You should read "Cardboard Gods"

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Cardboard Gods cover.jpgI’m only about two months late in getting a review out for this book, but (a) there are so many baseball books that come out at the beginning of the season that it may have gotten lost in the shuffle; and (b) better late than never.  Especially in this case, because it’s a book you don’t want to miss.

The book is Cardboard Gods: an All-American Tale Told through Baseball Cards. The author is Josh Wilker, who operates the Cardboard Gods blog that I’ve been reading for several years (and you should be too).

Like the blog, Cardboard Gods is essentially a memoir. Unlike your usual memoir, however, Wilker does not allow his personal life to stand alone, thereby creating that awkward moment that accompanies almost all non-celebrity memoirs in which you wonder why you’re reading about the author in the first place. No, this has a hook: baseball cards. 1970s baseball cards to be precise, the titular Cardboard Gods with which the young Josh Wilker was obsessed as a child and which now help him organize and make sense of his memories and experiences.

As a hook — or a gimmick if you want to be crass about it — it’s a highly effective one, especially for any reader who ever sorted commons or has even a passing familiarity with 1970s baseball.  Which, if you’re reading this blog, you probably do.

For example, I may not be able to personally relate with Wilker’s unconventional upbringing (he was raised for a time in a three-parent quasi-hippie commune of a house), but I know the story about Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson, and Wilker’s use of both Kekich’s card and their story provides a nice frame of reference to the times and helps me understand just how a baseball-obsessed kid might choose to process the situation.

The same goes for death (Lyman Bostock’s card and story provide a poignant touchstone), pop culture (a past his sell-date Mark Fydrich defines the ephemeral) and the brotherhood bond (The Reuschel’s infamous 1977 “Baseball Brothers” card).  Sometimes the connections are obvious — Jim Rice launches Wilker into a contemplation of celebrity — but the more obscure cards frame the more interesting and insightful chapters. Jose Morales as the gateway to a lesson on what it means to feel useless? It works, baby.

But let’s be clear about something: the baseball card hook is not the alpha and omega of Cardboard Gods‘ value.  They’re a way in, to be sure, but that’s really all they are.  Once you get in to each chapter, you’re met with keen insight into what it means to be young, to be confused, to have dreams, to have passions, to have fears, to face failure and to persevere.  And not to persevere in some phony rah-rah fashion like you so often see in these sorts of books. No one beats cancer in this book, no one loses 100 pounds and no one runs a marathon in this thing.  It’s just about living and understanding life like we all do, although not always in as reflective a way as Wilker describes it here.

I don’t write about a lot of books here and I recommend even fewer. But I recommend this one because it gets the balance right. There’s baseball here, no doubt, but the baseball isn’t everything. It’s merely something that adds flavor and understanding to life, much in the way our own experiences and memories add flavor to baseball.

If you have the means, seek out Cardboard Gods immediately, if not sooner.  You’ll be glad you did.

Royals pay tribute to late Yordano Ventura during spring training opener

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 12: Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on August 12, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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The Royals honored former pitcher Yordano Ventura prior to their first Cactus League game against the Rangers on Saturday. Ventura was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic in late January.

Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre and center fielder Carlos Gomez paid their respects to the pitcher with a floral arrangement that was laid on the mound. Both teams stood along the foul lines during a pregame video tribute that highlighted Ventura’s tenure with Kansas City. Following the game, Gomez spoke to the media about his relationship with Ventura, describing their frequent conversations during the season and commending the pitcher for having “the same passion that I had early in my career” (via WFAA.com’s Levi Weaver).

A plaque dedicated to the 25-year-old was also presented to club manager Ned Yost as a more permanent commemoration of Ventura’s contributions to the sport. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the plaque will be mounted in the club’s spring training facilities alongside tributes to members of the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 playoff teams.

The full text of the plaque is below, via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:

A brother and a teammate, Yordano Ventura, passed away on the morning of January 22 in his native Dominican Republic, at the age of 25. He signed with the Royals as a 17-year-old, eventually making the big league team in 2013 as a 22-year-old. On most days, he could be found laughing and joking with his baseball family in the clubhouse. However, on days when he pitched, that smile was replaced by a quiet confidence and an intense fire, which he brought to the mound for every start. He had many highlights in his abbreviated career, not the least of which was throwing eight shutout innings in Game #6 of the 2014 World Series to force a Game #7 vs. San Francisco.

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.