Major League Baseball has been crippled by yet another players’ strike, and the fans have had enough, tired of paying to see ballplayers with seven-figure egos but ten-cent work ethics. When baseball’s commissioner floats the idea of enlisting the minor leaguers to keep revenues flowing, Lew Pearson, the aging player-manager of the Triple-A Indianapolis Outlaws, sees his chance to fulfill a lifelong dream. Having never had more than a “cup of coffee” in the big league, Lew leaves his wife and two young kids behind to play in the bigs, even though he knows he and his teammates will just be the pawns of the owners. Baseball runs deep in his blood – his father’s own professional dreams were trampled on many years before – and despite the big asterisk that will accompany every game, it’s an opportunity that beckons him. But no one, including Lew, the owners and the striking Major Leaguers, could predict how fans would embrace these farmhands, who take the field every day not for their big paychecks but purely for the love of the game. At first the crowds are small, but as the fan frenzy takes root in ballparks across the country, both sides of the strike confront a new normal, and an audacious plan takes shape in board rooms to determine once and for all whether the Major Leaguers or the minor leaguers will get the privilege of remaining in “the show.”
Despite his very short tenure before his tragic death from a heart attack, A. Bartlett Giamatti was a highly regarded baseball commissioner who made his mark on the game. He is perhaps best known as the man who banned Pete Rose forever, considered by some a pariah for doing that and by others a hero. The former presdient of Yale, Giamatti was that rare breed…a scholarly fan of the game, a passionate enthusiast who delighted in the role. His poetic musings about America’s pastime could fill a book, and indeed they did. When writing Strike Four, I wanted to pay homage to Giamatti in a small way, in the context of two sides ripping baseball apart, and what he might have thought of the situation…and how he might have used his wisdom to resolve it. He was one of the great ones.
The old adage says anything worth having is worth working for. Can you truly appreciate anything good if it simply falls into your lap, if you haven’t somehow earned it? For the minor league ballplayers in “Strike Four,” the elation of playing in the Major League is tempered by the nagging feeling that they haven’t earned the privilege through work or talent. Some players are happy to take the spotlight and bigger paycheck without reservation; others feel like they are merely pawns in a high-stakes game between rich baseball players and even richer owners.
Obviously, a book subtitled "A Baseball Novel" will have many scenes involving, you know, baseball games. But from an author’s standpoint, knowing what you need to transpire to move the plot forward is just half the ballgame. We’ve all watched baseball – there is drama inherent. Just describing on the page a hit, a strikeout, or a great defensive play isn’t enough when putting pen to paper. The challenge is bringing something to the on-field action that adds insight to the characters, while at the same time entertaining the reader. It’s easy to get too carried away with one at the expense of the other, so that the game itself mimics what everyone’s seen at one point or another (dull), or the players completely overshadow the plays (confusing). To write the multiple baseball sequences, particularly the climactic one, I had to dig down into where drama stems from. What’s at stake, for both sides? How will readers FEEL with a particular play in the context of their investment in the main characters? Once I answered these questions in my head, it was easy to layer on to the game action to that each moment was exciting and a little different from the typical baseball viewing experience.
It’s academic to say any goal worth achieving requires a ton of hard work, and probably some sacrifice. Nothing comes to us easily, and it’s up to each of us to determine how much we want to work for it, how hard to keep pushing. Sometimes, we want to prove something to ourselves. Sometimes, we seek validation from other important people in our lives, like our parents, or spouse, or children. Wherever we get inspiration from, the desire to keep pushing to a goal is a very personal emotion. In “Strike Four,” Lew Pearson, the aging player-manager of a minor league baseball team, wants desperately to return to the Major League, where he had “a cup of coffee” earlier in his career. But it’s not just a dream unrealized; he feels if he can get to the “Show” and stick around, he will somehow vindicate his father, whose baseball career was unceremoniously cut short. So despite knowing he’s a pawn of the owners, that there will always be an asterisk after his name, he pushes on for deeply personal reasons.
The pure joy of sports has been diluted over the years, as the media has become as prone to cover salary negotiations, salary caps, labor disputes, and what players might be putting into their bodies as the action on the playing field. That's to be expected...the days where fans idolized players for their athletic prowess may be in the past. Fandom has become more distracted, and more attuned to the machinations behind what we see during games. This isn't necessarily worse or better than before. It's just a fact, fueled by the media, teams, and the leagues themselves, which breathlessly share even mundane information in order to stay top of mind among fans. And social media has been happily complicit. "Strike Four" is the first, and possibly only, sports novel that looks behind the curtain at the business of professional baseball.
