Monday, April 23, 2012

The Boys of Summer, an MLB Snippet

Every year at this time, Major League Baseball starts up anew with each team having a chance at the pennant.

Originally a narrative by Roger Kahn about the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Boys of Summer now simply represent America's pastime. From McCovey's Cove to Pesky's Pole, Major League Baseball has started another season this month with "Opening Day", as writer Tim Kurkjian once put it, being the best two words in the English language to a baseball fan.

Unlike the other professional sports in America, baseball has a historic connotation to it. The sport of baseball is historic. Starting in the 1800's, MLB has a leg up on the competition in that regard. It also has history on its side in terms of numbers. Every number in baseball is special.

Home runs totals, stolen bases, consecutive games played, and everything else in between all mean something. They all mean something because, although the stadiums and players have changed, the rules have not. It is still 90 feet to first base. It still takes three strikes to get a batter out and four balls to walk him. An overthrow by the shortstop has always been an E-6. Throwing a perfect game will always mean immortality.

These rules of baseball have never changed. Thus, it opens the door to comparing eras, comparing the greats of the past with the greats of today. Each era has its own quirk or identity, yet all can be compared and argued on the basis of the final tallies.

When the Seattle Mariners won 116 regular season games in 2001, tying the mark set by the 1906 Chicago Cubs, it was neither more or less impressive than the season 95 years prior. Those two clubs will be in the record books side by side because baseball is ageless.

Ender's Game Series is Science Fiction Gold

Orson Scott Card's fabled Ender's Game Science Fiction novel series uses rarely seen writing technique of "companion novels" to perfection.

Readers were first introduced to Andrew Wiggin in 1985. Many science fiction readers know him better by his nickname Ender. Orson Scott Card released the novel Ender's Game in 1985. It went on to win the Nebula Award as well as the Hugo Award for the best Science Fiction novel of the year.

The chronological sequel, Speaker for the Dead, written just a year later, went on to win both awards as well. This story takes place after the events of Ender's Game. It is a sequel by definition.

The more interesting "sequel" to me however is the one written to take place during the exact same time frame as Card's original. The book Ender's Shadow was written in 1999 as a companion novel to Ender Wiggin's first adventure.

Companion Novels

The challenge and skill in writing a companion novel cannot be exaggerated. To write essentially the same story again, yet make it all the more interesting is a testament to Card's brilliance as well as to this world he created.

Writing a companion novel is usually the last technique used by writers, or movie directors for that matter, to continue the story of a beloved character/world. First comes a sequel. This is obvious. Continuing where we, the reader, left off previously and telling us what happens next is the common thing to do. If readers loved a character or enjoyed hearing about a tale set in a distant land, they will want to hear how things progressed.

If a sequel is not an option for some reason, say the main character dies, then the next best choice is writing a prequel. Again, obvious. Tell us how this character came to be who we saw them as. Tell us the back story and past events that shaped our main character's life.

Of course sequels and prequels are child's play. The writing of a companion novel is rarely seen because it is hard to make it interesting. Imagine reading a story you liked. Now imagine the author trying to write another novel that takes place during the exact same time frame, with the exact same characters and covers the exact same events. Would this be at all interesting to read? Simply writing from a new point of view is nice but it does not totally solve the problem. Just look at the movie Vantage Point for an idea of how that can fail.

So when Orson Scott Card wrote Ender's Shadow covering the exact story that took place in his award-winning Ender's Game, I am sure people were skeptical. It would be told from the point of view of a different character, namely Ender's Battle School associate Bean, but still. Would it work?

Ender's Shadow

Well, we got our answer. Now this book did not receive the critical acclaim that Card's first few stories did. I am not a science fiction awards expert so I don't know if it wasn't as well received or there was stiffer competition. Nevertheless, I actually was more entertained by the companion than by the original.

In the introduction to Shadow, Card tells us this story can be read before or after reading Ender's Game. Since they cover the same time frame, there is no need to read one before the other. I actually disagree with his sentiments. I felt like reading the original helped to buoy my enjoyment of the companion. Sure, I knew the ultimate outcome already and where the plot was going, but to see events take place through another character's eyes, getting a completely new view of an event I already made judgments on was fascinating.

The best example I can give is when Ender Wiggin and Bean first meet. Bean is a newbie to Ender's new army. In the first book, the relationship is shallow, if there at all. Ender sees Bean as a little version of himself a bit, the smallest yet smartest launchie in a new army. So he is hard on him, thinking it will help him in the future, just as the teachers were to Ender when he first arrived at Battle School.

However, in Ender's Shadow, we find out oh so much more. The relationship is deeper and more confusing than I ever could have imagined. Without giving too much away, it turns out Bean was not put in Ender's new army by accident or even by chance. And even though Ender may not have known who Bean was, Bean certainly knew an awful lot about his new commander. The relationship from Bean's point of view is just one thing that completely turned my perceptions around from one story to the other.

