Book review: "The Way Of Baseball" (Shawn Green)
I have to admit I was a little apprehensive when the folks at Simon & Schuster contacted me to have me review Shawn Green‘s new book The Way Of Baseball: Finding Stillness At 95 MPH. After all, even though he came up with the Toronto Blue Jays (where he played for seven seasons), Green will always be a Los Angeles Dodger to me.
And you know how I feel about that.
But I’m glad I reviewed The Way Of Baseball. It’s actually a very good read.
The book itself is only 208 pages long. It’s a quick read and Gordon McAlpine (who co-penned the book with Green) is a gifted storyteller. McAlpine also wrote Joy In Mudville, The Persistence of Memory and Mystery Box.
The Way Of Baseball is less abut the game of baseball and more about finding your inner Zen to succeed at it. In fact, the cover of the book shows a baseball snuggled within the enso, a brushed ink circle that symbolizes that moment when your mind is empty, yet alert. That moment when you are poised for creativity and flow. And this book has both.
You don’t have to be a Zen Master like Phil Jackson to appreciate or even understand the concepts that Green espouses in this book. What I like most about The Way Of Baseball is that it doesn’t try to preach Zen. The authors simply link Green’s success at the plate with his discovery of inner peace. And Green gives plenty of examples from the dugout to make the connection.
Green, a two-time All-Star who played for the Arizona Diamondbacks (2005-06) and New York Mets (2006-07) along with the Blue Jays (1993-99) and Dodgers (2000-04), intimately shares how the game of baseball shaped his life. He takes his readers deep into the recesses of what it’s like to be a baseball player – everything from the grueling team bus rides as a minor leaguer, to being a superstar in the thick of a pennant race. All the while, Green shares the lessons that baseball taught him about being in the moment and finding inner stillness — even when your life is seemingly falling apart.
As a father myself, I have always used the game of baseball to teach my three sons life lessons. Whether it’s dealing with the disappointment of a mediocre grade on a sedulous writing assignment (“even the best hitters in baseball fail 7-out-of-10 times”); being the smallest kid in class (“Did you know Tim Lincecum was the smallest kid in his class?”); or finding the courage to ask a girl out for the first time (“you gotta go up there swinging, son”), baseball has always provided me with plenty of analogies to impart to my children.
The Way Of Baseball goes much further, though. It’s a philosophical study and spiritual journey of a baseball player.
Green says his journey happened almost by accident.
In his third season with the Blue Jays, Green was off to a slow start. He was becoming labeled “an inconsistent hitter” by his coaches and was spending a lot of time on the bench. It was during this time in Green’s life that he decided to take out his frustrations in the batting cage. Using a bag of baseballs, a Louisville Slugger and an old tee, Green slowly began to notice a swishing sound with every swing. He started synchronizing the swishing sound and his breathing until his breathing became rhythmic. What started out as a sort of punishment for Green began to slowly turn into meditation. Repetition and routine made Green sharper and more aware, and he was able to concentrate more fully on each swing.
Not only did this newfound “balance” in his life help him on the field (he finished fifth in Rookie of The Year voting in 1995), it transformed his life off the field, too.
When Green signed with the Dodgers in 2000 for a then-whopping $9.4 million, he had become obsessed with hitting home runs (he hit 42 jacks the year before in his final season with the Blue Jays). The pressure of living up to his contract — and fans’ expectations — eventually led to him becoming more anxious and impatient at the plate.
And at home.
As his swing suffered (he dropped to 24 HR in 2000), so did his relationship with his wife-to-be, Lindsay. They split up twice that summer and Green started having trouble even getting out of bed. He dreaded going to the ballpark. He sat alone in a fancy house feeling sorry for himself.
It took a trip to Japan for Shawn to rediscover Zen. It was then that he realized “obstacles often bring the opportunity for growth and change.”
Shawn and Lindsay got back together and Green went on to blast a career-high 49 HR and drive in 125 runs (while batting .297/.372/.598) the following season. Amazingly, he only finished 6th in MVP voting that year. Yes, this was during the steroids era. But Green’s name has never surfaced on the Mitchell Report or in talks about players who used performance-enhancing drugs.
In The Way Of Baseball, Green talks about facing some of the greatest pitchers of his era, and how he came to recognize and take advantage of their “pitch tipping.”
Green finished his 14-year career with 328 home runs, 1,071 RBIs, a .282 career batting average, two All-Star nods, a Gold Glove, and a Silver Slugger award. He’ll probably never make it to Cooperstown, but that’s not what’s important to Green. Over the years, Green has donated nearly $2 million to numerous causes and his family — wife Lindsay and two young daughters — is why he chose to quit baseball at age 34.
Requiring mastery of perspective and continual management of ego, the game of baseball afforded Green the opportunity to explore his potential as more than just a ballplayer. A treasure of practical wisdom and an intimate look at what it really means to “let go,” The Way of Baseball illuminates the creative possibilities within us all.
3.5 out of 5 balls
To order The Way Of Baseball from Amazon, click here.