Here are the opening paragraphs of Strike Four. Lew Pearson, the player-manager of the Indianapolis Outlaws, is getting up in age but still feels like he can contribute -- on and off the field. How many of us have the urge to keep moving forward, even if our bodies have slowed down? We frequently define ourselves by our work, and what we can contribute. To lose that sense of value is to lose a part of our humanity. Lew's story as he strives for that "last shot" in the Major League echoes that of anyone who wants to do more, or who feels like they haven't achieved their life goals or fulfilled their destiny.
As autumn arrives and the weather gets crisper, the baseball playoffs are imminent. Those fortunate few who win a pennant get to play on, and this year those games will likely go further into the calendar than usual. It's the time for the boys of October to shine, to create new plotlines, to etch their names into baseball history. Who this year will join the likes of Mickey Mantle, Alex Rodriguez, Reggie Jackson, John Smoltz, and Mariano Rivera? It's a wonderful time of year for baseball fans, even more sweet in a season that nearly didn't happen.
Through world wars and undeclared wars, despite multiple player strikes and owner lockouts, through the terrorist attacks of 9/11, through the current pandemic, baseball has always bounced back, being a salve for the wounded American psyche. Sure, games have been suspended, as this season, but eventually, pennant races went on, fans flocked back, and a community was always resurrected. It's the American pastime because it is part of the American fabric. As surely as the Stars and Stripes wave, baseball will be there, its mere presence a source of comfort for fans, and a sign of normalcy for the rest of the American population. Baseball will always -- must always -- endure!
Major League Baseball’s current CBA expires in 2021, and according to USA Today players are "fixing for a fight" in order to take back power and put the damper on wage suppression they say they’ve been enduring for years. And although there hasn’t been a work stoppage since 1995, owners back then and during prior strikes and lockouts always seemed willing to bring up their Triple A rosters to protect revenues. What if this actually happens? How would it impact the players – both the striking pros and the farmhands – and how might fans respond? That’s the big what-if “Strike Four” plays out to its logical conclusion. Set against the groomed outfields and dusty base paths of America’s baseball shrines, and told through the eyes of an aging minor league player-manager looking for his last shot at making “the show,” Strike Four delves into the players’ mindsets, the owners’ motivations, and ultimately the back room negotiations and the business that’s at the heart of America’s pastime.
The brushback pitch is a tried-and-true tactic in baseball. It helps the pitcher establish control, it prevents the batter from "crowding the plate" and is an effective tool to intimidate. But sometimes, "chin music" finds its target, in which case a batter can get hurt, he'll be awarded first base, and a fight or even a bench-clearing brawl might ensue. No one takes kindly to being hit, or seeing a teammate hit, by a 90 mph pitched ball. But it is part of the game. Enjoy this excerpt from Strike Four.
If you’re fortunate, you love what you do for a living. Writers generally love to write. But to make a living at it is a challenge indeed. So frequently we use our skills in other arenas. I chose public relations after a short time as a journalist. PR is a very writing intensive field, as we’re constantly writing news releases, media story pitches, bylined articles for clients, etc. Yes, it can be dry at times, and we must subjugate our urge for creative writing to the needs and messages of the client, but we can still have fun with a turn of a phrase, or a headline, or a memorable quote. I love coming up with simple phrases that journalists can run with; a boutique in Philadelphia that sold all kinds of wine-related paraphernalia became “Philly’s wine accessory superstore,” and the nickname appeared in print many times. Also, since PR pros are often story tellers, we can find creative ways to make our clients and their organizations stand out. Not quite like letting our imaginations run wild as we do with novels, but a fulfilling and enjoyable field nonetheless. I hope you also love what you do!
It's a welcome return to a form of normalcy that baseball has finally returned. It's a truncated season, for sure, and the "fans" in the stands are mostly cardboard cutouts behind home plate, but it's comforting to see pitchers, catchers and batters back on the field. The question is, how long will this experiment last? With more than a dozen games cancelled due to Covid-19 outbreaks on the Marlins and Cardinals, and the domino effect on teams they played, it's unclear whether MLB will actually get in an equitable 60-game season. No doubt fans are enjoying seeing their favorite stars back in action, and the players are surely thrilled to be back. Here's hoping the season runs its course smoothly without more postponements, and the league can ultimately crown a World Series champ.
