Once in a blue moon a rare book comes along that touches you so much you feel as if it may have been written just for you. That was the rare sensation of joy I got when reading Stacey May Fowles’ new essay collection Baseball Life Advice: Loving the Game that Saved Me.
The book bears the same name as Fowles’ wildly popular Tinyletter newsletter, which you can subscribe to here, and indeed some of the content will feel familiar for anyone who has been a long-time subscriber. Much like her column, the book is a collection of deeply personal essays that tell the reader of both Fowles’ day-to-day struggles and also how she has used baseball as a means to cope with those struggles. The essays in this collection are insightful, moving, and vacillate between humorous and heartbreaking. I found myself smiling and nodding along with Fowles’ observations almost as often and I found myself tearing up over a well-written memory shared as fans with a thousand miles between us.
Fowles has a genuine gift for using baseball as a lens through which she views and appreciates the world. Within the hallowed halls of the baseball stadium she has found parallels that tie to almost every aspect of our lives. From struggles with impostor syndrome (yup) to learning how to deal with anxiety, she manages to craft a book that shows readers how miraculous baseball can be at creating a safe haven.
The topics she tackles are varied. The essays range from the deeply personal, like “The Year in Coming Close” in which Fowles writes very candidly about her difficulty conceiving, to the more general, like “What Baseball Still Doesn’t Get About Injury and Mental Health” which has less to do with Fowles and more to do with her extensive research on the negative side effects of athlete head injuries.
I defy any baseball fan to pick up this book and not find something they can relate to. For me, Fowles’ narrative is so much like my own I found the entire experience like reading the diary of a dear friend. We are both fans who returned to the sport after a long absence (both of us in 2011, strangely enough). We’re both women who felt so passionately about baseball that we decided to write about it seriously and professionally. (Fowles addresses what it’s like to be a female sportswriter in the essay “More Than Mean.”) As a result, this book seems almost tailor-made to be enjoyed by me. But I think there’s so much more here that can be appreciated by any baseball fan: old, young, man, woman, new to the sport, or a seasoned fan. She writes in a way that brings you fully into the ballpark experience, so for a few pages you feel as if you are sitting next to her, beer in hand, watching a Blue Jays game and sharing your feelings about sports, the meaning of life, and all the things in between.
It is the openness with which Fowles describes her own difficulties that makes her narrative so easy to relate to. The essays are not about baseball stats or history, and Fowles does not claim to be an expert. By letting go of the need to prove that she has the right to write about baseball, she ultimately crafts one of the best books about the game I’ve read in years. Baseball has so much to teach us if we let it, and in Baseball Life Advice, Stacey May Fowles gives readers just a taste of what the sport can bring to an open heart.
As she writes in “It’s Enough That We’re Here”:
“Baseball became ‘my thing,’ and its stadiums my church, a place to pray in times of hopelessness, the source of solace I couldn’t find elsewhere. I never feel more human, or more sane, than I do inside a ballpark.”
If that doesn’t make you want to buy a ticket for a Sunday game and get a hot dog with someone you love, I don’t know what else will.
Baseball Life Advice was published by McLelland & Stewart, a division of Random House. It will be available April 11 where all digital and print books are sold. You can order a copy via Amazon here. 90 Feet From Home was provided an advance copy of the book from the publisher in return for an honest review.
STACEY MAY FOWLES is an award-winning novelist, journalist, and essayist. She is a columnist at the Globe and Mail, Open Book Toronto, and Blue Jays Nation, and author of the popular Baseball Life Advice e-newsletter. She has written about sports for Globe Debate, The Walrus, Torontoist, the National Post, Deadspin, Hazlitt, and Vice Sports. She is a frequent guest on Metro Morning and a member of q’s sports panel. She lives in Toronto, where she is writing a memoir to be published by McClelland & Stewart.