First up was Nick Hornby's "PRAY – NOTES ON THE 2011/2012 FOOTBALL SEASON". Please note – this is English football, aka "soccer". Hornby wrote one of my first introductions to the wild world of UK football mania and devotion, the excellent "FEVER PITCH", back in 1992. His fingernail-chewing devotion to Arsenal, to dissecting the English love of the game, and to explaining its uniqueness and the sport's many weird foibles made that book a terrific read. He hadn't really returned to football/soccer writing since then, but after the English Premiere League 2011-12 season – one of the craziest of all time, with a final season-ending day for the ages – he was sucked back into writing about the sport, albeit in quick form. You can digest this one in an hour or so – think of it as a really long article, such that you'd find in two parts in The New Yorker or something. Hornby again captures the pathos of loving and hating your team when they win and lose, and does a great job revisiting the state of English football now that massive amounts of money have poured into the sport. If you've got slightly more than a passing interest in the game – and for whatever reason, my personal soccer fandom is off the charts this year, now that baseball season's over and hockey's on strike – this is well worth a few bucks and sixty minutes.
I also spent about an hour with "A DRIVE INTO THE GAP" by Kevin Guilfoile. Guilfoile is primarily an author of fiction, but he has the distinction of having grown up in a baseball-soaked world, with his father having been an executive at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY and an exec with the Pittsburgh Pirates. At first blush, the book looks to be a meditation on his dad's current Alzheimer's disease and a collection of memories from earlier times in the baseball world. Guilfoile does not wring cheap maudlin sentiment out of his dad's condition, and if anything, he plays it for non-tacky, non-malicious humor. He also relates what it was like as a younger man to work for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the clubhouse, helping the players get to their promotional photo commitments and to sign autographs before games. He says, without a doubt, the worst human being he ever encountered in any baseball capacity, ever, was Barry Bonds – and then proceeds to relay, in hilarious but sad detail, how Bonds acted when it came time to do anything for anyone else. It's abundantly clear why my San Francisco Giants want nothing to do with this clown anymore.
The book, though, turns into a big of a mystery midway through - namely, does Guilfoile unwittingly own the actual bat that Roberto Clemente used for his milestone 3,000th hit – the unfortunate last of his career? Turns out there are several versions of this bat, each claimed to be the one that Clemente used, which would make them priceless (and/or make someone a little bit rich). The book turns into investigative journalism to find out which one is the "real" one, and whether Guilfoile actually has had this thing in his possession since 1971 without even knowing it. I'll let you find out what happened. Also a very good read, though if pressed I'd recommend Hornby's e-book to you first.