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on March 31, 2010
One of the greatest baseball books of modern times hit North America's books stores this week. Shockingly, it was written by a guy who was more interested in growing up to be Trevor Hoffman, not Peter Gammons. Those aren't my words. They are the opening sentences of ESPN baseball analyst Jayson Stark's review of The Bullpen Gospels by Dirk Hayhurst.

The book is receiving rave reviews not only for its baseball-related content, but also for Hayhurst's pained, personal story. But don't be confused. This story is neither an over-the-top expose on today's players, nor a "aw shucks" feel-good tale. In fact, it is not easy to put this book into a single category.

The book centers around the 2007 season when Hayhurst moves between different levels of the San Diego Padres minor league system. Hayhurst use pseudonyms and composite characters (e.g. Pickles, Rosco, Slappy, & Maddog) to protect his teammates' identifies. This is raw stuff, some times cringe-worthy, sophomorphic fun, other times cringe-worthy pain, delivered in machine gun bursts by a gifted writer. A particular passage about an octopus copulating a bagpipe had me laughing so hard I couldn't catch my breath.

Bullpen is compelling because of the style, or "voice" with which it is written. Hayhurst's style is disarmingly conversatinal and self-deprecating; exposing the reader to the lighter side of baseball, but also to his inner most fears and demons. He does so in a manner that makes you feel like you are in the room with him and his teammates shooting the breeze. The style draws you in, his stories are intoxicating, and the result is a spellbinding read.

The grit and realism starts right from the prologue.

"I was the team's long relief man. A nonglorious pitching role designed to protect priority pitchers. If the starting pitcher broke down or the game got out of control, I came in to clean up so the bullpen wasn't exhausted. Despite feel-good semantics supplied by the organization, my main job was mopping up lost causes. Why waste a talented pitcher when there was a perfectly useless guy for the job? I could pitch five innings in a blowout or face one batter in the seventeenth inning. Put it this way: if I could have done any other role successfully, I wouldn't have been the long man."

Usually, when I review a book, I take notes to remind myself of things I might want to weave into the review. That approach was hopeless with this book. There are far too many memorable moments to keep track of. Below is an excerpt of a comparatively tame episode amongst the many:

"As we made our way to the pen, fans splashed against the stadium's fenceing, begging us for autographs. We signed everything from hats and programs to ticket stubs and sandwich wrappers. It always boggles my mind how fans will fight all over themselves at a chance to get one of our names scribbled on their souvenirs. If only they knew what we were under these jerseys. Just hours before the game, the team debated the question of when a protein shake should be consumed--before or after sex? During, we decided, if you have a hand free."

Hayhurst is currently with the Toronto Blue Jay organization, but on injured reserve. He has been in the bigs with both San Diego and Toronto after a 4-year up and down minor league career bouncing between A, AA, and AAA.

Mark Ahrens
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on April 1, 2010
I have a very large collection of baseball books , and this is one of my favorites. I had been waiting for it ever since I heard an interview with the author, Dirk Hayhurst, 6 or 8 weeks ago. What a gem! It is a rare "baseball book" that even nonfans will love, but this is it. I started reading it while getting ready for work the first day after it arrived. When I glanced up at a clock, I noticed it was over an hour later! I have never been that engrossed. I cover a minor league team for a radio station and maybe have a little better feel for some of the things these guys experience, but no one (even in Ball Four) quite captured the emotional roller coaster players experience, especially when they are not always successful. More importantly, Dirk gave us a lot of insight into how easy it is to lose your "humanity" when you put on a jersey. I will never forget the stories he tells about walking in a homeless man's shoes and fulfilling a dying child's greatest wish by bringing him into the bullpen. I cried a bucket of tears not just from the sheer pathos of some of the stories but also because some of the stories are absolutely hilarious. Hayhurst has this incredibly self-effacing honesty that is so refreshing. Thank God, English majors sometimes wind up playing baseball! When his baseball career is over, Dirk Hayhurst could have a great career as a writer or cartoonist (another field in which he dabbles). I am glad that this long reliever (aka "mopup guy") in the bullpen had a lot of time on his hands to take notes that became this book.
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on April 16, 2010
I've known a few former minor league ballplayers in my life and have told them how envious I am of anyone who can tell their children and grandchildren that "I used to play baseball for a living" and have always been somewhat surprised when none of them ever seemed to share my enthusiasm. I never understood why none of them seemed as excited about their careers as I was.

After reading Hayhurst's book I now understand. To the overwhelming majority of minor leaguers, professional baseball only represented Failure. Obviously, most of them never make it to the bigs dispite their best efforts.

Few of us have to live with the reality of failing at something we dedicated so much time and effort to, but that is the reality of most minor league ballplayers.

We 'civilians' see them as guys who were playing baseball for a living when the rest of us were doing 9-5 jobs. Most of these guys wind up dead broke and have to start life all over again in their late 20's looking for a 9-5 job.

