Augusta Free Press (Staunton, VA)
Listen to an interview with Austin Gisriel - a
podcast by the Augusta Free Press - 2/15/2010
(note, the interview is the second topic in
the podcast at about 6:30 (minutes))
Safe in New Market
Valley League gets literary treatment
by Chris Graham - Augusta Free Press - February 19, 2010
One summer evening Austin Gisriel found himself intrigued by the sandwich-board signs. "Game tonite," they beckoned. Rebels Park. Seven-thirty.
A baseball fan from the womb - "Brooks Robinson was my hero growing up," said Gisriel, to the point where he says he has two daughters, "either one of whom would have been named Brooks had they been boys" - Gisriel ended up at Rebels Park, home of the New Market Rebels, to take in a game.
And ended up being taken in himself in the process.
"It's 90 miles from my house to Rebel Park. It's 90 miles from my house to Camden Yards. And as much an Orioles fan as I am, I'd much rather travel the 90 miles to Rebel Park," said Gisriel, the author of Safe at Home: A Season in the Valley, a chronicle of the New Market Rebels Valley League baseball team.
The book is a project of Augusta Free Press Publishing, which means I've read the book several times as it made its way through the editing process to the final product that is sitting on my bookshelf now.
I'm a sucker for baseball books. My favorite baseball writers are the greats Roger Kahn and Roger Angell. I held Safe at Home up to those high standards, and think Gisriel did a good job holding up his end of the bargain in that respect.
"I really wanted to bring fans not just into the dugout, but into the stands, and into management, and into the press box," said Gisriel in an interview for The AFP Show podcast that debuted on Monday.
"I think a lot of fans think, Well, it's summer baseball, we'll just invite 25 kids to our town, give them a uniform, and they can come and play for two months. But there's so much more involved than that. And the reward that those people get from their participation, I thought that was something that was unexplored."
So Safe at Home is as much a love story as it is a baseball book - the love story being the love affair that obviously developed between the Maryland native and the town of New Market that began the night that the sandwich boards pulled him in for a game and continued as he gathered information for a story on the Valley League in 2008 for an article that appeared in Virginia Living magazine.
"I just got the sense that there was more there than just a magazine article," said Gisriel after seeing his article in print, and deciding later that summer to take his writing jones to the next level.
The best parts of the book to me were the stories centered around 87-year-old hitting coach Mo Weber, the sage of summer baseball, who spent untold dozens of hours on road trips and the long days that lead to the hot nights under the lights discussing his theories related to hitting, getting better every day, life and whatever else came to mind.
Weber even talked Gisriel into getting back into the cage, which was "a lot of fun," Gisriel said, "even if it wasn't as productive as it was 30 years ago."
Summer baseball is a ripe subject for the kind of attention that Gisriel brings to it with Safe at Home, but there's been precious little done a la what my literary heroes Kahn and Angell could do to the topic.
Fittingly for the baseball-book genre, Gisriel dedicates the book to "the people who pour their hearts and souls into the teams for two months and house the players that come here and go out and do the 50-50 raffles and help clean up the ballpark - and help repair the ballpark, as the case might be."
"To really be there and be a part of it and see it, that was a real learning experience and a wonderful experience," Gisriel said.
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