The following is a review of Third Base for Life: A Memoir of Fathers, Sons, and Baseball, available from Vantage Point Books. It was just released in March and can be had for $15.95.
Parenthood will present you with many unexpected challenges. Third Base for Life chronicles Josh Berkowitz’s struggle with one such challenge.
One day, Berkowitz’s son, Gabriel, tells his dad that he’d like to play at fabled Cooperstown Dreams Park when he’s old enough. After all, his cousins from Florida have played there. A bit of research reveals this is no run-of-the-mill tournament. Instead, it is an annual gathering of super-human 10-year-olds. These are the boys who will go on to play in the majors in 10 or 15 years. Learning this, the already nervous father is paralyzed with fear.
He makes it happen though. At the urging of his wife and son, Berkowitz cobbles together a team from the Jewish day school his son attends and they are off to Cooperstown to see what they are made of.
The story is a good one. Berkowitz is torn between helping his son do something he really wants to do and fear over the inevitable humiliation that will come in the tournament (this is never really in doubt and my telling you about it spoils nothing). It’s relatable to anyone who ever seen a kid bite off more than he could chew.
The book, however, is not without problems. Berkowitz is a doctor by trade, not a writer, and it shows. There are genuine and occasionally glaring grammatical errors and he has little grasp of what constitutes a relevant or appropriate detail. He can’t tell you a car is an SUV. He has to tell you the make and model—meaningless information unless the car is parked in your driveway. A baseball glove isn’t just black. It’s a black Easton. Before anyone can answer the phone, we must take inventory of what everyone in the house is doing. That kind of silliness abounds.
Further, he spends much too much time explaining. The reader is never allowed to infer anything. Even the most obvious gestures—such as a finger-crossing tradition he has with his daughter—must be explained in full detail. This kind of over-writing means that a book that probably should have checked in well under 300 pages stretches to nearly 400.
But there are two things about the book that absolutely gall me: wooden dialogue and a lack of pacing. When reading memoirs, you have to accept that the writers are trying hard to remember the dialogue and it’s unlikely to be exactly what was said. Berkowitz seems to remember only in complete and perfectly grammatical sentences; this leads to most of his characters sounding robotic. And everything is life or death. Berkowitz (the character’s) neurosis is one of the more charming aspects of the book, but Berkowitz (the writer) would have done well to rein it in a bit. While finding a glass of milk for a lost tooth is, perhaps, a bit concerning or aggravating, it does not merit edge-of-the-seat angst.
So yes, the writing is very clumsy; the story, as I said, is not entirely without merit. Berkowitz does a good job of being true to his characters—never an easy task when you know many of them will read the book. No one comes off as perfect (though the Berkowitz family is eye-rollingly Walton-esque at times). The kids all get to have their own personalities and Berkowitz is open about the way the parents and coaches treat their children (alternately) as trophies and delicate gems—a source of pride to be protected from the outside world at all costs.
Additionally, as with many books written by inexperienced writers, it gets better as it goes. Once the tournament begins, the writing and story sync up and the book becomes genuinely compelling, as the events are truly exciting; time isn’t wasted with clinical and irrelevant descriptions of every minor event.
While I certainly can’t give a wholehearted recommendation to this book, if you have experience with the bond baseball can forge between a parent and child, it will be hard not to enjoy much of it, even if you’ll find yourself wanting to skim in places.