________________ CM . . . . Volume VII Number 15 . . . . March 30, 2001

cover Japanese Baseball and Other Stories.

W.P. Kinsella.
Saskatoon, SK: Thistledown Press, 2000.
218 pp., pbk., $18.50.
ISBN 1-894345-18-5.

Subject Heading:
Baseball stories, Canadian (English).

Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.

Review by Joanne Peters.

**** /4

To my unpracticed eye, baseball appears simple. However, I know that it is not, and W. P. Kinsella's latest short story collection, Japanese Baseball, makes it clear that life as a baseball player, whether in Japan, South America, or the United States, has its share of complications.

      Baseball diamonds are symmetrical, and their "perfect dimensions" engage the imagination of Charlie Mah, owner of the Kowloon Cafe in the eponymous short story. Plans for a new riverfront baseball stadium involve purchase of the Cafe and adjoining properties. Mah's Feng Shui master has definite ideas about the new stadium's configuration, and the final result isn't quite like the original blueprint. Life, like baseball, often undergoes a sudden upset. In "Tulips," Buddy Claxton's field of dreams is a huge acreage of tulips that he will farm with his future father-in-law. However, both he and his best friend begin the story by facing the end of their dreams. Similarly, in "Wavelengths," another pair of high school buddies find themselves heading home from a season in "the Bigs"; Brody Langston, a talented giant, deliberately strikes out of a Major League future, choosing life as a high school chemistry teacher, while C. J., the story's narrator, loses his chance to bat. His overwhelming desire to play in "the Bigs" simply isn't matched by his second-rate ability as a second baseman.

      For some, dreams come true. In "The Mansions of Federico Juarez," a young ball player's skill and discipline brings him incredible success and enough money to build mansion after mansion, until family tragedy makes him reassess his values. Fantastic, rather than tragic elements, dominate "The Indestructible Hadrian Wilks" and "Fred Noonan Flying Services." In the former, Yossi Liebowitz, mild-mannered accountant and rabid baseball fan, is a walking - no, a stumbling - accident waiting to happen. Every time major league player Hadrian Wilks is beset by an injury, so is Liebowitz. Is it demonic possession, or just bad luck? In "Fred Noonan Flying Services," the story's protagonist is possessed by ennui.


"My best years are behind me. I've got to adjust to the inevitable slide, the hanging curve ball that only makes it to the warming track because my timing is off 1/1000 of a second, the step I've lost in the outfield, the lapses of concentration caused by my thinking of my deteriorating abilities." (p. 154)
His marriage is nearly over, too, and so, when he is offered a chance to "just disappear" with a flying service named for Amerlia Earhart's navigator, he jumps on a plane, leaving the reader to wonder just where he really went.

      Retired players are featured in two of the stories. One is "The Lime Tree" in which two aging ball-players share a two-bedroom apartment, memories of their late wives, and the "secret fantasy that a young woman in Lime Tree Courts would find them attractive" (122). And then there is "The First and Last Annual Six Towns Area Old-Timers' Game," a story as long as its title.

      For me, the three strongest stories in the collection are "Japanese Baseball," "The Arbiter," and "Underestimating Lynn Johannssen." In the first of this triple play, Craig Bevans, one of two gaijin (foreign) players on the Taiyo Whales is lonely and culture-shocked. Longing to meet "one of those girls in kimonos with the lacquered-looking hair, like they show on paintings or on screens" (62), he is introduced to Miyoshi Sakata, called "Little Flower" by her father, the Whales' owner. The story begins and ends as Craig grapples with a stunning reversal. "The Arbiter"offers a fascinating glimpse into the lives of umpires. Zack Winters, the faceless, nameless "Blue", is on the road eight months of a year. We come to understand why umpires are a solitary lot: it's tough to live with someone "who is always right, even when he is wrong" (133). The concluding story is "Underestimating Lynn Johannssen." Two kids from the Twin Cities meet in high school and participate very actively in the sexual revolution of the 1960's: Robert, a talented young player from an upper middle class suburb, and Lynn, an inner-city 16-year-old whose future is early motherhood and marriage. The story begins as Robert, now a highly-placed Ford executive, thinks--and he is always thinking about something--about the past, and the choice Lynn made for both of them.

      This is a strong collection of short stories. Kinsella is a master, and you don't have to like baseball to enjoy Japanese Baseball. It is often hard to find short story collections for young male readers in the senior grades of high school, and, for that audience alone, this is a good acquisition. This is not a book for young readers, and I would urge you to read it before putting it on your shelves. But, it's definitely worth acquiring for senior high school libraries.

Highly Recommended.

Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364