The book: “Out Of My League: A Rookie’s Survival in the Bigs”
The author: Dirk Hayhurst
The vital stats: Citadel Press, 406 pages, $24.95
The pitch: The anticipated followup to the 2010 New York Times bestseller “The Bullpen Gospels” establishes Dirk Hayhurst on the cusp of the 2008 season — he’s got an off-season job at Circuit City, he’s getting serious about his girlfriend Bonnie, still sleeping on the inflatable mattress on the floor of his tyrannical grandma’s house in Ohio just to save money — and then he lands an invite to the San Diego Padres’ spring training camp.
All that Single-A-related manure seems like a lifetime ago. Hayhurst still struggles and juggles his big-league aspirations around a supporting cast that includes a bi-polar father, a argumentative mom, an alcoholic brother and a loving fianc who realizes no matter how supportive she tries to remain, it’s not always going to make him feel any better.
Starting the season at Triple-A Portland, Hayhurst gets the call to replace Greg Maddux in the rotation in late August. But he quickly learns that no matter how great the hot tub is in the hotel he’s put up in, there is constant, brutal frustration in trying to survive day to day with the expectations put on him, and by him, at the big-league level. No matter how obscene amount of money is given to him for his role as a spot starter and bullpen longman, there are huge trappings Hayhurst didn’t see coming. And he crumbles a bit.
In all, he starts three games and pitches 10 in all. Five are relief appearances against the Dodgers — one of which he gives up a home run to Manny Ramirez.
It leads to Chapter 64 ending with Hayhurst writing: “I hated the game of baseball, the big leagues and Manny Ramirez.” That’s followed by Chapter 65: An entire conversation he has with his mother, who sees him on ESPN “SportsCenter” over and over again giving up the Ramirez homer, and is so excited to call him the next day to celebrate the attention he received. “I thought you’d be happy. You always talked about wanting to make it on SportsCenter. Now you can say you have.”
An excerpt: From Chapter 51, on his first major-league appearance during a game against San Francisco and Barry Zito (retrosheet.org boxscore linked here):
“I was naked and scared, stranded atop that patch of red dirt like an orphaned child. A crowd of loaded expectations surrounded me, eyes trained on my every movement. Twisted, scrutinizing faces pressing down, squeezing my breath into short, labored gasps … My teammates, whom I’d known for all of the last four hours, stood impassively at their posts waiting to see if I’d survive or self-destruct in a flourish of pants-wetting and vomit. I was now a cog in the machine of big league baseball, simultaneously the greatest and the least in an industry that devours its weak. The more I tried to look confident, the more I was reminded I wasn’t. It was pointless to pretend this was the same game I’d played for the last twenty years of my life. It was not.”
(Things could get worse … When he made his first start at home for San Diego soon afterward, he was introduced on the scoreboard during the starting lineups as ‘Dick Hayhurst.’)
From page 336, his first visit to Dodger Stadium:
“The hotel in Los Angeles was by far the best hotel I’d ever stayed in my life. My room had twin, marble walk-in showers, a hot tub; a king-size bed with down pillows; and a sitting room with three couches and a solid oak desk. …
“The Dodgers ballpark, on the other hand, was a dump. The insides of the place were in dire need of renovating. The locker room was cramped and training room small. I think the clubhouse staff knew this because their service was amazing … However, as good as they were, there was nothing they could do to make up for the Dodger fans. …
“Fans yelled down at us from above, screaming how we sucked. When we tuned them out, bags of trash came sailing down on top of us. Then cups of beer were dumped over, sending us to find cover in the pen’s tiny bunker. Fights intermittently broke out in the stadium — it was actually more fun to watch the police haul away fans who were duking it out than it was to watch the game, since when the police stepped in to keep peace, they got showered with beer from the upper levels too.”
How it goes down in the scorebook: Not the tell-alll some may still want, but more a tell-it-like-it-is, which may have led to his being somewhat blackballed by the big leagues. We deeply appreciate the risks he took to get this done.
Before getting to even the first of the 75 chapters, Hayhurst writes: “If there is one thing I’ve learned since my first book it’s that sometimes the things we think matter most in this world turn out to be rather expendable and disappointing, while sometimes the things we take for granted are absolutely priceless, and that’s what this story is all about.”
That’s the theme Hayhurst stays true to here. He exposes not just his own insecurities, but also how many on the big-league roster are what he calls full of “social steroids” — inflated egos, brought upon by the extraordinary amount of money that they’re now paid and ridiculously plush hotels they’re allowed to stay in after all that time “practicing” in the minors. Failures lead to doubt, though, and it’s tough for him to even enjoy the big-league life very much, especially when he can’t locate his fastball, even in the bullpen.
He knows that no matter how much hero-worship is heaped upon him just for the celebrity he now has attained, it’s far from satisfying. That spins into more paranoia and doubt, which may seem to make him ungrateful — which he isn’t. He just wonders why others get so caught up in the false fame of it all.
“No one understands what it’s like to do this,” he screams at Bonnie after a bad outing as she tries to give him positive feedback.
Now they, and we, kinda do.
Coming up: Hayhurst says that next year will come a third book about his experience with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2009 — where he was actually doing fairly well until an arm injury cut his season short. That will be followed up about his recent aborted attempt to play in Italy (it lasted about a week). He also says an eBook version with outtakes from “Out Of My League” will be coming in the fall under the title “Wild Pitches.”
Check out: An interview Keith Olbermann did with Hayhurst just prior to the release of “Out Of My League”:
And another TV interview: