Book Review: “The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach

"The Art of Fielding," by Chad Harbach

Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding tells the tale of Westish College, a D-III school in northwest Wisconsin. Their athletic program has historically been about as successful as any tiny, unheard-of school ever is, but that changes when catcher Mike Schwartz discovers defensive wunderkind Henry Skrimshander one summer and convinces him to come to Westish and play shortstop for the Harpooners. The book follows Skrimshander’s successes, struggles and repercussions for the other characters.

Focusing on Baseball, Harbach Starts Strong

The Art of Fielding (named for a mythological treatise on playing shortstop by that Skrimshander basically memorizes) follows fiction’s standard three-act structure: introduce the characters, introduce the conflict, resolve the conflict. But since most of the people in this book play baseball, perhaps depicting it as a nine-inning game would be more appropriate.

Harbach breezes through the first three innings, going once through the lineup without making a mistake. He writes with an easy-going, briskly paced style that taps into all of baseball’s nostalgia without giving up the setting of a modern college. Students text, listen to iPods, play Tetris – it’s hard to romanticize the modern college experience, but Harbach pulls it off admirably.

We meet Schwartz first, then Skrimshander, and the first few chapters are almost exclusively about baseball. Then we meet Guert Affenlight, the school’s president, and finally his grown-up daughter Pella. Harbach’s most cerebral, psychologically complex character, Pella shifts the book’s tone from a breezy, fast-moving narrative to a plodding, psychological exploration of all four characters.

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Boston.com: Somerville-Malden Outdoor Track and Field Story Live

I covered a state track meet as my first game story for Somerville Patch, so I always get nostalgic when I cover Somerville’s track team. My latest Boston.com story is on Wednesday’s dual meet between Somerville’s and Malden’s track teams. Looking at it, I think I can safely say I’ve come a long way in a year.

Check it out!

NBA Playoffs: First Round Preview

Between Avery Bradley's defense and the Hawks' issues at center, the Celtics should advance to the second round of the playoffs. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The grueling, taxing, utterly bizarre NBA regular season finally comes to an end. Despite an intensely demanding schedule, the exact same eight Eastern Conference teams that made the playoffs last season did so again with only the slightest rearrangements this season.

The Western Conference enjoyed a bit of change, with the Blake Griffin-led Clippers finally maturing into the playoff-caliber team we all knew they’d eventually become, and the Jazz making the playoffs as well. The Trail Blazers and Hornets missed the playoffs, having long since faded into mediocrity.

So who wins it all? Here’s my first-round preview.

Celtics vs. Hawks

What’s the purpose of a seeding system that doesn’t award home-court to the higher seed? Celtics fans will ask that throughout the series, as the fourth-seed Celtics will start their playoffs on the road against the fifth-seed Hawks. Shouldn’t matter, however, as the Celtics’ league-leading defense should carry them past a depleted Hawks team.

Atlanta will likely be without both Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia, their top two centers. That should take some pressure of Kevin Garnett and Boston’s anemic rebounding game. The Celtics may not get Ray Allen back from injury, but that should just pave the way for Avery Bradley to do what he does on defense, as the offense attacks the Hawks inside. Pick: Celtics in 6.

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Aggies Clobber Longhorns, Pull Even in Big 12

Four homers meant this scene repeated itself many times over for the Aggies Thursday at home against the Longhorns. (Texas A&M Athletics)

(What follows is a tryout article I wrote for a full-time sports writing job at the McAlester News in Oklahoma. Wish me luck!)

Texas A&M doesn’t need much offense when Mel Dumezich pitches. Combine Dumezich’s dizzying assortment of pitches with some power at the plate, and a softball game can easily become a slaughter.

The Aggies homered four times off Longhorn starter Kim Bruins – twice by sophomore third baseman Amber Garza – invoking the NCAA’s eight-run rule and powering them to a 9-0 victory in six innings Thursday night at Aggie Softball Complex in College Station. The two teams are now tied for second in the Big 12, each a game behind Oklahoma.

Texas A&M’s offensive explosion began in the second. Sophomore right fielder Cassie Tysarczyk beat out a grounder to first for an infield single, followed by a full-count walk from Dumezich. Bruins then left too much of a 1-1 screwball to Garza over the plate, and Garza crushed the ball to left-center for a 3-0 lead.

Bruins repeated the same mistake four pitches later, and sophomore first baseman Nicole Morgan deposited a 1-2 screwball in almost exactly the same spot Garza had. The 4-0 lead turned out to be more than enough for Dumezich, who struck out five in six scoreless innings.

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DigBoston: Real Madrid-Barcelona Story Live

The two best soccer teams in the world played each other Saturday afternoon. Find out who won at DigBoston.com!

I’ve always thought that better competition might actually give soccer a chance in America. Plenty of people play it as kids, so there’s a similar nostalgia to it as there is in baseball. And plenty of Americans come from soccer-loving cultures, so money could definitely be made off a higher-quality product.

But because MLS soccer is only marginally better than D-III college soccer, no one’s ever seen the sport the way it ought to be played.

I got my first taste of real soccer a few years ago when I saw the EPL’s Chelsea play in England. Ever since I’ve wanted to witness a Real Madrid-Barcelona game. Well, they played Saturday afternoon, and I covered it for 52 Games.

Check it out!

Ross Homers Twice in Red Sox Victory Over Twins

Cody Ross hits a two-run home run during the seventh inning of Monday's Red Sox-Twins game at Target Field in Minneapolis. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Cody Ross must be quite the social animal. Through his first four home runs this season, at least one teammate had always been on base, waiting at the plate to celebrate with him.

But sometimes, even Ross has to go it alone.

Ross homered twice – one two-run, one solo – tying and then giving the Boston Red Sox a 6-5 win over the Minnesota Twins Monday at Target Field. Daniel Bard picked up his first win in relief, and Alfredo Aceves recorded his third save.

Ross’ Homers Huge in Victory

The Red Sox entered the seventh inning down 5-3, still facing Twins starter Jason Marquis. Marquis had already thrown over 100 pitches when Jarrod Saltalamacchia – whose two-run golf shot in the second put the Red Sox up 3-0 – singled with one out, but Twins manager Ron Gardenhire opted to stick with him.

Ross made Gardenhire pay for his error just one pitch later, crushing a shot to left field to tie the game 5-5.

The tie held up until the top of the ninth, when Gardenhire went with closer Matt Capps. Ross came up with two down in the ninth, fouled one off, then deposited a knee-high pitch just over the right field wall for the 6-5 lead.

Ross finished the game 2-4, part of a 12-hit night for the Red Sox. Saltalamacchia, Ryan Sweeney, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz all also went 2-4.

Adrian Gonzalez went 0-3, but his first-inning sacrifice fly put the Red Sox up 1-0.

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Metta World Peace Deserves Modest Suspension Only

I don’t like Metta “Formerly Ron Artest” World Peace. I haven’t liked him since the “Malice at the Palace,” and I really haven’t liked him since he joined the Lakers.

But World Peace didn’t elbow Thunder guard James Harden in the face on purpose Sunday. And when it comes to suspensions, intention should always count more than player history.

Here’s the video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iKxuxN_hYg

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Boston.com: Somerville-Lowell Catholic Boys’ Volleyball Story Live

After a few weeks of spring previews, it’s nice to be back recapping games for Boston.com. And when I get to cover a sport like volleyball, which I both played and enjoy watching, then it’s all the better.

The Somerville Highlanders played the Lowell Catholic Crusaders. The match came down to the fifth game, and the story’s up on YourTown Somerville.

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DigBoston: Fenway Opener and Boston Marathon Stories

Another week, another two stories for DigBoston. And since my second “Wide Month of Sports” column will be in next week’s print edition, that means for three consecutive weeks I’ll have multiple articles published to the website.

I’m moving up in the company!

Check out my Red Sox home opener story, then check out my Boston Marathon story!

Bruins Can’t Solve Holtby; Series Heads to Boston Tied

Braden Holtby saved 44 of 45 shots in Thursday's Game 4 of the Bruins-Capitals playoff series, played at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

For the Boston Bruins to beat the Washington Capitals, at some point they’ll need to beat Braden Holtby. The rookie goalie has averaged more than 35 saves per night in his first four playoff games, including a dominating 44-save night Thursday that powered the Capitals to a 2-1 victory at the Verizon Center, evening the series at 2-2.

And with every stick-side deflection, glove-side save or body-block, Holtby’s confidence just climbs higher.

A confident Holtby means trouble for the Bruins, no matter how many more shots they take.

Holtby Shuts Out Off-Target Bruins in Second and Third

The Bruins out-shot the Capitals in every period Thursday, posting double-digit advantages in the first and third. The Bruins fired from the crease, the circles and the blue line. They tried redirects, wrap-arounds and rebounds. But no matter what they tried, Holtby and the Capitals defense blanked the Bruins over the final two periods.

Tyler Seguin nearly scored four minutes into the second on a 2-on-1, but Holtby skated out of the goal and stonewalled him. Brad Marchand had a similar 3-on-2 opportunity soon after, but again the Bruins came up empty. And Seguin corralled a deflection later in the second but again couldn’t settle the puck for a shot.

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