Six Innings

“That’s baseball, a game of skill combined with a heavy dose of dumb luck.”

Diehard Mets fan, Little League coach and hardball league ‘for old guys’ player, James Preller is the perfect man for the job when the job is writing about baseball.

Six Innings is an intimate look inside the minds of one team of adolescent players during the most important game of their lives. For six innings you’ll be engrossed in every detail of their inner and outward games as well as their personal histories.

The storytelling is flawless. Just when it gets a bit too heavy, too real, there’s a moment of relief brought about by action on the field or baseball trivia from the bench. From inside jokes to player personalities, there is nothing about this story that doesn’t scream baseball.

When the book initially came out Publishers Weekly wrote, “If Judy Blume could write a book about Little League, about its players’ deepest fears and secret dreams, it might come out something like this.” That’s a pretty spot-on description.

On the author’s website, there is much conversation about the book and it’s inspiration. Preller once answered a fan letter about his own skills on the field as follows:

“Am I good at baseball? Ha, well, not particularly. But I do love the game, and I still love playing it. I now play in a ridiculous 55-up men’s hardball league. Imagine very old guys who can barely move attempting to play baseball — like trying to walk through a room full of Jell-O — and that’s us. But there we are under the sun, playing in the green fields of the mind, as if we were boys again. I can still steal a base, I can still break off a pretty good curveball (okay, it rolls in like a tumbleweed), I can still hit. The other part I love is the competition. I’ll play for as long as I’m able.”

When asked what it’s like to coach kids he responded, “It’s like trying to hold the attention of a herd of earthworms.” Any coaches out there that can relate? From daisy pickers to stats heads and every guy who is too quiet to ever know what they’re thinking about in between, Preller covers them all. What he doesn’t do is marginalize or caricature them into ideas of people rather than real boys. Perhaps for this reason alone, though the book provides many others as well, this particular book was written for only one purpose and that is to be read. It cannot be made into a movie or a show. In doing so, it would lose everything that makes it great.

From well set up moments, “No runs, no errors, one hit, two stolen bases, one wonderful catch, and half a dozen heart attacks in the stands. Five more innings to go.“, to insightful baseball wisdom, “On the field baseball is a game of isolation, nine singular outpost of shared solitude, for every player is ultimately alone. You are a “team” immediately before and after each play. You wear the same uniform, you lift up and support each other. But in the decisive moment, when games are won and lost, no one else can catch the ball for you,” every page leaves you wanting to pause, to reflect and embrace the images and the emotions being capture in concise, perfect paragraphs.

Looking at Peller’s personal history you would think all he knows is baseball. Besides playing on the senior league and coaching, Peller gives the following answers to his personal history questions during an interview…

What did you want to be when you grew up?

“As a southpaw from Long Island, I dreamed of pitching for the New York Mets. However, the Mets did not share that dream. “

Favorite TV show?

“New York Mets Baseball.”

On being a writer he says, “As a kid I used to invent elaborate dice games that revolved around baseball. Roll a seven, the batter strikes out; roll a three, he hits a double. I filled entire notebooks with the box scores of these imaginary games. Looking back across the decades I realize that I was experiencing, and passionately seeking out, the core experience of being a writer. I was alone with an empty notebook and a pen in my hand. Later in life, those fictional baseball statistics became words and stories.”

What do you wish you could do better?

“I wish I could throw a real good fastball.”

When asked where he felt most at home Peller replied, “I love – even to this day – sitting out in centerfield during a ballgame. Searching the sky for high-flying baseballs. I think it connects me to something innocent and pure, chasing a round white ball under a blue sky.”

A self-proclaimed grammar junkie Peller filled the pages of Six Innings with great baseball slang like “a can of corn”, “frozen rope” and “save my ups”, covering the game from the offensive dugout. Can't wait for our language lesson from that side of the plate? There are tons more in the book for you to learn!

Asked why he wrote Six Innings Peller said, “I had to write a book about baseball; it was inevitable. Baseball has touched my life in every way that it can be touched. It’s an invisible thread that connects all the corners of my life. Most vividly in my childhood memories, most profoundly with my mother – watching games, having catch, connecting through the game."

"As a father, I’ve spent a lot of time around Little League fields. I’ve coached and managed many teams. I’ve watched those kids, tried to help the best I could, and always came away convinced that I learned more than they did. It’s a world I know. But more than that, it’s a world where many boys live – passionately. Serious business. We remember those games, those times, forever.”

If you are a fan of the game interested in understanding players or their on-field dilemma’s better, this is the book for you. Written for a pre-teen demographic it has enough detail, and advanced language, to be perfect for any person with a love of the game that is striving to learn to read in English. For native speakers with a heart that beats faster between the lines, it will be a delightful quick read as well.

This book gives you more than a game of baseball or a glimpse into the lives of a bunch of kids. It gives you a richer, fuller understanding of the people who play a sport we love and the reasons they do what they do. It expresses how our actions become their angst in the most appreciated ways,

“Tyler swings and misses at a fastball ten inches above his head. This mistake elicits a chorus of advice from the stands:

“Make him throw strikes, Ty!”

“Don’t help him out!”

“Lay off the high ones, Ty!”

Such is the life of a Little Leaguer. There’s no shortage of helpful suggestions.”

It also gets to the heart of what makes each individual on the field the man for their job,

“He unleashes his frustration on the next hitter. He grunts loudly, a wounded-animal sound, pouring his aggression into each pitch. He wants to throw even harder. But because he’s a pitcher his anger has the opposite effect. In an effort to get more, he achieves less. Coaches call it “muscling up.” Instead of throwing in a loose, liquid motion, the muscles constrict, the body tightens, and the fastball loses velocity. You can’t play baseball with steam pouring out of your ears.”

And it reminds you what it means to ‘leave it on the field’,

“Last time up, Travis took their friendship too far – all the way to the wall, in fact. Dylan can’t afford to let up on him again. Neither boy acknowledges the other. The game has turned serious; all friendships have been suspended until further notice.”

Now that’s baseball… To learn about the inspiration behind the book you’ll have to go to the author’s page. We don’t want to give a second of this amazing tale away.

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