Monday, May 28, 2012
Review: Starting and Closing by John Smoltz
Author: John Smoltz with Don Yaeger
Genre: Autobiography, Nonfiction
Pub Date: April 2012, William Morrow, an Imprint of HarperCollins
Source: Many thanks to Tracy Diamond and the William Morrow Marketing Team for this finished copy for review!
Synopsis (from the dust jacket)
I wasn't afraid to fail. It's really as simple as that.
As a seven-year-old kid pitching a ball against a brick wall, John Smoltz decided to be a professional baseball player when he grew up. And from that simple decision until his last season on the mound in the major leagues, it was his faith, work ethic, and love for the game—even more than God-given talent—that propelled him through challenges that would have ruined other athletes.
Starting and Closing chronicles John Smoltz's final season in a major league uniform, capping a legendary career that included fourteen years as part of one of the most dominant starting rotations in baseball, a Cy Young Award, and a World Series title—all while battling and overcoming "career-ending" injuries. At age forty-one, Smoltz was making yet another unlikely comeback from his fifth surgery. Recounting the story of a season that tested his perseverance and deepened his faith, Smoltz flashes back to watershed moments in the skeptic-defying journey from being one of the best starting pitchers of all time, to closer, to starter again.
One of the most intelligent, talented, and passionate players in the game, Smoltz delivers insights into modern major league baseball, its place in popular culture, and the value of competition. He writes with unflinching honesty about becoming a true Christian and finding in his beliefs the peace and strength to stay focused—through postseason triumphs and defeats, upheavals in his personal life, and the sting of being sent to the bullpen. What emerges is an inspirational story of spiritual growth and family values, from a man who believed not just in himself but in God's plan for him—and one more year.
I expect that many of you may not know that I grew up a die-hard Atlanta Braves fan. Though I don't follow the game nearly as much as I used to (I used to record the team's stats and maintain a binder for a few years -- I was very serious!), I am still a Braves fan at heart. I've long been a fan of John Smoltz, as well. I had the good fortune to interview him in the Braves dugout for a summer project I worked on in 2002, the summer after my junior year at The College of William & Mary. (The project was a statistical analysis of the Braves current ballpark, Turner Field, versus their old stomping grounds at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium -- taking a look at whether or not Turner Field was more of a pitcher's park and AFC Stadium was a hitter's park, which were the reputations each field had gained. The long and short of it, there was no statistical difference between the two parks despite obvious opinions and impressions that the two stadiums were completely different parks with respect to how they "played.")
My project aside, the one thing I came away with from my interview with Smoltz (and a few other players and coaches) was what a genuinely nice guy he was -- willing to take the time to answer my questions honestly and fully. It was an experience I'll never forget. So, when I learned that Smoltz had co-authored a book documenting his final year in the Major Leagues, I was anxious to get my hands on it, both from a personal standpoint and with the thought that it would be a departure from my usual reviews. (Not to mention that both my husband and my dad will likely enjoy reading this book.)
Starting and Closing proved to be a very interesting read. And though I admitted yesterday it was slow going for me (compared to when I read fictional works), that certainly doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy this book. Smoltz's personality really shines through the pages of this autobiographical account. It's his voice you hear, evidenced much by the colloquial writing and heartfelt sentiments throughout. Until reading his story, I wasn't really aware that he was a "born again Christian" or that his faith played such a strong role in his life and his baseball career. By the end of the book, I had a new perspective on Smoltz and it was fun to see a more personal side, beyond the man on the pitcher's mound.
While this book does chronicle Smoltz's comeback after shoulder surgery and his perseverance to play one more year, he sprinkles in many stories of his boyhood growing up in Michigan and dreaming to play for the Detroit Tigers, not to mention the years he spent pitching with one of the best rotations in baseball in Atlanta. Though I was already aware of his tendency to be a bit of a prankster and joke around, reading his accounts of some of the pranks he'd pulled, along with other Braves pitchers, made for an often funny read. The book isn't all fun and games, though. Smoltz also chronicles difficulties with injuries throughout his career, challenges he faced with the Braves' upper management, and some personal life struggles along the way.
Starting and Closing really is a genuine look at one of baseball's best pitchers through his own eyes. If you're a sports fan or just a baseball fan -- even if you're not a fan of the Braves -- I think you'd enjoy picking up this book. It's a quick, easy read (unless you have a difficult history with nonfiction like some of us and even then, I got through it relatively quickly) that offers not only a closer look at Smoltz, but some of the other guys he played with throughout his career.
If you have reviewed this book, please feel free to leave a link to your review in the comments section.