Play Ball

In the study of  baseball, as Yogi Berra once noted, “You can observe a lot by watching.”

With that in mind, I embarked last spring on a leisurely course of spectatorship to enlarge my understanding of the game. My prior personal experiences had been limited to watching my older brother pitch during his Little League days, cheering for my son in his short-lived experiments in T-ball, and, for one lackluster season, attempting to master the skills of batting and fielding while on the freshman softball team at my high school.

Since then, my interest in the national pastime had waned, occasionally sputtering into life during the World Series, but never catching fire.

Until last spring.

At first, when I began idly tuning in to watch the Mariners play ball, I  justified the wasted hours on the couch as research for my new book, which revolves around a softball game. I told my husband I needed to refresh my understanding of the game. He found this mildly amusing, and seemed to enjoy clearing up my confusion about the ins and outs of rules and strategy, as I tried to get a grip on the infield fly rule, the purpose of the bunt, and the mystery of the knuckleball.

The addiction came on gradually. The soothing sound of Dave Neihaus‘s voice, the hypnotic rhythm of the ball being struck and caught, the thrilling pulse of the crowd chanting “Ichiro, Ichiro” like some thunderous heartbeat.

Yeah. I could quit anytime.

But, whether or not that’s true, watching all that baseball last season did help me to recognize the vast difference between what the pros do, and what passed for sport back home in rural Virginia, where the most important  result wasn’t who won or lost, but who brought the beer, or whatever.

My new book, Potluck, is a story of Duggie Moon, a cheerily unflappable low-achiever who gets by on his charm and his willingness to work for minimum wage as long as he’s free to live the life he’s chosen as a slacker entrepreneur in the idyllic mountain county of Rapidan, Virginia. Duggie has a soft heart, and some of his best friends would tell you he’s got a soft head too. But he’s always willing to put his own interests aside for the good of the team, and that team is the Moonlighters, sponsored by his older sister Glory  under the banner of her Moonlight Café.

In the town of Dudley, the highpoint of the social calendar is the annual Fourth of July softball tournament, but dark forces are gathering for this year’s normally easy-going event. When his ace-pitcher and longstanding unrequited love Jenny Carson is forced to play for the competition, and a team of  thuggish ringers enters the tournament, Duggie has his hands full trying to keep tempers from flying higher than the homers. And he’s having a tough time focusing because he’s a little paranoid about the  booming crop of pot he’s secretly growing in an old school bus behind his house. All will be well if he can just get it harvested before the Sheriff’s men get wind of it.

In an ordinary steamy  July in Virginia, even the coolest characters find it hard to avoid getting baked. And for Duggie Moon, this summer looks to be a scorcher.

Will he save the day, win the girl, and avoid prison? Try Potluck and find out.

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