Guest blogger Liam Callanan is the author of The Cloud Atlas and All Saints. He directs the creative writing program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His favorite words about baseball are Bart Giamatti's: "It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone."
Summer is time for reading, my daughters’ teachers reminded me as school closed: “it expands their vocabulary.”
Yes, but, I wanted to say in my own articulate way. Because I’ve found that children’s books can expand vocabulary in relatively baroque ways. In our house, for example, the beat-up rummage sale bike trailer my kids ride in has only ever been called a “coach.” And when we headed out the door to the governor’s inaugural ball earlier this year (quick clarification: I live in Wisconsin; everyone goes to the ball), the parting words of our daughters (4 and 7) were, “Let us know who he picks for a wife!”
Which brings me to Barry Bonds. My 7-year-old tomboy has taken up Little League this year, throwing aside soccer with all the fervor of a convert. Last year, she would spend the majority of her time at Miller Park crawling around the elaborate toddler habitrail the Brewers have thoughtfully installed in the family section.
This year, she sat through all nine innings, studying every pitch, taking note of every sight, every sound.
“Why are they booing?”
What was I to say? They’re booing Barry Bonds because he’s approaching the home run record that Hank Aaron set in this very city? Isn’t that something great?
“Because he cheated,” I tell her, but this buys me nothing.
How do you talk steroids with a kid, especially one who’s just awoken to the glory of baseball, of watching it, playing it? How do you tell her that home runs—at least, home runs hit by this man—are a bad thing? Home runs at Miller Park involve fireworks and the mutton-chopped Bernie Brewer mascot sliding down a two story slide in left field.
How do you make something worldly and evil easy to swallow—while at the same time making it seem evil?
You use a magic potion. “He took a magic potion to make him big and strong,” I said, “so he could hit more home runs.”
“Oh,” replied my daughter, nodding thoughtfully. Then she stood up and joined her row-mates in booing, flashing two thumbs-down as he did. Happily ever after.
And yet: later that night: hours past bedtime (we sat in the parking lot watching Charlotte’s Web, waiting for traffic to clear), she had a question.
“What do you think the magic potion tasted like?”