dirk to let us in so deep to his life and the struggles he was going through, it’s rare for someone in the public eye to be quite so honest and I found it endeared me to him a whole lot more. Obviously because the events in this book were a couple of years ago and since I’ve been following him on Twitter all this time, I knew how the book was going to end, but I still loved reading the journey.

Living in the UK, it’s kind of hard to get hold of good books about baseball, the local library definitely doesn’t have any. So I’m so glad that I’ve been able to read Dirk’s three books, and I really hope he writes more. His style of writing is so personal that it drags you in so that you feel like you’re experiencing it all along with him.

I’d really recommend this book to anyone who enjoys seeing inside a world that they know nothing about. And I don’t think that you necessarily have to be a baseball fan to enjoy Hayhurst’s books, although you definitely need to have an appreciation of juvenile humour – if an entire chapter devoted to a blocked and rapidly overflowing toilet rapidly turning into a ‘porcelain volcano’ doesn’t sound like your thing, then probably best to steer clear.

5/5

Review: Nicholas Sparks – Nights in Rodanthe

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20140422-195808.jpgWell I think this is a first; a Nicholas Sparks book that I didn’t enjoy. Usually I love his books and get lost in the romance, but I just wasn’t feeling it with this one!

I just couldn’t form any kind of connection to the main characters, I think in part because they were much older than I am, although this doesn’t usually cause a problem, so I think that probably wasn’t the main reason I didn’t get on with the book.

I think my main problem was that the two characters went from total strangers to being totally in love within what seemed like about 10 pages, and only a few hours of actual time in the book. I’m not saying that this couldn’t happen, but it just seemed very unlikely given the amount of time that they actually spent together.

I found the plot quite weak, and at only 180 pages, there wasn’t much to the book. It was a nice story for Adrienne to pull her daughter Amanda out of the grief that she was feeling by sharing her same grief, but I feel that the book could have been so much more if it was twice as long and the initial romance could have been spread over a week instead of a day.

Just very disappointing all round, I hope the next one is better!

1/5

A-Rod or A-Roid?

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A-RodWell I know that there are going to be a lot of posts about this over the next few days (and I have already read a fair few myself), but it’s been a while since I last wrote a baseball post and I can’t stop thinking about this one.

Last night, the long investigation was finally over and the  news came out that A-Rod and 12 other players have been suspended for their links with the now-defunct Biogenesis clinic.

The list of players suspended for 50 games includes:

  • Nelson Cruz (Texas Rangers)
  • Jhonny Peralta (Detroit Tigers)
  • Jesus Montero (Seattle Mariners)
  • Everth Cabrera (San Diego Padres)
  • Francisco Cervelli (New York Yankees)
  • Antonio Bastardo (Philadelphia Phillies)
  • Jordany Valdespin (New York Mets)
  • Fernando Martinez (Minor League)
  • Jordan Norberto (Minor League)
  • Fautino de los Santos (Minor League)
  • Cesar Puello (Minor League)
  • Sergio Escalona (Minor League)

There were three other players implicated (Bartolo Colon, Yasmani Grandal and Melky Cabrera), but they have already been suspended for taking PEDs and were considered to have served their punishment.

A-Rod, rather than a 50 game suspension, received a 211 game suspension, which takes him through to the end of the 2014 season, although he is now appealing the decision meaning he can play in the meantime. He was suspended for longer than the others due to “attempting to cover up his violations of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program by engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner’s investigation”.

Now I don’t know about you, but if I was being paid $29 million a year, and I had already admitted to taking steroids in the past (leading to the nickname A-Roid), I would try my damnedest to stay clean and not risk being caught again. A-Rod now says that he is “fighting for his life”, but what he is actually fighting for now is money and reputation. And unfortunately, even if his suspension is overturned, I think he has lost his reputation for good. There’s only so many times that you can be linked to steroids before people start to believe that it must be true.

The most baffling thing to me though, is that he is a 14 time All-Star and 3 time MVP award winner. He obviously started his career well; the contract he signed after the 2000 season made him the highest paid player in sports history –  a 10-year deal worth $252 million. In 1998 , when he was just 23 and in his 3rd full major league season, he was selected as Players Choice AL Player of the Year, won his 2nd Silver Slugger Award and finished in the top 10 in the MVP voting. If you’re that good, why risk it all by doing something that would jeopardise your whole career. And then if you admit it once, DON’T DO IT AGAIN! You cannot claim to be “fighting for your life”, if the situation is entirely of your own making.

I’m usually a firm believer in ‘innocent until proven guilty’, but I was burned by this with Ryan Braun, defending him to the hilt only for him to come out a year later and admit that actually, he did take steroids and he tried to cover it up. On a side note, I believe that the 65 game suspension that Braun received this year should have been doubled because of the way that he appealed the decision last year and blamed it on a poor Fed-Ex guy who was just doing his job.

A-Rod appeared in his first game back from injury last night, against my team the Chicago White Sox. And was promptly met with boos and chants of ‘PED’ and ‘Steroids’ during every at bat. And I think that until his appeal is over, he can expect that every time. People have lost faith with players linked to steroids and don’t want to go back to the position that baseball was in during the 90s when it seemed that pretty much every player that was beating records and doing well was juicing to get there.

I wish that A-Rod had just accepted his suspension like a man and then decided whether he wanted to come back after or not. But he’s 38 now, meaning that he would be 40 by the time his suspension was over, and although he’d still have 3 years left on his contract with the Yankees, the chances of him getting regular playing time against the younger players would be greatly diminished. But by appealing now, it means that when if he does get suspended, he’ll have gone out on a playing streak rather than going out on the injury list.

I wish him all the best, but for the sake of the game, I hope he will change his mind and take it like a man.

What do you think? Should we give him the benefit of the doubt until his appeal is over, or have you already made up your mind too? Let me know in the comments

Review: Dirk Hayhurst – Wild Pitches

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Dirk Hayhurst - Wild PitchesThis book was in e-book only format, designed as an add-on to Hayhurst’s last book Out of My League. It basically contained extracts that he wrote for the book that didn’t make it into the print copy, but that he though were too good to miss out. Most of the snippets from the e-book were quite funny, although with a few of them, you could tell why they hadn’t made it through into the actual book.

My main complaint was that the book didn’t really seem long enough. It cost about £4, but it only took me an hour to read, so it did seem pretty short. But I suppose that could just be because I was enjoying it so much that I was reading faster than usual.

I do love Hayhurst’s writing, it drags you into the moment and you find yourself laughing along with the characters and some of the more outrageous stories like ‘Do you remember when we had a bear throw out the first pitch and the pitching coach punched it in the face?’. But I especially liked the parts about him meeting and proposing to his wife. Call me a smushy romantic, but it was nice to see the more human side, as opposed to the boys-world of baseball. And the chapter at the end that his wife wrote was a brilliant touch.

I’m giving this book 4/5, but only because I would have liked it to be longer. I can’t wait for Hayhurst’s next full-length book!

4-5

Review: David H. Martinez – The Book of Baseball Literacy

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the-book-of-baseball-literacy-david-h-martinezThis book was quite a change from my last one and I was undecided about whether to include it in my ‘100 books’ as it most definitely a non-fiction book rather than a novel. But, I am 25 books behind on the challenge, with no chance of making it to the end, so I guess it doesn’t harm to include it.

The book was a guide to all things baseball, including some of the basic terms (like single, double, walk-off etc), along with a great big chunk of baseball history. That’s something that I’ve never really looked into before, so I found it all very interesting. Of course, any baseball fan has heard of Jackie Robinson and the breaking of the ‘color-barrier’, but I was very interested to learn more of the history behind it and to learn more about the negro-leagues. In fact, I found it so interesting that I’ve added a few books to my Amazon wishlist in the hopes that I may get them for Christmas.

A large percentage of the book was the statistics behind the game. For example, when describing each of the more basic baseball terms, we find out about the career and individual season records for each of those things. Rather than just feeling like a list of statistics, they were integrated so well into the rest of the book that it flowed seamlessly from fact to story.

The book also contained a lot of personal opinion from the author, although he does let you know that this will be the case from the start. And I liked that, it made it more of an easy read than if it was just fact after fact after fact. I enjoyed reading this book so much that I whizzed through it in 3 days, and I’m very excited to learn more about the history of a sport that interests me so much.