While animals aren’t a big part of my writing, I made revisions to Strike Four with the chirps of my parakeet Twitter filling my home office. Twitter was a good bird, gray with blue accents. He was independent, not confined to his cage, but his wings were clipped so he couldn’t sustain flight for extended periods. One winter day, he escaped off my apartment balcony, and I searched our complex tirelessly for him, even offering a reward. No luck. Since it was a brutal, snowy winter, I eventually lost hope I’d see Twitter again. Six months later, while walking to the complex swimming pool, I saw a young Asian girl carrying a cage with a gray bird. I complimented her pet, but leaning in for a closer look saw that it was Twitter! I walked the girl and her bird back to her apartment, where I made my case to her mother. I learned the bird had flown onto their balcony in December, and they took it in. As the girl had spent birthday money to “feather its cage,” I offered a small reward. She held out for more. Thinking this was becoming extortion, I happily paid it to get my bird back. Forever after, I referred to Twitter as my Miracle Bird.
Under the Geneva Convention, medical personnel who are clearly identified “shall be respected and protected under all circumstances.” In other words, even enemies at war are expected to show humanity toward those who try to assist their wounded brothers. The concept of compassion and empathy among adversaries interests me. Hockey’s great tradition of shaking hands after battling through a playoff series warms my heart as an example of graciousness as emotions and desire to win are at their peak. The winners console the losers, and the losers wish the winners luck in the next round. In “Strike Four,” Stewart Addision, the owners’ rep, and Dave Ferris, the players’ rep, are bitter rivals at the negotiating table, as they’re paid to be. But there’s a healthy respect between them. When the older man is hospitalized, his younger adversary puts the baseball strike aside to check on his colleague and wish him a speedy recovery. He even acknowledges that the same feistiness and stubborness he’s seen in the bargaining room will be catalysts for his foe’s healing. It’s not the first shared moment of humanity between the two, who’ve grown to see each other as friends as well as adversaries. The ability to rise above our squabbles, to show compassion for even those we’re going toe-to-toe with, makes us better people.
I’m looking at the protests and rioting across the country through a lens many have adopted, that of the continued devolving of our rights, particularly the first amendment. I get it, a police presence is necessary, they can’t completely cede the streets to protesters and, unfortunately, the small percentage of looters and vandals. However, the militarization of police is a deeply disturbing trend. Law enforcement should be there for one purpose and one purpose only – to ensure the safety of the protesters and to protect property. They are NOT there to harrass, arrest, tear-gas, or even corral peaceful protesters, not even the most vocal ones chanting obscenities. Expressing anger is normal, and our ability to do so guaranteed. Authorities need to change their mindset to de-escalation, not escalation. I’m not saying everyone should “get along,” but police need retraining, especially in the U.S. Constitution. I pray for our country.
Being self-employed and working from home as a PR professional (my day job) and writer (my side gig), my life has not been drastically altered by pandemic stay-at-home orders. I’m a proud homebody, taking great pleasure in my man cave and my backyard pool. However, I do miss dining out, and I long for returning to stores without having to possibly wait in line for admittance and wearing a mask to enter. Beyond that, I was deeply disappointed that my daughter’s college graduation ceremony was postponed. She’s worked so hard for the past four years and we were so proud, and really looking forward to commencement and a big party sometime afterward. The university is promising an in-person ceremony later in the year, which might be nice, but it likely won’t be the same as many students will be scattered to the wind by that time, unable to return to campus. On the bright side, with almost no place to go, and no distraction from professional sports, I’m getting more work done!
Reading is very much an outdoor activity for me. So when the weather gets nice here in the East, I catch up on the books I’ve collected during the past year. I enjoy both fiction and non-fiction. In fiction, I love John Grisham and spy novels in the Tom Clancy series. But I really eat up non-fiction. I love stories of heroism and survival, true crime, and narratives of high-profile business failures. My current Kindle list includes Granite Mountain, about the courageous “Hotshot” Arizona wildfire fighters, 19 of whom perished in a massive conflagration in 2013, and The Infiltrator, about a federal agent who goes undercover to bust a global money-laundering cartel (made into a movie starring Bryan Cranston). But currently, I’m devouring Bad Blood, about the dramatic rise and fall of Theranos, a highly valued silicon valley start-up that promised to change the blood testing industry, and its wunderkind founder, Elizabeth Holmes, who is currently facing multiple charges of fraud. Give me a sunny day, a cold beverage, and a good book, and I’m happy.
