This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,666) on Friday, November 1, 2019.
One of my life-long dreams was fulfilled last weekend when I had the opportunity to attend a World Series game at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. I have written a long report on it for this newsletter, divided it up into four parts, and scattered them throughout the newsletter. In case you’re not interested in baseball, you can easily skip over them and get to the other parts of the newsletter.
Whatever your reading preferences, I hope that you have had a good week and are looking forward to this first weekend in November.
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World Series report, part 1: Home from school
When I was six years old in 1954 and attending my first grade of school, my mother wrote a note excusing me from school at lunchtime one day. It was late September, and I walked the three blocks from the school to our house. I wasn’t sick. I had a far more important reason for leaving school, that wonderful place that I loved so much.
It was the first game of the World Series.
The New York Giants were playing the Cleveland Indians. Willie Mays was the star centerfielder for the Giants, but the Indians had by far the best record in the major leagues that season. Not that I was aware of too many of the subtleties. I was only six years old, after all.
But I loved baseball, and I had followed it avidly since I had been aware of anything. Back in those dark ages, the World Series games were played in the afternoon.
My mother reasoned — probably due to my whining — that I would not be happy unless I could see at least one game of the World Series. It was the age before kindergarten, and this being my first year in school, it would be the first time in my young life that I would have to miss seeing the Series. So, she did what any reasonable, loving mother would do. She sprung me from school for the afternoon so I could walk home, park myself on the living room sofa, and watch the game on our more than adequate black-and-white TV.
I do not remember much about the game, although that game turned out to be historically memorable. It was the game in which the aforementioned Willie Mays, probably the greatest player of all time, caught a Vic Wirtz fly ball running with his back to home plate. It has since be iconized as The Catch. That play in the eighth inning prevented the Indians from scoring and allowed the game to go into extra innings. The Giants won in the 10th inning and, surprisingly, went on to sweep the all-powerful Indians.
Photo: Willie Mays making his back-to-home-plate catch in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series.
One more time: Nancy Drew, generator of a writing career
I owe my entire writing career to Nancy Drew. I often say that one can’t be a writer without being an avid reader and my reading journey began when a lovely librarian placed The Secret of the Old Clock into my 9-year-old hands and a bookaholic was made. I suppose it’s no surprise that when I created my Tradd Street series, readers would call them “Nancy Drew Mysteries for adults.” Source: Nancy Drew for Adults: Great Amateur Sleuth Series for Readers Over Twenty | CrimeReads
That’s how novelist Karen White, author of the Tradd Street series (Dreams of Falling, The Night the Lights Went Out, etc.) begins a nifty piece on CrimeReads.com that recommends some amateur sleuths that you can graduate to once you have read some Nancy Drew books.
You will probably be familiar with some of these folks, like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, but others may be new to you. For instance, there’s Greg Isles’ Penn Cage (Natchez Burning), who operates in Mississippi, of all places.
Nancy Drew is close to the beginning for a lot of us.
And, while you’re at it, you will want to check out Ivy Pochoda’s roundup of the latest crime books by female authors:
. . . women crime novelists have utterly captured the genre, pushing its boundaries in important, exciting and creative ways. Writers such as Megan Abbott, Laura Lippman, Alafair Burke and Tana French, to name just a few, give us powerful female characters who upend the stereotypes of their gender. Some of them are cunning, others damaged or deranged. These characters appear on all sides of investigations as victims, investigators and even criminals, reinvigorating the genre as they break down its barriers. Source: Cunning, Damaged and Deranged: The Latest Thrillers by Women – The New York Times
The review highlights some good books that are about to jump into a lot of e-readers and onto a lot of bookshelves.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
World Series report, part 2: Fast forward to 2019
I have remained a baseball fan through six decades, but I have never had a chance to go to a World Series game. This year, with my son Jefferson living in Washington, D.C., the Washington Nationals found themselves in the World Series against the Houston Astros. The opportunity to go to a game was something we could not pass up, so plans were made.
As we made our plans, the Nationals — the consensus underdog — started the Series with surprise wins over the Astros while playing in Houston. The Series moved to Washington for the next three games, and we attended the second one last Saturday night. The Nationals had not played well the night before and had lost to the Astros with ineffective pitching and anemic hitting.
Consequently, the Saturday evening game generated an electric atmosphere among the fans that was a mix of fear and hope. The fear was that the hitting would remain flat, and the hope, based on what the Nationals had done that season and particularly in the first two games of the Series, was that they would find themselves. We found Nationals Park that night bathed in noise, laughter, cool and comfortable breezes, and popping with life. Our seats were in Section 109, down the third-base line but angled back toward home plate so that we had an excellent view of everything in the ballpark except the deep left-field corner.
The crowd sitting around us was excited, friendly, and covered with Nationals red and blue — jerseys, caps, jackets, bags, and other assorted items necessary for complete enjoyment of the game. In the row in front of us were two Astros fans in orange caps, but they seemed comfortable and joined in the fun along with everyone else.
My only qualm about it was the one I have whenever I attend any live baseball game — too much artificially-generated noise. I am not sure why modern ballparks feel the need to do this, but they all do. Still, that’s a personal quirk of mine, and the artificial noise didn’t detract from the great atmosphere of the Series itself.
