A COUPLE OF CURVEBALLS TWO WRITERS WANDER THROUGH BASEBALL, ONE LOOKING FOR AMERICA, THE OTHER FOR HIMSELF

September 21, 1997

The overwhelming majority of baseball books run pretty much to
form. Aside from statistical tomes, Roger Angell collections and
a few valuable historical works, the game's nonfiction oeuvre is
confined to dreary reminiscences by aging sportswriters and
broadcasters and a spate of yawn-inducing, blatantly
self-serving, as-told-to player autobiographies. But two new
books, both published by Diamond Communications, Inc., represent
happy departures from the norm.

What is particularly refreshing about Joseph A. Reaves's Warsaw
to Wrigley ($24.95) and Dave D'Antonio's Invincible Summer
($15.95) is that in each the author sets out on a quest only
peripherally connected with baseball. Returning home after 13
years as a foreign correspondent, Reaves seeks to rediscover
America. D'Antonio, a middle school history teacher recovering
from a succession of personal setbacks, tries to find himself.

Reaves is the more polished writer. A journalist who had covered
war and revolution in Asia and Europe, he decided upon an
unusual career move in 1992, accepting an assignment as a
baseball writer for his paper, the Chicago Tribune. He survived
four seasons, three with the Cubs, one with the White Sox.

Although he was born in New Orleans, Reaves is an inveterate
Cubs fan. As a reporter who had interviewed Polish president
Lech Walesa, he was expected to bring a worldly perspective to
the clubhouse and press box. He was quickly disabused of such
notions when, upon being introduced as an expert on Poland to
Ron Karkovice, a ballplayer "obviously ... of Polish descent,"
he heard Karkovice say in typical baseballese, "F--- Poland."

In fact, despite Reaves's enthusiasm for the game, he found life
on the baseball beat otherworldly. He was astonished by how
little ballplayers and, for that matter, sportswriters knew or
cared about international or even national affairs. "A
well-rounded baseball beat writer," Reaves concluded, "was
someone who could also talk about basketball."

The players, pampered since childhood, their every need met by
ball club functionaries, represented an even bigger affront to
Reaves's cosmopolitan sensibility. "I never was able to come to
grips with, or explain to readers, how easily most players
themselves embraced the adulation as merely their richly
deserved due," Reaves writes. "I had stood in the Great Hall of
the People with Deng Xiaoping and walked through the gold-leafed
palace of Philippine strongman Ferdinand Marcos. I sat down with
Yasser Arafat, Lech Walesa, King Hussein of Jordan, and the
leaders and opposition figures of a half dozen other countries
from Bulgaria to Bangladesh. They all had massive egos....But
none was more cocksure, more narcissistic or egomaniacal, than
most 25-year-old banjo-hitting baseball players I came across."

But Reaves is no snob, and he had a fine time on the beat. "I
wouldn't have missed it for the world," he writes. In the end it
was dissatisfaction with his employers at the Tribune Company
(which also owns the Cubs) that caused him to leave both
baseball and the paper late in the '95 season to move abroad
again. As much as he loves his native land, particularly that
part of it that is Wrigley Field, he sadly concludes that he is
yet an auslander. "I don't know where home is," he writes. "I
fear I will never know."

Dave D'Antonio, of San Leandro, Calif., is certainly no
cosmopolite. In his curiously affecting little book, Invincible
Summer, he comes across as a vulnerable naif. A fiercely loyal
fan, he suffered mightily during the 1994 baseball strike. This
disastrous event, coupled with "the loss of...half my life
savings" in an investment scam, "a pair of painful romantic
relationships" and the unexpected divorce of his parents,
persuaded him to hit the road at age 34, in the spring of 1995.
But not without a purpose, for D'Antonio set out to visit the
gravesites of as many Hall of Fame ballplayers as he could find.
"Cemeteries have always interested me," he explains. "I felt
their peace and silence." Besides, by finding the past he would
be "forgetting the present."

D'Antonio's odyssey led him through 43 states and 25,873 miles
in five months. Most of the time he slept in his car, Nellie,
and bathed in hotel pools. Along the way he stood reverently
before the graves of close to 100 Hall of Famers.

D'Antonio faithfully, if briefly, recounts the careers and
personalities of the departed immortals he visited, but what
makes this book interesting is the author's own decidedly odd
adventures. On his unmerry way he became involved in an angry
traffic dispute with a mute, fell desperately in love with a
woman he later discovered was a lesbian and, in a pique over
past racism, urinated on the steps of the capitol building in
Montgomery, Ala.

It's an intriguing ride, marred only by touches of sophomoric
philosophizing and the author's addiction to preposterous
similes and analogies, the most egregious of which is his
description of Jesus Christ as having "more saves than Lee
Smith, Rollie Fingers and Hoyt Wilhelm put together." D'Antonio
may not exactly have banished his own "demons," as he calls
them, but at the graves of the great his love for the game was
restored, and he convinced himself that, unlike those he
visited, he would "rise again."

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY JEFF WONG [Drawing of man in graveyard holding baseball hat over his heart]

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