I have a couple of favourite quotes from the book. The first one comes from Ford Frick when he was confronted with the rumour that the St Louis Cardinals would rather go on strike than play a game against Jackie Robinson, the league’s first coloured player.

“I don’t care if half the league strikes. Those who do will be suspended, and I do not care if it wrecks the NL for five years. This is the United States of America, and one citizen has as much right to play as another.”

My other favourite quote is from the author when describing an old team called the Cleveland Spiders, which he describes as:

“A solid if unspectacular team for its first decade of existence, featuring Hall of Famers Cy Young and Jesse Burkett, the Cleveland Spiders in 1899 reached a level of crappitude unmatched in baseball history.”

I really enjoyed this book, so I’m giving it a solid 5 stars. I’d highly recommend it to anyone that wants to learn more about baseball, baseball statistics and baseball history.

5-5

#IStandUpFor

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For the World Series this year, MLB is partnering with a different charity for each game, and the first game is partnered with Stand Up 2 Cancer. Not as well known in the UK until last Friday, but I wrote a little post on it last year. MLB have invited everyone to fill in this card with the hashtag #IStandUpFor to let everyone know who they stand up for, and everyone in the stadium tonight will hold up their own card in a moving tribute.

istandupfor me-and-grandad

Review: John Grisham – Calico Joe

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john-grisham-calico-joeWhen I saw this book on the book people, I was intrigued. I knew that Grisham was more of a legal writer – I know my dad had read a lot of his books. But the description said that it was completely different to those books, and of course the cover drew me in straight away.

Now I don’t know what his legal books are like, but this book was very emotional. The start was a little confusing with two seemingly unrelated stories running in parallel, but it quickly becomes clear how the stories are going to intercept, even while you are praying for it not to be so.

Joe Castle is a rookie phenom for the Chicago Cubs. He’s smashing records left, right and centre, hitting home runs, triples, stealing bases and inspiring the hearts of Cubs fans nationwide. He’s 8 year old Paul Tracy’s idol, Paul collects his pictures from the newspaper for his scrapbook and follows his fledgling career game by game. One fateful day in August, Castle comes up to bat against the Mets starting pitcher: a bitter, spiteful and over the hill pitcher, named Warren Tracy. Yep, that’s Paul’s father Warren Tracy. A man who only barely holds the title ‘father’, he’s abusive and distant and unfaithful.

In Castle’s first at bat, a prolonged affair with numerous foul balls, Castle hits yet another home run. As he’s rounding the bases, he gives himself a little fist bump. Nothing too fancy, and definitely not intended to show up the pitcher.

But Warren is cynical and claims to be from the ‘old school’. He doesn’t like this gesture, and decides that next time up, he’ll get his own back. Cut to the third inning and Warren throws two normal pitches. It looks like Castle may escape unscathed, but in the stands, Paul knows better. He turns to his mum and says “He’s going to hit him”. And he’s right. The next pitch, Warren throws as hard as he can, straight at Castle’s head. There’s a sound of crunching bone and Castle hits the floor. The ball hit him in the eye, missing his protective helmet and shattering his skull – a 95mph projectile to the head tends to have that effect.

Castle never recovers. His sight is damaged in that eye and the subsequent stroke that he had causes him to walk with a limp. He’s a recluse, no-one has talked to him in years, and he has spent his days as a groundskeeper for the high school baseball field in his hometown.

Meanwhile, a 38 year old Paul Tracy receives a call from his father, he’s dying from cancer. Paul hasn’t seen his dad regularly since that day 30 years ago, but he knows that there is something that he has to do. He wants to take his father to Calico Rock to meet Joe Castle and apologise for what he has always maintained was an accident. He knows that it will be a struggle to get his dad to agree, and it doesn’t go quite as planned.

I really loved this book. It was a perfect mix of thrilling baseball action and heart wrenching moments as Paul recollects the troubles from his past and the repercussions of his father’s actions.

All in all, a fantastic book, and has left me wanting to try some of his usual books.

5-5

That time of year already…

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Well this post is risky for two reasons. Firstly, I’ve not done a baseball post for a while and I know that a lot of my new followers are probably expecting books, books and more books, so if you don’t have an interest in baseball, this post probably isn’t for you.