Nationals Park is a beautiful, clean venue for watching a baseball game. The corridors are spacious and open, so that the place never seems crowded, even when packed with a capacity 44,000 crowd. Concessions are many and varied, and facilities are conveniently located.
Illustration: part of one of the preliminary sketches I did before the game.
Podcast recommendation: Secrets and Spies: The Untold Story of Edith Cavell
Edith Cavell was a British nurse working in German-occupied Belgium in 1915 when she formed an escape network for British and allied soldiers who found themselves behind enemy lines.
She helped hundreds of soldiers and put herself in great danger in the process. German authorities realized what was happening, and Cavell was arrested, tried for espionage, convicted, and soon thereafter was placed in front of a firing squad.
Her execution was condemned throughout the world and was cited by the British government as evidence of German brutality and the moral justness of the war it was waging. The British denied vehemently that she was spying, saying that she was simply trying to save lives in any way that she could.
But the spying charge has never been proven or disproven until now. Former Director General of MI5, Stella Rimington, investigates the secret history of Britain’s greatest heroine of the First World War in this podcast:
For the first time ever, she uncovers startling new evidence that Cavell’s secret escape organisation was not just involved in helping allied soldiers as we’ve always been led to believe, but was also actively engaged in espionage. Source: BBC Radio 4 – Secrets and Spies: The Untold Story of Edith Cavell
This is an excellent single-episode, 30-minute podcast from the BBC.
World Series report, part 3: Drawing the game
I brought with me several drawing pens and a few sheets of Bristol board, smooth, white cardboard-like pieces that are my favorites for pen and ink drawing. I had done some preliminary drawings as practice for this night (see above), and as the game got going, so did I with my drawing tools. My purpose was two-fold: to try to record some of the things I was seeing in real time; and to make some visual notes for drawings that I would do later.
As I was working on some of these, I felt a tap on my shoulder. A young lady behind me had been watching me and asked me if I ever sold any of my drawings.
No, I said, not if I can help it. I told her that I generally did not sell my work.
She reiterated her wish to buy something. I told her I would see what I could do. During the next few minutes, I then searched through some of the drawings I had brought with me, found a sheet with some things on it I thought she might enjoy, signed it and put “World Series 2019” on it and handed it to her.
She seemed astonished and then appreciative. I went back to my drawing, and a couple of minutes later felt another tap on my shoulder.
“Are you sure I can’t pay you for this?” she said.
No, I said, but if you want to make a contribution to the United Methodist Committee on Relief, UMCOR.org, my favorite charity, that would be fine. That she did with her smart phone, and a few minutes later she showed me the “thank you” that she had just received from UMCOR.
Someone said later that what I did must have made her night. Possibly. What she did, however, most certainly made mine.
The game itself was a disappointment. None of the hopes of the Nationals fans and all of their fears materialized. The Nationals fell behind early with uncertain pitching, and their continued weak hitting made it feel as though they were never really in the ball game. Baseball is a game where literally “hope springs eternal” because every inning is a new beginning, a new chance to overcome and defeat the mistakes and failures of the previous innings. With this game, however, hope waned as the Nationals fell behind 4-0. Then Alex Bergman stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and hit a ball over the leftfield fence, effectively killing all hope and giving the Astros an 8-1 victory.
My final impression of the evening occurred after the last pitch had been thrown and the crowd was getting up to leave. Several Nationals fans greeted the Astros fans sitting in front of us, congratulating them and saying they hoped they enjoyed their stay in Washington. The Astros partisans returned those good wishes with smiles and compliments of their own.
It was a great way to end a most wonderful night of baseball.
Illustration: Reading the signs, one of the pen and ink drawings I executed at the game.
Tod W.: As always, thanks for your interesting newsletter. Regarding Tunnel 29, you might like to watch a 2001 German film starring Sebastian Koch call Der Tunnel. It’s a similar story https://en.wikipedia.org/
Vicki G.: Thanks for the follow-up on Nancy Drew. Even now (@ 73) I can remember how I devoured all the mysteries I could.
Eric S.: Arthur Miller wrote everything so well that the rest of us might as well take up the tuba.
World Series report, part 4: The finale
Baseball, that wonderful game of inches and clichés, remains happily complex in its simplicities, frustratingly inconsistent in its consistencies. What is undoubtedly true in baseball is true until, as they say, it isn’t. Home teams should win; pitching should dominate; and so on.
The Washington Nationals left its fans down and frustrated on Sunday night after losing three home games in which they could do little other than watch an excellent Houston Astros team get hits and catch the easy, batting-practice fly balls that the Nationals would obligingly hit to them. By Wednesday night, those same fans were celebrating in the streets as the Nationals claimed the World Series championship, beating Houston in two games on their own home field. It was the only series in history where the home team did not win a game.
Sometimes, it seems as though you have to make deals with the devil to win, as Thomas Boswell writes in the Washington Post.
And a deal with the devil is okay. It’s baseball.
Finally . . .
Best quote of the week:
Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window. William Faulkner (1897-1962), Nobel Prize-winning novelist.
Helping those in need
Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.
It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).
When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.
Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: More on Nancy Drew, Charles Finch on writing a mystery, and Tunnel 29: newsletter, October 25, 2019
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