Aparicio Rodriguez is a true legend: Hall of Fame shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals, Holder of the NCAA record for most consecutive baseball games without an error; Author of the ultimate shortstop’s manual.

Never heard of good old Aparicio? Then you clearly have not had the pleasure of reading author Chad Harbach’sdebut novel, The Art of Fielding. Aparicio is a character within Harbach’s book who writes his own book by the same name. Aparicio serves as a role model for the novel’s protagonist, Henry Skrimshander. Henry is a quiet, reserved teenage boy who loves playing baseball for his high school team and cannot figure out what he wants to do after graduation. Everything changes for Henry, though, when Mike Schwartz, a charming and persuasive college baseball player, recruits him to play for the Westish College Harpooners of Wisconsin.

In college, Henry remains as shy as ever — a shyness the reader will likely come to find endearing — in every facet of his life, except for on the baseball field. He lives and breathes baseball, and he lets himself be heard and really shines in both practices and games. He is wholly dedicated to the sport.

The common reader with no baseball knowledge or interest may thus far be decidedly against reading this novel, but he would be wrong to judge this book by its cover (literally and figuratively). Harry’s intense love for baseball is merely the backdrop to a story that goes so much further than any sport can: It explores the human condition.

The main story of this novel is not baseball related. It is about love. To what extremes will we, as humans, go for the cause or preservation of love? Are we wrong to go as far as we do? Do humans inherently doom themselves by falling in love?

Henry has a roommate, an intelligent gay student named Owen. The two forge a close friendship, made closer by the fact that Owen is a Harpooner as well, though he never plays and often spends his time in the dugout reading. When Henry makes a rare error in one game during his junior year, the ball hits Owen square in the forehead, sending him to the hospital with a severe concussion. Henry’s game — and subsequently, his whole life — falls apart. He loves his friend and cannot bear the fact that his mistake hurt him. How can you live with yourself after causing harm to a loved one? In the first few games after this crucial error, Henry continuously messes up: His love for the game and his love for being great at it drive him insane.

When Henry starts falling apart, Mike tries to rescue him. Mike loves Henry and has cultivated Henry’s talents, working with him tirelessly to improve. If you love somebody, can you let him wither away before your very eyes? Through Mike, Harbach explores the sacrifices one is willing to make to save the life of a loved one.

And then there are Guert Affenlight, the 60-something college president, and his 23-year-old daughter, Pella, who moves in with him after her marriage crumbles. Of these two characters, I will say no more, for much of the genius of this novel comes from the way their lives become intertwined with those of Henry, Mike and Owen.

Ultimately, The Art of Fielding is an unbelievably enjoyable and masterfully written message about love and the human condition, explained through the interconnected lives of five members of a college community.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *