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Alright, I have a confession to make: I love baseball. I grew up playing it, although not very well. I watched it daily on television, bought baseball cards, read baseball books (I know, weird, something other than sf), and went to Wrigley Field several times a year with my parents to see the Chicago Cubs play (longtime readers may remember that I reviewed Joe Dimaggio's biography back in 2005 - yeah, I had to go look it up - so they may not be surprised by any of these revelations).
And even back then I had a love of science fiction, starting with things like Star Trek, Lost In Space, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. What could be better than a book of stories that combined my love of baseball with my love of science fiction? And lo and behold, there came a book, edited by Rick Wilber, called Field of Fantasies, a collection of baseball short stories that have just a bit of a twist to them, just a bit of an off-kilter angle, just a bit of supernatural. You can imagine I jumped on this one.
Field of Fantasies collects baseball stories as old as 1944 and as recent as 2012, from authors that are known to fans of speculative fiction such as Stephen King, Harry Turtledove, Rod Serling, Gardner Dozois, Ray Bradbury, John Kessel, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Rick Wilber himself to more mainstream folks like Jack Kerouac, Louise Marley, Robert Coover, and others. While not all the stories here deal with the "Strange and Supernatural" (part of the subtitle to the book), every last one of these is a gem.
With that being the case, where do I begin? For pure amusement, Gardner Dozois' "The Hanging Curve" tops the list, about a curveball that literally hung there, in front of the plate - for years. Following on the heels of that tale is "McDuff on the Mound", by Robert Coover, wherein we see the story of Casey at the Bat from the viewpoint of the pitcher in that poem. For pure baseball entertainment, "Pitchers and Catchers", by Cecilia Tan, gives us the story a catcher trying to make the Red Sox in Spring Training and how, just for one Spring, a catcher brings both pitchers and catchers together in a competition for the ages, only to fall victim to reality at the end of it all. Kim Stanley Robinson's "Arthur Sternbach Brings the Curveball to Mars" brings hope to every kid who wants to be good at the game and finally finds a way to do just that.
There are a slew of thought provoking stories in here too. Louise Marley's "Diamond Girls" tells the story about a genetically engineered
woman in the major leagues that tells us quite a bit about how players who are not like the others can be treated by fellow players, fans, and
the press. "A Face in the Crowd", by Stephen King and Stewart O'Nan, tells the poignant tale of a man who is devoting his life to watching
baseball after his wife passes away, and what he ends up learning by giving in to his passion for the game. Valerie Sayers' "How to Read a Man" tells us about a lifelong baseball fan who can tell what a player will do on a particular at bat just by watching him, but can't quite figure out
how to deal with the men in her life. "My Kingdom for Jones", while on the surface a comedy about a horse that can play third base, actually
gives us insight as to how we treat outsiders in our lives. David Sandner and Jacob Weisman give us "Lost October", about an old man and his young friend who have baseball in common, and how, in the face of what we presume is the earthquake that interrupted the Bay Series in 1989 (San Francisco vs. Oakland), they come together in true love for the past of the game in an ethereal ballpark that seems to be host to a game from the distant past. Rick Wilber gives us "Stephen to Cora to Joe", a take on Tinkers to Evers to Chance, about a player trying to make it in the game and the realities of it all, with the help of some literary figures from the past.
Oh, there are other stories here that are worth mentioning as well. Every last one of them is terrific. Even if you're not a baseball fan, I think you'll find these stories engaging and delightful. After all, you need something to do between now and Spring Training, less than three