Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"Man Versus Ball"

I recently finished reading a fascinating book by a New York guy named Jon Hart called "Man Versus Ball: One Ordinary Guy and His Extraordinary Sports Adventures."

It is very much an "everyman" story about how Jon, who was never a professional athlete but a writer for a number of publications, took on a number of jobs in the athletic world. It brings to mind what George Plimpton, the late celebrated author did in going to training camp with the Detroit Lions, tried to play on the PGA tour and sparred with pro boxers.

I was surprised when I opened the book to the first chapter to discover that Jon had played a season with the semipro Brooklyn Mariners. As a matter of full disclosure, I have known Pudgie Walsh, the Mariners head coach, for many years. I was a waterboy on the FDNY football team that Pudgie coached, in the mid-1970s. (They played the game at Shea Stadium in 1975, and I got to walk on the field and in the clubhouse. My dad was an assistant coach on that team.) I have to admit I laughed at Jon's description of the colorful Pudgie, and his attempts to get even a smidgen of playing time.

Throughout the book, Jon takes us through his adventures as a ballboy at the US Tennis Open at Flushing Meadows, a vendor at both Shea and Yankee Stadiums, Citi Field and at the Red Sox spring training site in Ft. Myers, as an amateur caddie at a PGA tournament in Connecticut, and even taking a turn at a wrestling school in Brooklyn. (His adventures with the world of  "roller basketball" is really out there.) Despite what might be termed as "fun" jobs, Jon goes to great lengths to show us that there's a lot of hard work that goes into these positions, and a lot of the politics that go on in them as well.

I also enjoyed the fact that he refers to many of the people he dealt with by using funny nicknames, like "Sergeant Pepper" for a guy he worked with as a vendor in Yankee Stadium who was a huge Beatles fan. And that players on the Brooklyn Mariners called him "Plimpton" (see above explanation), one that he didn't particularly care for.

I definitely recommend "Man Versus Ball" as a good, quick read for those of you who would like a first-hand account of what it's like to be part of the "very edge" sports world. It's one of those "I wonder what it's like to do that" kind of books. Thanks for an enjoyable ride, Mr. Hart.

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