I have to say, initially I was less than impressed with the opening pages of ‘The Great American Novel’, but after much prodding by my brother, (who understands my deep-rooted enthusiasm for baseball) I’ve come to the conclusion that Philip Roth must not just understand baseball, but he truly understands what it is about the game that makes it special. Enjoy this excerpt of The Great American Novel that really defines what baseball is.
“Luke-tell me. What do you love most in the world? Because I’m going to make you love me just as much. More! What do you love most in the entire world?”
“In the entire world?”
It was dawn before he came up with the answer.
“I don’t understand, darling. What about home runs?”
“Nope. Triples. Hittin’ triples. Don’t get me wrong, Angela, I ain’t bad mouthin’ the home run and them what hits ’em, me included. But smack a home run and that’s it, it’s all over.”
“And a triple?” she asked. “Luke, you must tell me. I have to know. What is it about the triple that makes you love it so much? Tell me, Luke, tell me!” There were tears in her eyes, the tears of jealous rage.
“You sure you up to it?” asked Luke, as astonished as it was in his nature to be. “Looks like you might be gettin’ a little cold.”
“You love the triple more than Horace Whittling’s daughter, more than Spenser Trust’s wife-tell me why!”
“Well,” he said in his slow way, “smackin’ it, first off. Off the wall, up the alley, down the line, however it goes, it goes with that there crack. Then runnin’ like blazes. ‘Round first and into second, and the coach down there cryin’ out to ya’, ‘Keep comin’.’ So ya’ make the turn at second, and ya’ head for third-and now ya’ know that throw is comin’, ya’ know it is right on your tail. So ya’ slide. Two hunerd and seventy feet of runnin’ behind ya’, and with all that there momentum, ya’ hit it-whack, into the bag. Over he goes. Legs. Arms. Dust. Hell, ya’ might be in a tornado, Angela. Then ya’ hear the ump-‘Safe!’ And y’re in there… Only that ain’t all.”
“What then? Tell me everything, Luke! What then?”
“Well, the best part, in a way. Standin’ up. Dustin’ off y’r breeches and standin’ up there on that bag. See, Angela, a home run, it’s great and all, they’re screamin’ and all, but then you come around those bases and you disappear down into the dugout and that’s it. But not with a triple… Ya’ get it, at all?”
“Yes, yes, I get it.”