Hayhurst offers unique perspective in book
Hurler talks serious, comedic parts of 'The Bullpen Gospels'
Dirk Hayhurst is a relief pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays. He is also the author of the book "The Bullpen Gospels: Major League Dreams of a Minor League Veteran," which is available for pre-order and is due to hit bookshelves on March 30.
When he wasn't bribing high schoolers to stand in the batter's box for offseason mound sessions, sleeping on an air mattress in his gun-wielding grandma's house, or simply learning a lot about life through baseball, Hayhurst found time to pen a memorable story chronicling his 2007 season climbing through the Padres' farm system.
"Bullpen Gospels" steers clear of scandals and provides a unique and memorable look behind the scenes of life in the Minors for a struggling non-prospect. This week, Hayhurst took some time to answer some questions about his upcoming book in an e-mail interview with MLB.com.
MLB.com: First off, congratulations on completing your first book, which is already receiving strong reviews. You have been published previously, but at what point did you first contemplate writing "The Bullpen Gospels"?
Hayhurst: That was the first thing I wanted to write, actually. The blogs and newspaper columns came as offshoots to the initial idea of a book. If you want to get a publisher to look at you, it helps to have a track record in some manner of writing venue. In this age of blogs and microblogs, it just made sense I go that route first. Up to that point, I'd never written anything for anyone that wasn't a class paper.
The actual moment the book hit me was one unremarkable morning when I awoke on the floor of my grandmother's house. I was living there at the time because I didn't make enough money chucking dirt clods in the Minors to move out on my own. I remember laying there, staring at the ceiling, wondering how my dream of big league luxury could dump me in such a pathetic state. I had no money, no self esteem and no love life -- pretty hard to accomplish when you're 26 years old and shacking up with grandma.
I decided that baseball just wasn't in the cards for me, and I should probably get out. However, I thought, since books about baseball are rather popular, maybe if I wrote my experiences down, I could salvage a few dollars out of a tanking career. Little did I know I would pen the story behind the best year of my career, a year in which I discovered more than just how to pitch better.
MLB.com: Your book is drawing early comparisons to Jim Bouton's book, "Ball Four," which many consider to be one of the best baseball books written. What has been your reaction to such high praise?
Hayhurst: I didn't set out to write the next "Ball Four." In fact, I didn't read "Ball Four" until after I wrote my book -- I just didn't want Jim's voice and style in my head while trying to write my story. I talked with Jim through e-mails when I finished my work, expressing how I would love to have him comment on my book since he is, as you say, the gold standard of baseball authors.
|"There is more to this sport than making money off scandals. But, in a culture obsessed with celebrity, that's the easy way to sell. That was not the route I wanted to take, and I wanted that to be clear right from the start."|
|-- Dirk Hayhurst|
My reaction to the praise: stunned. I don't think Jim's in any danger of losing his title as the premier author of baseball books. Just being compared to him is great. Yet, the comparisons aren't simply because we have a similar subject. It's that people think "The Bullpen Gospels" is relevant to readers' interpretation of the sport, not just entertaining. That's what knocks me over. I am sincerely thankful and humbled by the praise I've been fortunate enough to get thus far, and I hope it continues!
MLB.com: Early in the book, you make it clear that "this book's purpose is to entertain, not to name names." Why was it so important to make that declaration before telling your story?
Hayhurst: It's important because so many books about the sport have had to sell people out to make money. I didn't want to do that. It's also important because I still play. It's career suicide to write books that bury guys. Besides, that's the type of stuff that keeps the sport injured and defiled. I think it's generally accepted that there is a lot of shenanigans in this profession. We are a bunch of young guys who play a game for a living, after all. So, frat boy-type behavior is expected. When you start finger-pointing, accusing and lie-telling to make a buck, you've crossed the line. There is more to this sport than making money off scandals. But, in a culture obsessed with celebrity, that's the easy way to sell. That was not the route I wanted to take, and I wanted that to be clear right from the start.
MLB.com: Was that something that you also had to make clear with teammates, or with other people within baseball who are mentioned in your book, either directly by name or through nicknames? What have the early reviews been like from your peers?
Hayhurst: Most have been positive. Others have been skeptical. Baseball is like that. There is a lot of fear of the media, perception and the unknown. For some, a player writing from inside the locker room is like having a spy on the team.
Overall, the state of my relationships with my teammates has suffered dramatically since I started writing. Even after I wrote stories about children with cancer and handicaps. Even after I used my writing to raise autism awareness. Even though I've never sold anyone out, the stigma persists. I remember vividly when I first started writing notes for the book, players avoiding me, threatening me, getting talked to by the management.
I tried to explain that their fears were unfounded, but that didn't matter. I was recording things. Who knows what kind of things or what I would do with them? Those were some of the worst days of my career, and sometimes they still come back to haunt me even now. Honestly, the book's positive reviews have been vindicating for me.