Writing can be lots of fun, but it can be extremely hard, and even aggravating. When you’re looking at a blank screen or blank page and you just don’t know what to write next, you want to rip your hair out. Staring at the computer seldom helps. For me, I’ll take the pressure off. I’ll play in the yard with my dog, or go for a three mile walk. I do my best thinking when I’m walking. If I think purely about what I want to write, however, it doesn’t suddenly come into my mind. I think about other things, occasionally letting my thoughts flit to my current project. Then, I find, ideas gradually seep in. As I flesh these out, full sentences start to emerge. In many cases, I can’t get back to my computer quickly enough. Sometimes, I’ll record them on my cell phone so I won’t forget. In any case, by the time I get back to writing, my fingers are usually on fire.
Last summer I had the privilege of appearing on a Hartford, CT, sports radio program to talk about my book. The producer and co-host advised me that the host, Rob Dibble, was a former Major League pitcher and a team rep to the MLB Players’ Association, so I’d need to be on top of my game. No problem, I thought. I brushed up ahead of time and came in equipped to go toe-to-toe with this baseball insider. I have to think Dibble knew my book was fiction, based on the real-life possibility of owners calling up the minor league players during a strike, but he sure didn’t act like it – and I’m sure he didn’t read it. We wound up doing two different interviews – he was asking who I’d spoken with and what I’d heard from my sources about the 2021 Collective Bargaining Agreement, and I was there to talk about a fictional book! At one point, I flatly told him I’d spoken with “nobody, because I’m not a journalist, but in the book, the Major League owners…” In media interviews, you never know what’s going to come at you. In the end, I think I acquitted myself well, and the hosts sounded happy with the way the interview went. You can listen to the entire interview here: https://www.spreaker.com/user/9809264/gary-frisch-for-pod
Often, those we brand "heroes" are found on the playing field, court, or hockey rink. But today, they're much more likely to be essential workers and health care professionals. Their sacrifices are far more meaningful than those of athletes, their impact on their fellow humans much more profound. Today, I'm thinking about my sister, who works behind the scenes at a NJ hospital. She's not a medical provider, and doesn't directly see patients, but as worker in the facilities management department, she's responsible for keeping the lights on, the facilities clean and compliant, the air properly circulated, and the patients comfortable. Like all the other employees, she wears a face mask all day, and must ensure it stays usable for an entire work shift or more. Heroes today take many forms; let's take a moment to appreciate those who may not be on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 but are doing their part to keep others safe, fed, comforted, and even entertained, often at the same personal risk as our doctors and nurses. Thank you, Arlene!
For a high school English assignment we had to write something that incorporated multiple senses, and I’ve enjoyed doing that ever since. For that assignment, pegged to the novel The Scarlet Letter, I wrote about the visceral feelings of standing on a gallows, the hangman’s noose slipping around your neck. But here’s another, more pleasant, subject, from my other favorite sport, hockey: The goaltender peered through his mask at the opposing player twitching, awaiting the whistle to skate the puck in one-on-one. The fans’ yelling became a low-frequency hum in his ears, as he focused on his opponent. He felt a lone bead of sweat roll down the bridge of his nose, catching on his upper lip, but refused to be distracted. His pads, gloves, and other protective gear weighed around 20 pounds empirically; at this moment they may as well have been made of lace, for all the impact they had on his body. He shuffled his feet, tight in his skates, in anticipation and, he hoped, intimidation, signaling his readiness to explode left or right, lunge, or split as the case may be. A fleeting smell of popcorn hit him from the nearby stands, joining in with the miasma of men’s sweat lingering over his goal crease. The whistle. Bring it on…
There’s an interesting narrative I see emerging from the coronavirus. From politicians to citizens, everyone seems convinced that no matter how bad things get, we as a country will emerge from this crisis stronger. One friend quoted the Japanese naval commander who said, during World War II, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant.” America has always risen to meet its challenges. In my novel, fans embrace the minor leaguers playing Major League baseball. They see a bit of themselves in the ballplayers who’ve spent careers shuttling in decaying buses from one minor league ballpark to another, for minimal pay. Today, we see ourselves in every health care worker who’s putting themselves at risk. We ask whether we’d have the bravery to do what they’re doing, we understand their concerns, we hold them up as exemplars of the best our country can be. During this time, I have to think that this is yet another test, and the country as a whole and all of us as individuals will come out better on the other side. Kinder, maybe, more resilient, definitely, and likely more appreciative of the things we used to take for granted. The virus has indeed awoken a sleeping giant, and we will prevail and be better for it!
