In Richard Russo’s “Empire Falls,” the local bartender, Bea, has become a fan of baseball despite her best efforts:
Having tended bar for forty years, Bea had watched several thousand ball games she had no interest in, only to discover at this late date that she’d picked up so damn much knowledge about baseball that she halfway enjoyed it. And she’d come to believe life was like that: you could enjoy almost anything if you gave it enough time.
Russo is surely one of the most sensible novelists, and “Empire Falls” is filled with similar such small gems. What Bea has experienced could broadly be how America views baseball, too. Although its popularity has been eclipsed by football and even basketball, America has picked up so much knowledge about baseball over the course of the nation’s history, that, well, it still halfway enjoys it. And so perhaps it should be unsurprising that Chad Harbach’s debut, The Art of Fielding, a.k.a. (as it seems to be known) “the baseball novel,” should be roughly analogous to the sport that drives its plot.