Secondly, I think I must post a bit too much about a certain Detroit Tiger whose name may rhyme with Dustin Berlander. A quick look at Google searches that have brought users to my website kind of confirms that:

Top search terms for the last year...

Top search terms for the last year…

But I digress. First of all, a quick mention of my beloved White Sox, who were having an unexpectedly awesome season, before fading away down the stretch to let the Tigers clinch the division in the last week. It sucks, but it sure made things exciting. Especially for what was supposed to be a ‘rebuilding’ year after losing Buehrle, Guillen, and many others last offseason.

So it came to the postseason and I had to pick a team to root for, and who better to root for than the underdog. So Nationals and Orioles it was – what a story for both teams this year. But alas it wasn’t meant to be (either that or I’m a huge jinx), and both teams were knocked out in thrilling Game 5 action. Whether the Nationals could have made it with Strasburg is a whole ‘nother blog post. So now I’m of course cheering for the AL which leaves me with either the Yankees or the Tigers – I think we all know this leaves me with really only one choice – GO TIGERS!!

Which is not too bad for me, because my favourite non-Sox player happens to be their star pitcher.

My name is Louise Radcliffe, and I do NOT post too much about Justin Verlander...

My name is Louise Radcliffe, and I do NOT post too much about Justin Verlander…

He’s pitched lights-out this season, and I think there’s a very good chance that he’ll be up for Cy Young again, as much I would like Chris Sale to win after his stellar season. Verlander pitched a complete game shutout in his last game against the Oakland A’s – the decisive Game 5 of the ALDS. He also had a 9 – 2 record with a 1.65 ERA for the season at Comerica Park, which put the odds firmly in his favour – especially opposing a Yankees team stripped of their Captain after Jeter suffered a fractured ankle putting him out for the rest of the post season.

Yes, another gratuitous Justin Verlander picture, just because I can...

Yes, another gratuitous Justin Verlander picture, just because I can…

So although I can’t stay up to watch this game tomorrow (why do all postseason games start at 8pm ET – 1pm BST?!), I’ll definitely be supporting the Tigers in spirit – at least if I’m not watching I’m not jinxing, right?

Player love or Team Pride?

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It’s been a while since I posted about baseball, so if you’ve started following my blog recently and are expecting back to back book reviews, I’m sorry! It’s not been the best season so far for the White Sox, but we’re slowly climbing our way back up the standings. There are a few bright sparks on our team, like the fact that Paul Konerko is leading the AL in batting average, and Chris Sale and Jake Peavy are both in the top 5 for ERA in the AL.

But back to the reason for my blog post, MLB Europe posed this question on Twitter earlier:

(If your favourite MLB team switched rosters with its biggest rival, which team would you root for? Player love or team pride?!)

It’s an interesting question because the players really make a team, so my first instinct was to say that I’d root for the players. But if you think about it more closely, the trade market in baseball is always so active that a team one year will almost certainly be different from the next, and two or three years down the line you might not even recognise it. It’s easy to get attached to the players on your team, but the chances are that unless you have a homegrown talent with a strong desire to play for the team, you’re going to lose him to a different team sooner or later.

There are players like Derek Jeter who are ‘franchise players’ and you know they’ll never leave, but most other players have a price – look at Prince Fielder, and more to the point, Albert Pujols. Both signed for new teams earlier this year and you wouldn’t have expected that to happen. So saying that you’d stick by your players is silly, because you’d eventually end up supporting every team in the league and it’d be a bit hard to keep up.

Another thing that would influence my decision is the fact that our biggest rival is the Detroit Tigers, and there are a lot of players on their team that I wouldn’t mind joining the White Sox; Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder to name a few. And who wouldn’t?! Of course, I’d rather have these three alongside my favourites like Konerko, Pierzynski, Floyd and Sale, but we all know that’s probably not going to happen!

whitesox-tigers-lineup

So for me, it’s definitely Team Pride all the way. Players are a big part of a team, but there are many other factors too. I love the team, the coaches, the ballpark, the city and the history.  It would be hard to give all that up and switch to the team you’ve been programmed to hate.

So I’ll ask you the same question (if you’ve actually managed to read this far). Player love, or team pride? Leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts.