By Dirk Hayhurst
Citadel, 320 pp., $14.95 paperback
The Padres drafted Dirk Hayhurst in the eighth round of the 2003 draft. He had a cup of coffee with the big club in 2008, and it didn’t go so well. The next year he fared a little better with Toronto, but that was his final stint in the big leagues.
At the ripe old age of 28, he was done. Welcome to the world of professional baseball.
Fortunately for all of us, Hayhurst had already embarked on a promising career as a writer, first penning his Non-Prospect Diary for Baseball America while he pitched at Lake Elsinore and San Antonio in the Padres system. His authenticity endeared himself to fans, even if it alienated some teammates in the process, and eventually his tales of the road turned into a book.
One book begat another. And another. And now a fourth, Bigger Than the Game (sample chapters), chronicles the year he spent rehabbing from injury with the Blue Jays in one last effort to chase his dream and find the success that had thus far eluded him.
As he has before, Hayhurst guides us into a world that few of us will ever know. The cast of characters he introduces us to is littered with those who would just as soon keep it that way, including one charming fellow who threatens to kill him.
Like any collection of stories, some are more engaging than others. But his overall narrative makes the occasional road hazard worth weaving around, as Hayhurst’s voice itself weaves in such a way that the journey doesn’t seem hazardous at all.
Plus there are real gems in here. Most notably, and perhaps surprisingly, is a poignant encounter with pro wrestler Triple H while both are rehabbing at Dr. James Andrews’ clinic in Alabama. At one point, while discussing the trappings of their respective professions and the accompanying fame, Triple H simply states that “it isn’t what people think it is.” In the context of Hayhurst’s narrative, and given what surrounds it, this is an incredibly human moment that gives readers a chance to reconsider their notions of what it means to be a star.
His style is conversational and efficient, simple yet vivid. In describing his reaction to an MRI, he says: “The doctor gave me a set of internal body photographs showing how chewed up my arm was. It looked grisly, like a crab had fallen into a blender.”
Baseball provides the framework for Bigger Than the Game, but as you might guess from the title–which is a wonderful turnaround of words flung at the author by a teammate–it’s more of a vehicle than the focus. This is a book about a guy trying to figure out who, exactly, he is and learning to be comfortable with it.
Egocentric? Some may argue it is, but I would counter that these are struggles most people must face at some point in life. Not all of them do so in such a public arena, whose insular culture demands silence and conformity.
The book’s central message is this: Shit happens, deal with it… but you don’t have do it alone.
The fact that Hayhurst has chosen to share his own struggles with the rest of us not only helps ease his own burden, it also helps us ease ours. Like him, we are not alone.