Thursday, March 26, 2020

Surviving (No) Opening Day 2020 With Renowned Author Gary Morgenstein

As we all struggle with a baseball-free existence, FenwayNation is reaching out to different segments of the baseball community to get their thoughts on how to cope. Our first guest is renowned fiction author Gary Morgenstein. His terrific novel, "A Mound Over Hell", traces the fate of baseball in a post-World War III apocalyptic America. The sequel, "A Fastball for Freedom, Book Two", will be out next year from BHC Press—including a good number of scenes at the 22nd Century Fenway Park. Below is a link to Gary's author page and, a fun video of him trying out for the Yankees to promote his second novel. Yes, the Yankees! Hey, we are all in this together!

Author's page:
Tryout video:

Now, here are our questions for Gary and his answers:

FenwayNation: "Since you've written about baseball in the context of a dystopian world, how do you view the fate of baseball in the current COVID-19 crisis?"

Gary: "It’ll be interesting to see how much fans missed baseball as a barometer of the game’s place in a relieved country. In my novel, disgraced baseball, facing its final season ever in 2098, represents the once powerful America which lost World War Three. Increasingly fans view the sport as belonging to a past which no longer exists. There’s a reason why baseball is rarely portrayed in science fiction (excluding fantasy stories like Field of Dreams). Writers simply don’t think the game will make the cut into the future. Once we return to normal, does the country embrace its familiar pillars like baseball? I think in the short term they will, but let’s say attendance is down, which’d be understandable. There has to be lingering uneasiness about abandoning social distancing. Do we only allocate so many seats per section? Discounts on streaming services? Lower ticket and concession prices? How does baseball reach out, especially when the increasing bulk of its fan base are older? Do owners return to the halcyon days of colorful promotions a la the iconic Bill Veeck or the inventive minor leagues (if the owners don’t destroy them first) to make baseball a safe environment – emotionally  – that we all recall as kids to reassure everyone that America’s back? There can’t be appeals to patriotism like the aftermath of 9/11. The virus knows no borders. I wonder if post-crisis America, from waiting on lines, self-imposed isolation and not having texts answered inside eight seconds, might show more patience for baseball."

FenwayNation: "Will future fictional themes be hampered by what readers have already experienced in reality? In other words, will it be tougher to create convincing fictional scenarios, when reality is so stark already?"

Gary: "Anyone writing a baseball novel about a terrorist plot to kill a full stadium using a deadly virus should think again. But the reason I combine science fiction dystopia with baseball is exactly for that reason. You can put distance between now and the future, and give yourself ample creative space and freedom. Any time you link too closely to contemporary times, you put yourself in a position of being dated. Why do I need to read a novel about a pandemic when I’m living it? Or how are you going to conjure a fictional baseball game more dramatic than a real one? You have to give the readers something different and use reality as a jumping off point while providing accuracy as the foundation. The robot arm scandals which stripped the Cardinals of a world title. Ballparks destroyed because baseball was considered treasonous. Memorabilia outlawed. Holographic players. The greats of the book’s past like Mooshie Lopez (a woman) are pure inventions. No furture Hall of Famers like Mookie Betts or Aaron Judge, because the game – and athletes’ bodies – are too fickle, though I do bring back a couple of long-dead real players. A novelist’s job is to invent. Tough noogies. There’s no whining in baseball fiction."

FenwayNation: "Talk a little about how your love of baseball has inspired you to write baseball-themed fiction. Is it tougher to write about what you so passionately love, or easier?" 

Gary: "I grew up six blocks from Yankee Stadium, back in the 60s during that last legendary Yankee dynasty of Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford. I must’ve been eight years old when I wrote my first short story about a rookie shortstop named Davey who replaced Tony Kubek. I was always hooked by the magic of the game, the sounds from the transistor radios echoed on the streets, the semi-religious fervor much like yours with the Red Sox and heck, any baseball fan back in the day. I was a very mediocre ballplayer, to be kind, so I projected myself into that world through fiction. In my first novel 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame', it was through creating the Buffalo Matadors and a twisted rabid fan. In 'The Man Who Wanted to Play Center Field for the New York Yankees', it was a baseball Rocky story (I even tried out as a promotion). In 'A Mound Over Hell' and throughout the upcoming four-book The Dark Depths series, I pay homage to baseball as the force of faith which can reunite a country and, ultimately, a world riven apart by war and hatred. The more I look around at our polarized planet, the more strongly I feel that we need the unification and traditions of baseball. And sentiment."

FenwayNation: "Will rivalries, like the Yankees-Red Sox one, be less vitriolic in the post coronavirus era—or will it revert to being as intense as ever (as it did after a brief respite post-9/11)?"

Gary: "Once the health emergency passes and the individual and national vigor is restored, it’ll be business as usual. You’ll be trashing my Yankees as the Evil Empire, I’ll be asking how many world titles the Red Sox have won (the Yankees have 27 in case you’ve forgotten) and all of us will be rooting against the Astros. But I think we should learn a lesson. The coronavirus strikes everyone, no matter for which team they root. We should all take a breath and remember that as the 2020 season doesn’t open, today we’re all baseball fans. Yes, we grew up rooting for different teams. Yes, we grew up emulating different favorite players; I developed a slight limp pretending to be The Mick hobbling around the bases on a home run. But it’s THE game we love. The specific emotions and attachments differ, but we all get worked up by a spectacular catch no matter what ballpark it’s in. Or playground. Like Americans, baseball fans have more in common than not. Let’s remember to celebrate that more."

FenwayNation: "How are you personally coping with a baseball-free world—are you playing fantasy baseball, reading baseball-related books, watching baseball movies?" 

Gary: "It’d hurt a bit too much. See, the wonder of baseball is that as long as you have your memories, which are the soul of the game, you’re never without the sound of the crack of a bat. As long as you can drift back to your first game which, for me, was behind a pole at Yankee Stadium where Roger Maris got thrown out at home in the last of the ninth, the game is with you. The first time you got an autograph. The last time you saw your favorite player. The smell of a baseball card. The old glove in the closet wrapped around the battered ball, propped against the chipped bat. Whether you were any good with the equipment or the worst player ever, you have those memories to carry you forward. You have the traditions, you have the links to the past. Baseball swims alongside American history. This is a bad time for our country but, as Tug McGraw said, ‘You gotta believe.'"