Hard to Grip: A Memoir of Youth, Baseball, and Chronic Illness by Emil DeAndreis (Schaffner Press, $16.95, 326 pages)
“You, see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.” – Jim Bouton (Ball Four)
Emil DeAndreis is an excellent high school baseball player in a weak conference. He gets his chance at Division I baseball at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. Hawaii at Hilo is far from a top tier program, but Division I is Division I. DeAndreis is a borderline D-1 player, but he is a left-handed pitcher – always a commodity.
Hard to Grip is DeAndreis’s story, subtitled a memoir of youth, baseball, and chronic illness. Shortly after he graduates from college, he signs a professional contract to play baseball in Belgium, only to be diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. There are flashes of promise in his writing. He saves the best for last.
As a high school pitching coach, he tries to express to his players that everyone’s career ends one day, and closes the book with the line, “I tell them it’s like a disease you learn to live with.”
DeAndreis chronicles his passion for baseball, his disillusionment following his diagnosis, and his battle to come to grips with the fact that his life is irrevocably changed. He does find love, and ultimately reconciles with his loss of having to prematurely let go of the game.
The book is good. Those who have dreamed of playing and had their careers cut short for whatever reason can probably relate. It is an honest telling from the get-go, and the parallel of his best friend Charlie – who is more talented, and his challenges in pro ball constitute another side of the story told by DeAndreis. (DeAndreis leaves it up to the reader to determine what happened to Charlie.)
Unfortunately, the book does not have many engaging moments. Too much of the book is a retelling of events that fail to resonate with the reader. DeAndreis might have done more to draw the reader in; to see that the events that happened in his life (“Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.” John Lennon) are the types of unexpected things that happen with others.
DeAndreis is currently working on a novel, and his fledgling talent may well make it a successful one. There are high points in Hard to Grip, but not enough of them to sustain the typical reader’s interest from start to finish. This is a niche book for hardcore baseball fans. Perhaps the writing promise hinted at in Hard to Grip will fully manifest itself in his future work.
Recommended, for sports fans and/or one-time athletes.
Hard to Grip was published on April 1, 2017. “A vibrant depiction of a ballplayer that finds his way (in life) despite losing his ability to play the game he loves.” Mike Krukow
Dave Moyer is a public school district superintendent, a drummer who hopes to play on stage with The Who one day, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel about baseball, love and Bob Dylan.