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The Opposite Field

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The Opposite Field by Jesse Katz
The Opposite Field by Jesse Katz

Jesse Katz has won two Pulitzer Prizes, so readers of his memoir, The Opposite Field, shouldn’t be surprised that he’s a fine writer.

And he has plenty of stories to tell. As a young man, Katz met and eventually married a woman from Nicaragua. They had a son, Max, and The Opposite Field is in part the story of the father as little league coach and commissioner, and the son as baseball player. But the book also tells the story of the creation of a community around the ball field where Max plays, and of the relationships through which his father stumbles while trying to be fair and compassionate under circumstances that daily threaten to overwhelm him. Since Katz is the son of accomplished and fascinating parents as well as the father of a pretty fair ballplayer, the memoir includes the author’s mother, who is the former Mayor of Portland, Oregon, and his father, a prolific and celebrated artist.

Katz is candid in his story-telling, and it’s easy to suppose that lots of people in Monterey Park, where he and Max still live, are probably less than pleased with how they’ve been portrayed. Katz’s stepson no doubt wishes the author had left out the story of how the kid, something of a delinquent, accidently shot himself in the head. Any number of little league parents with foul mouths and sticky fingers must certainly wish Katz had left them out of the book.

To be fair, the author acknowledges his own missteps…the night when he pushed his own son to pitch when Max was ill, for example, thereby embodying at least temporarily the selfishness, boorishness, and lack of perspective he criticizes in other little league coaches. But for the most part, Jesse Katz comes across as a fellow trying to do the best he can under challenging circumstances, a mensch with whom lots of readers will be able to identify, whether or not they’ve ever attended a little league game.

This program aired on October 22, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

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