I wish more authors tried the companion novel strategy. Although it does seem hard to pull off successfully, if done correctly, the outcome can be grand. Ender's Shadow may not be historically remembered but what it did for the award-winning books that came before it cannot be overstated. In fact, it made me want to reread the original tale again, just to see those very same events after knowing how other characters reacted to them.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

My Spring Training Voyage Finale

If you missed any of the previous installments of my Spring Training Voyage, scroll down through March's blog posts or click here for Part One, Part Two and Part Three. And now, the exciting conclusion to Murderous Pirates of the Raging Seas!, wait, this is not my dialogue to a 90's movie adapted for viewing on TNT.

March 19
Detroit Tigers at Philadelphia Phillies
Bright House Field, Clearwater, Florida

The Phillies’ Florida home was the best stadium of the bunch we saw this trip. It was smaller than the Yankees’ park but had a much more fun and entertaining vibe than the backyard that the Blue Jays played in. Fans circled the field entirely, as there was standing room and picnic blanket seating all around the outfield. The concourse was also charming, giving a pristine backdrop to home plate.

But once the game started, the ambiance and locale was surreptitiously overshadowed by one man: Tigers’ new third baseman Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera last played third base in the Majors a number of years and a few dozen pounds ago. He will most assuredly be one of the poorer fielding men at the hot corner all year long. This game would serve as the foreshadowing scene in books or movies where a future guilty criminal is seen displaying some sort of evil smirk. March 19 was Miggy’s evil smirk.

He started off at bat however. In the top of the first, Cabrera drew a walk (classic) and had a delayed steal of second base. Describing it as a delayed steal is in no way a crack at Miguel’s lack of foot speed, but rather the description of the play which worked so well because of Miguel’s lack of foot speed. He would finish the game 0-0 with a walk, steal and run scored because in the bottom of the first, he took a wicked hop to the eye, shattering his sunglasses and his face and ending his afternoon early.

I wanted to be upset about this because I felt bad for the man and hoped he would be okay. I actually ended up being upset for much more selfish reasons. If he was seriously injured, it would be a huge problem for my fantasy team of which he is the batting anchor (…I know). And even more pressing, he was the main attraction of the game I was currently attending with players like Prince Fielder already getting the day off. Cabrera being forced to leave early was a real downer on the game. Thus, we were forced to find other players and other storylines to follow.

Interestingly enough, around the next inning or so, two gentlemen came up to my dad and me holding a pair of duplicate tickets as the ones we held. It turned out one of us had been hustled. Whoever sold the tickets online had sold one set as paper receipts and resold the same seats using the actual stub tickets. I am actually surprised this does not happen more often. For whatever it is worth and fortunately for us, my dad and my tickets were the “authentic” set and the other men had the phonies. In a normal game it is possible they would have been forced to leave and have had to scrap with the seller to get their money back. In a Spring Training game, they were allowed to stay but ended up having to jump around seats five or six times as different guests kept arriving late and holding the rights to the seats they were trying to use. It put a little scare in me for buying tickets online in the future; that’s for sure.

As far as the game went, on the field, the Phillies took home the victory with a four run fifth inning. We witnessed a check swing double, two Hooters waitresses as ball girls, and dueling hat tricks by Tigers outfielders. Austin Jackson, DHing this game, finished 0-4 with three strikeouts, a walk, a stolen base and a run scored: the epitome of Austin Jackson. Meanwhile, teammate Clete Thomas one-upped him, going 0-4 with four k’s: the infamous golden sombrero. I also liked what I saw from Brennan Boesch, both in his parent’s complete disregard for the English language and for his fantasy baseball sleeper potential.

It would be our last Spring Training game of this year’s four game, three city tour and Bright House Field was certainly a pleasant host. And yes, I did buy a Philly cheese steak.


The Tampa Bay, Dunedin, Clearwater triumvirate is a great location for any Spring Training trip. We were able to see a handful of different teams without having to travel very far at all between stadiums.

John Mayberry Junior is a monster of a man.

You know how some players have easy gas, where they have such a fluid arm motion, it seems like they are barely throwing yet the radar gun says 96? Octavio Dotel has very hard gas…

The Tampa aquarium is a lot of fun even if you pass on the dolphin excursion.

The games don’t matter in the least outside of players getting in shape and trying to make a roster yet fans seem to not realize this. This is especially true of Phillies fans.

I cannot wait for the regular season to get in full swing (pardon the pun) and to attend a couple games that count in the standings, although it is sad knowing I cannot get seats as good as the ones obtained for Spring Training baseball. It is a special event who's vibe and closeness cannot be duplicated once the corporate structure of big business sports takes over come Opening Day.