MLB.com: Beyond the early reviews in the media, what has the reception been from your family? Through both good times and bad, and often rough and revealing in your writing, your family played a major role in your story. Have they read the book yet and what have they said?
Hayhurst: They have read it, and they are proud of me. The violence, the abuse -- it's the truth. But, you must understand, we were a broken family. The only reason I wrote about that part of my life is because we've had healing since then. My life is not perfect and I challenge you to show me one person's life that is. I don't hide my mistakes in my writing, because mistakes and hardships are what we learn from. Indeed, it's how we discover ourselves.
It was hard for me to write some of the personal stuff in this book, hard to the point where I still cry when I read some of the chapters. But if I held back, the book would be worthless -- just another art forgery relying on baseball fame to sell copies. I hate sports books where the author glorifies himself from start to finish. I can't relate to that. I believe we are all broken people, so I present myself as broken in this book so others may relate to and learn from my experiences.
MLB.com: As many serious moments as there are in "The Bullpen Gospels," you also have many comedic moments, including living in some less-than-ideal conditions in your -- how should I put it? -- cantankerous grandma's house. Has grandma read the book? I hear she's pretty good with a shotgun.
|"The Garfoose is my fire-breathing, half-giraffe, half-moose, imaginary (or is he?) friend who lives in the sacred baseball grove where only the purest, most perfect baseballs are found. The Garfoose protects this grove from intruders who would steal the baseballs."|
|-- Dirk Hayhurst|
Hayhurst: It's her weapon of choice. Grandma has not read the book, though I tell you now, everything I say she did in the book, she did. Right down to the firearms.
MLB.com: You also use comedy to shed some light on some aspects of the game that people often don't think about: dealing with people in the stands, adjusting to life in bad hotels or smelly buses, and the art of pulling rank as well as pranks, among other things. Why is it important for people to learn more about the less-glamorous side of the game?
Hayhurst: Because the glamorous side is the side that is most manipulated by the business, and, consequently, the most impure. The other side, behind the scenes, is where the humanity of the sport is. I try as hard as I can to take the reader and put them into the shoes of the player, not just tell them what it's like, but let them feel it. The bus seat hierarchy, the crappy hotels, the host family system -- it's as much a part of our life in the game as innings pitched and ERA.
MLB.com: In baseball, players are often stuck with labels, whether they like it or not. They can seemingly become nothing more than a stat line in some circles. In your book, you address the issue of labels, and how players cope with them. How much has this issue played a role in your life on and off the field?
Hayhurst: Obviously, it's played a major part, as much of the book rages against the idea that I am just a stat and not a person. In fact, I hate being as "valuable" as a stat line says I am. As a writer, I read other blogs and articles to glean from. I read about myself and other players, and what I discover is, more often than not, we are viewed as stock with fluctuating value. That's fine from the employment perspective, as I understand a player's effectiveness is gauged by production.
The problem is that those stats are symbols often taken beyond their intended context and meaning by both fans and players, especially young players. The result is that the distinction between profession and person is not made. Failing makes you a failure and winning makes you a winner. The numbers tell you just how much of a winner or failure you are, so you work hard to appease them. The truth is, you work hard to do your job well, and the result is just that, a result -- not a reflection on your worth as an individual.
MLB.com: Beyond writing this book, showing that you are more than just "a ballplayer," you have a Web site (dirkhayhurst.com) and a following on the social-networking site Twitter (@TheGarfoose). Just as you've fought labels, "fans" have a sort of label, too. How much have you enjoyed connecting on a more personal level with various people?
Hayhurst: I like connecting with people. Even if I wasn't a baseball player, I'd like it. However, if I wasn't a baseball player, I don't think I'd use Twitter. I know that seems like a contradiction, but it's true. Player-to-fan relationships are delicate things, because the media plays such a major role in the perception the two parties have of one another. I can be a villain to some, a hero to others, and a bum to all. But, like I said before, I'm more than that. Social networking allows me to get the word out on just who I am underneath the jersey. It's like meeting an actor off stage, to me. Sure, I'm a player, but I'm a person, too. You can find out more about me through social networking, and it still allows me some buffer to reveal what I choose.
MLB.com: Is there any way to briefly describe the mythical beast Garfoose for all the curious fans out there?
Hayhurst: Sure, the Garfoose is my fire-breathing, half-giraffe, half-moose, imaginary (or is he?) friend who lives in the sacred baseball grove where only the purest, most perfect baseballs are found. The Garfoose protects this grove from intruders who would steal the baseballs. You can find out more on my Web page at www.garfoose.com. He's also part of my signature on baseballs -- just another way I make my life in baseball that much more unique.
MLB.com: Do you have any plans for a second book?
Hayhurst: I do. I have plans for several, actually. Let's see how this one goes over first, shall we?
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.