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The Art of Fielding By Chad Harbach

Release date: 04th January, 2012
Publisher: Fourth Estate

List Price: £15.99
Our Price: £10.19
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Prior to the last Rugby World Cup, whenever Jonny Wilkinson stepped up to take a penalty, you would put the mortgage on him slotting the ball over for three guaranteed points. The same was true of Tiger Woods when he had a glimpse of final day major glory - he never failed.

A Roger Federer serve, a Lionel Messi penalty, a Mark Cavendish burst for the finishing line: at his peak, each man falls into the same ultra-reliable category.

There is (or was) a metronomic excellence about these sportsmen, an unerring ability to get a kick, a putt, a serve or a sprint so absolutely right that it sets them apart from their peers.

In most instances, it's the relentless march of time which accounts for an athlete's eventual inability to succeed where once he did so with majestic ease.

In a much smaller number of cases, however, sometimes an athlete in his prime simply drops out of the sporting 'zone' for no apparent reason and becomes incapable of recapturing the form or rhythm that once propelled him skywards.

Chad Harbach's engaging debut novel, The Art of Fielding, is based upon the experience of Steve Blass, a star pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates who, two years after helping the Pirates win baseball's 1971 World Series, found his ability to pitch a baseball accurately had completely deserted him. Today, this sudden and inexplicable loss of sporting ability is known as Steve Blass Disease.

The Art of Fielding is not, however, a book solely about baseball. It's set in a Midwestern college called Westish which focuses upon the baseball exploits of Henry Skrimshander, a shy teenager who finds that when he takes to the baseball field, he becomes a phenomenal player. So good is Henry that he attracts the attention of big team scouts, at which point he begins to think too much about his gameƖ

A passing knowledge of baseball certainly helps when reading what is, at heart, a simple tale of redemption and loyalty laced with enough story strands to appease any Hollywood film director. Along the way, it sheds some light on why sportsmen might suffer from Steve Blass Disease, but unfortunately, it doesn't tell us why it happens.


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