Hayhurst is a great writer with a great future. I would've given this book 5 stars but for the fact that he seemed to dwell a little too much about his personal problems which were no different than anybody else's problems. A couple of times I found myself thinking "welcome to the world, Dirk". At the same time, I couldn't put the book down.
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on April 2, 2010
To call this a baseball book does the author a disservice. Hayhurst is a baseball player, but more importantly, he's a real person, and he tells the story through the framework of minor league baseball. The writing in the book is powerful, and I found myself laughing out loud at parts while nearly in tears at others. I couldn't help but walk away from the book with a shift in perspective. Technology has made it easier to follow baseball teams and careers, but it has also made it easy to reduce players down to a stat line and a scouting description. Hayhurst shows us the story of one person behind those numbers, and the places where his story intersects with others.

I pre-ordered the book and anxiously awaited for it to appear on my Kindle. Once it did, I picked it up and didn't stop until I had finished the book. Now I can't wait for a follow-up to this outstanding work. The writing is exceptional, with a good sense of pacing and flow.
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on May 18, 2010
The idea of this books is better than the actual book itself. I would have loved a really good inside story about what life is like for a minor leaguer.

And while Hayhurst gives us a bit of that, he wastes page after page reprinting really dumb conversations that take place among players to kill the time. At the end of these supposedly funny stories, someone should be saying "well, you had to be there."

After I got an idea of the book's pace, I started skipping page after page; because once these supposedly hilarious conversations start, they don't stop for a lo-o-o-ong time.

The good parts were very good. They give you a sense of what it is really like as a minor league player. The harassment the pitches endure from fans, exposed in the bullpen. The minimal support they receive on the single A circuit. The sleazy accomomdations they endure. For someone who follows baseball, this is all good stuff. I wish there was more of it.

But every time Hayhurst gets into a good topic that has real events and real information, he cuts it short, and jumps back to more mindless conversations that were originally designed to fill time. They were intended to be forgotten, not immortalized.

It was a good read for about half the book. But it was frustrating that every time it started to get really good, it dropped the ball.
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on July 9, 2012
This was a mostly enjoyable baseball book, with its focus on the life of a minor league bullpen pitcher. But the author spent too much time regaling us with sophomoric tales of sometimes rowdy, sometimes raunchy capers of his teammates in places such as Lake Elsinore, California, and a few Texas League oases. Sometimes the anecdotes were funny and the dialog humorous, but for the most part, they were flat. Apparently baseball players are just like college frat rats when they're not on the field. Probably the reader could spin tales as good or even better from his or her past. I would have liked to have read more inside baseball. I would have like to know more about what it's like to be out on the field and not so much about the locker room or the team bus. There was some of that, but not enough. Hayhurst is a pretty good writer, but I think he was trying to do too much in this book: make it interesting, make it humorous, make it poignant and still make it a good baseball book. It's not a bad baseball book -- it gives one a fair taste for what it's like to be a perpetual minor leaguer -- but it could have been better. As I say, it's a good -- but not great -- baseball book.
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on January 16, 2012
While baseball is the constant throughout the book, it isn't a book about a 90 mph fastball or a sabremetric geek making it to the dream of the big Excel sheet. It is a book about humanity, and the raw emotions involved in success, failure and competition.

The book eloquently talks about what brings people of different walks of life, sometimes from different countries, to the same common spot at the same common time. Why do they all show up at a baseball field in Texas on a 104 degree Sunday afternoon?

It is the hope provided through the game. It is the magic pain relieving powers of a jersey to an ill fan. It is the hope and healing power of baseball that brings thousands of fans together on any given summer evening, in any given City where the best restaurant is an Applebee's and the best motel has roaches.

And at the same time, it is about identity and not liking one's own profession. Hayhurst debates becoming someone else throughout the book. But there is something about that jersey that just won't let him hang it up.

It's a fascinating read. It is one of the best books I have ever read.
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on May 9, 2010
About the time you're ready to write off this book as a collection of bawdy locker room humor, it gains some substance.
The book chronicles a season in which the author progressed from the lower levels of minor league baseball to a major-league roster. Along the way, he gains some new perspective on life and the place of baseball in it.
It's a long trip, though, and it passes through uncounted tasteless locker room stunts before it reaches a useful destination. The turnaround begins when the author tries to help a teammate get past a bad performance--and realizes he should be taking his own advice. It is completed when the author discusses his newly-gained perspective with a major-league hero and finds the hero feels the same way.
It's a thoughtful book with a worthwhile message, but you must make your way through a lot of juvenile hi-jinks to find it.
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on May 2, 2010
I wish I could say I've read every word Dirk has ever written, but I think I'm close. As a baseball fan I loved reading his story of one year in the minor leagues on the way to the majors. The stories are real and while some touch your heart, others make you laugh out loud. After reading several things Dirk wrote for Baseball America, I emailed him and told him he needed to go after the back page of Sports Illustrated because he wrote every bit as well as Rick Reilly. If you like baseball at all, and/or live in a town with a minor league team, read this book! You won't be sorry. I plan to read anything and everything he ever writes, his talent is worth it. And I wish him well with both his endeavors, writing, and recovering from surgery and getting back on the mound.
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on June 19, 2015
A really fun read that you can pick up, put down and enjoy. Great stories by someone who has been there, insights into what life in the minors is like and the screwballs who reside there on their way to the Bigs or other places. Have recommended this book to many friends who love baseball.
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