I recently got a chance to read and review Hard to Grip for Bless You Boys, a memoir about a young pitcher’s struggle with baseball and chronic illness. My review is available here.
I knew immediately after finishing the book I wanted to talk to DeAndreis about it, and was lucky to have an opportunity to interview him about his story.
Ashley MacLennan: I know a lot of casual readers will wonder why the story of a college player should be one they pick up. What was it about your own story that really pushed you to share it?
Emil DeAndreis: I think often times we take an interest in reading about sports icons and superstars because we are offered a glimpse into their lives that we were never allowed during their success. We remember their big plays, those magical years when they were at their peak, perhaps some of their controversies as well–all the things that fascinate the everyman, and so a chance to revisit those moments, as well as learn about the behind the scenes ones they never know about, is intriguing. These stories give access to their humanity, as well as their invincibility.
“I guess the difference between those stories and mine is: mine is human from the start.”
Well, I guess the difference between those stories and mine is: mine is human from the start. I think from the beginning readers will relate because they’ll feel like they’re reading about an everyman. I never ascend to unreachable heights as a ballplayer. I am constantly getting humbled by the game. I am constantly NOT the best player on any team I’m on. I feel like my story is one degree-less separated from a professional, and thus one degree closer to the average reader, the average sports fan, the average human who has strengths and weaknesses. I think it is accessible more on a human level, and less on a I-want-to-read-about-what-happened-in-Doc-Gooden-and-Darryl-Strawberry’s-limos kind of way, if that makes sense.
AM: In the book, your relationship with Charlie [Cutler] is a direct parallel to your love for baseball. His success gave you a tether back to a personal connection to the game. Charlie is still in the independent leagues as of last season, how does his perseverance fuel you now?
ED: I’m not sure if fuel is the word; I don’t see his grind in the minors translating to my grind with the disease. But I will say, his story over the years is a big part of my love for baseball, and I’ve also watched him come to love baseball on deeper levels on his tumultuous journey as well. We’re two thirty-year-olds with the nostalgia of geriatrics for baseball. I think it’s because of both of our experiences with the game, the fact that we’ve had our unique trials (no one playing baseball hasn’t had them, of course).
AM: What do you think is the biggest divide between being someone who can play the game for real, as opposed to a casual fan?
ED: One of the differences I see between fan and player is that fan tends to have base their feelings more on results, and numbers, and “this closer keeps blowing it so shouldn’t we get rid of him?” And I think as a player our leash is a little longer with that stuff, at least mine is. I can’t help but look at guys’ body language, their personalities, the looks on their faces after defeat. And when I see guys grinding, and put together an eight-pitch at-bat in the bottom of the ninth–if he k’s, I see a lot more than the k, and I’m not as bitter, or offended. For example, Jake Peavy’s arm was fried at the end of his career on the Giants. He was throwing pies. But his competition, his energy, his loyalty overshadowed his flat-lining arm to me. I wanted to see him on the mound, even if it meant the Giants were likelier to lose. Perhaps it is a fault of mine.
“I can’t help but look at guys’ body language, their personalities, the looks on their faces after defeat.”
AM: Is Mac [DeAndreis’s former landlord, a philosophical baseball stoner] still living like a squatter and preaching the tao of baseball?
ED: Short answer: yes. Long answer: I moved out because our electricity was shut off and I was just over it. Then he got evicted, and now lives in another place which may not be squatty, but it remains Mac-y. I see him a lot. He works at a bar near where I live and I’ll go in on some Fridays, often times to work on this book when it was in the editing process, and he’d feed me pints and we’d talk baseball.
AM: Do you have a different perspective on what it takes to “make it” now that you’re a coach rather than a player?
ED: I do have a different perspective now, but not because of my experience as a coach, but more from following Charlie for eight years. He was a career .300 hitter and never made it past AAA. He played for teams in which the catchers above him were playing worse, notably. He was in AAA for the Angels in 2014, hitting .390 and was somehow abruptly cut. And he kept grinding; didn’t get his cup of coffee. That, to me, says it all about how tough the business is. It also, though I can’t explain why, is part of the mystique of the game for me, and the beauty.
Hard to Grip is published by Schaffner Press and is now available wherever print and digital books are sold. It’s a great read for anyone who can’t get enough baseball in their lives. I appreciate Emil taking the time to talk with me about his experiences.
Emil DeAndreis is the author of Beyond Folly (Blue Cubicle Press). He is a high school baseball coach, and he teaches English at College of San Mateo. He lives in San Francisco with his wife.