Change in routine can be startling. For the baseball players in my novel, the new normal means either going home to spend time with family, or amping up your game in front of newly appreciative fans, depending on whether you're a striking Major Leaguer or a career minor leaguer in new circumstances. Writers (at least professional ones), are used to working from home...we've trained for this! That's not to say we are "socially distant" by nature. Quite the opposite. Authors crave human interaction and are very good at drawing inspiration from every encounter, every person we meet, and every place with visit. So while yes, we might work in solitary, our internal world is one populated by everything we do and everyone we've ever met. For many, working at home and being in mandatory lockdown can be a problem; for others, it can be a refreshing change of pace. The definition of "normal," as we've seen, can change drastically from one day to the next. But how we adapt to new circumstances determines whether we will emerge stronger or not.
Whether it's the shutdown of your favorite sport due to a strike, or the closing of all public recreational venues because of a virus, it's important to stay engaged in life and funnel your activities to something productive. For writers, it might be a great opportunity to write. But with no new projects in the works, I've been channeling my creativity into another hobby -- building plastic model airplanes. Building a great model actually requires many of the same skills as writing. Lots of research, precision (of assembly, not words), and lots of patience, along with a perfectionist nature. Like writing, it also requires the discipline to do the work, even the "grunt work" of puttying seams, sanding and filing parts for the perfect fit. Modelers love gluing on the wings, and putting on the colorful decals, but it takes much effort and exactitude to get to those points. Similarly, writers love to create big dramatic scenes, but we have to spend at least as much time on world building and developing characters. Whatever you choose to do during these strange times, do it with passion, let your creativity run loose, and do it the best you know how!
Today Major League Baseball announced it would shutter Spring Training in order to postpone the start of the 2020 season, due to the Coronavirus. The NBA and now the NHL have suspended their respective games out of caution. Such moves are reasonable, but the ripple effect is enormous. Besides fans who will miss seeing their favorite athletes in action, there are thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on these games. Concessionaires, ticket-takers, ushers, parking lot attendants, security crew, sales reps and sanitation workers will all be furloughed, their next rent, mortgage or car payment in doubt. Hundreds of businesses that rely on teams and the game-day crowds they draw will suffer diminished income. The situation is a sad one all around. Strike Four considers the sweeping impact the suspension of games can wreak. Hoping this all blows over soon, and everyone reading this stays healthy. Normalcy will return!
Everyone goes into ruts, especially writers. Plowing on, particularly when you have difficulty seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, is what distinguishes successful writers from unsuccessful ones. The easy thing is to curl up in defeat, or passively wait for inspiration to strike. What's harder is sitting in front of a blank screen, for hours if need be, until you've put proverbial pen to paper and written a sentence, then a paragraph, then a page, and maybe even three pages. It doesn't have to be a polished piece of work...that's what editing is for later. But just writing what comes into your head is a tried and true way for overcoming that rut or block. It happened many, many times as I wrote Strike Four, but like my main character Lew Pearson, who's "settled into" his minor league playing-managing career, you can't let go of the dream. Motivating yourself will pay off.
Professional athletes are paid exceptionally well when they reach the major league of their sport, but those in the minors make far less money yet are on the road just as much. It's difficult for anyone to be away from their home, family and friends for long stretches, but when you're traveling by bus, with none of the amenities of the Major League, it's that much more difficult. It's just one way minor league players pay their dues, in pursuit of the dream of making the big league. It is an elusive dream indeed -- fewer than 1 in 10 will actually play in the "Show," yet these warriors persevere day in and day out, season after season, hoping for their shot.
Is baseball a quasi-public institution in which the fans have the ultimate control, or is the game owned by millionaire owners and large corporations? Or, as the late commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti put it, maybe the players and owners are merely "the temporary custodians of an enduring public trust." It can be argued that the fans rule the roost...their dollars support the players and the owners, and they have the ultimate say in the product on the field. This was one of the key questions I had in mind as I wrote Strike Four. Players, owners, and fans form a symbiotic relationship whose purpose is to not cause harm to the sport before turning it over to the next generation. I think Bart knew what he was talking about.
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