30 baseball books in 30 days of ’10: Day 30 — A dad’s gift to his sons, and the rest of us, if we’re paying attention

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The book: “Six Decades of Baseball: A Personal Narrative”

The author: Bill Lewers

The vital stats: Self published by Xlibris, 395 pages, $19.99

Find it: At its own website (linked here), also on Amazon.com (linked here)

The pitch: It started, organically enough, with an email:

“Please allow me to introduce myself – my name is Bill Lewers and I recently published a book …

Bill is a Red Sox fan, who never lived in Boston, mostly in New York, now lives in the D.C. area and goes to a lot of Orioles games …

“My motivation for writing the book … was personal satisfaction as well as to provide a legacy for my two sons. It was not written to be a commercial venture. … (but) there did not seem to be many books out there written by ‘ordinary fans’. … So far most of my feedback has come from family and friends which while generally positive, is hardly impartial.”

He wanted a fresh set of eyes on his book. I had the time and the desire … and this book review thing going on …

So, let me tell you now about my new best friend, Bill Lewers, who I feel I know quite intimately — based on baseball.

Without giving up too much of his story, he’s got a lucky wife, and two pretty neat kids.

He saw Satchel Paige pitch for the St. Louis Browns against the New York Yankees in the first time he set foot in Yankee Stadium. He saw Carl Erskine throw a no-hitter at Ebbets Field in 1956, and kept score on a 15-cent scorecard — which he still has.

He was at a game in Camden Yards in 1994 where the Orioles and Angels hit 11 home runs — a nine-inning record. Two years earlier — same place — he saw the Orioles turn a triple play agains the Angels (it was hit by Gary Gaetti). Nine years after that, he saw another triple play — at his son’s game, which started with him catching a batted ball for the first time in a Little League game.

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There are a couple of pictures he took as a kid when he was at Yankee Stadium, photos "obviously flawed. There are spots and blotches. The upper left corner is overexposed. It has apparently come in contact with some dirt. For the past fifth years, it has been moved from drawer to drawer and has suffered in the process. Yet in spite of all this, the excitement of the moment still manages to come through. .. It is a little bit like my memory -- flawed, based on images that were imperfect at the time, and weathered with age, but somehow accurate in the essentials."

He has a great story about going to a Dodgers' game in 1954 with his fifth-grade class. Mr. Phelan told each of the students to write a letter to a Brooklyn Dodger. He had only one restriction -- no one could write to Walter Alston, the team's first-year manager, who replaced the colorful, popular Chuck Dressen. Alston only got the job because Dressen demanded a multi-year contract, and the team declined, deciding to promote Alston from their farm system.

“Alston was rather colorless, and the Dodgers were off to a somewhat slow start, caolumnists and fans alike were after his scalp. Hence Mr. Phelan’s instruction — do not write to Walter Alston because he may not be managing the Dodgers by the time (the field trip took place at the game).” And 22 years later, he was still with the team.

For $6.30, he got a ticket to the 1960 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium — a reserved seat behind home plate. When he graduated from high school in June, 1961 — the month I was born, by the way — he celebrated by taking in a weekend series between the Red Sox and Yankees, capped by a Sunday doubleheader and highlighted by Carl Yastrzemski scoring from second base on a sacrifice fly that left-fielder Yogi Berra tracked down near the 457-foot sign in deep left-center field.

And about his sons, Mark and John — the two on the book cover, goofing around new The Green Monster at Fenway Park during a family trip in 2003. He explains in a chapter about them on page 310:

“Mark and John are two very different persons when it comes to baseball. ….

“A typical Mark question might be ‘What kind of a player was Phil Rizzuto?’ A typical John question would be, ‘If I threw a Frisbee from here, would it reach the field?’ At the time we were in the last row of the upper deck at RFK Stadium watching the Nationals play. I assured him that the Frisbee would not reach the field. John thought about this for an inning or two. Then, ‘Suppose our seats were five rows closer, then would the Frisbee reach the field?’”

My kids are the same — both enjoy baseball for different reasons. That’s the beauty of kids.

And with all that, maybe the reason we’ve really come around to embrace this book is from what Bill writes on page 14:

“(This) might encourage other baseball fans to put to paper their own experiences, observations and opinions. There is no shortage of baseball books written by insiders — players, managers, professional sports journalists. There are also plenty of books by ‘celebrity fans’ like George Will, Stephen King and Doris Kearns Goodwin. There does not, however, seem to be a great number of books written by ordinary baseball fans, fans who more often than not watch the game from the nosebleed section of the upper deck. Hopefully, this book may contribute to filling that void.”

With today’s accessabily to self-publish through convenient websites, do trial runs on blogs and collect old boxscores from Retrosheet, it’s an idea that’s almost too easy for someone to have thought through before this.

Give Bill credit. He did it. And he pulled it off.

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About writing your own book: Lewers said he picked Xlibris over other self-publishers like authorhouse, iuniverse, booklocker or publish america because he knew it helped his aunt with a book a couple of years ago.

“On the whole I am satisfied with the job they did (although I was less than pleased with the way the interior photographs came out – this is one of the weaknesses of POD),” Levers said in an email.

You can get a book done for as inexpensive as $400, but he went with the $1,500 “premium package” that adds for copyediting, author’s alteration during the production process and an index. He did it all on a Microsoft Word document.

“POD is very controverial as you probably know and has many supporters who say it’s wonderful and many detractors who say otherwise. If I had been 20 years younger and interested in building a career in writing, then I would not have done POD, as POD has very little respect in the publishing world for a variety of reasons (some of them quite legitimate). But for someone like myself, writing the only book I’m ever going to write, it met my needs very well.”

How the book idea started:

“The project started when my wife Mary encouraged me to write down my baseball memories about 10 years ago which I did off and on for the next 7 or 8 years. Then around 2 years ago I started to take it seriously and over a period of about a year most of the essays were written. I’m retired so I would usually write for a couple of hours a day after my wife left for work and my sons for school. I only worked on the book on school days – otherwise my duties as a househusband took precedence.”

And how it ended:

“I found the whole experience to be very rewarding on a number of levels. One of the unexpected benefits was that as part of my pacage I received 50 postcards advertising the book. At first I didn’t think much of them but then I started looking up addresses of old friends on the internet and sent the postcards to them. As a result I have renewed contact with people I have not seen for 15, 20, in one case even 40 years. A real unexpected blessing.”

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How it goes down in the scorebook: Here’s the best way to end this book review series, with the last paragraph of Bill’s book about a recent trip to Camden Yards: “I look around and take it all in. I have been doing this sort of thing in one way or another for six decades, and it still seems fresh as it did on that first day at the Polo Grounds so many years ago. I’ll keep right on doing it as long as the good Lord gives me strength and my good wife gives me permission. If you’re ever at Camden Yards on a Sunday afternoon and want to experience life in the cheap seats, come on up and say, ‘Hi.’”

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