Sunday, September 4, 2011

#64: Cardboard Gods: An All American Tale Told with Baseball Cards by Josh Wilker

Seven Footer Press, NY: 2010 243 pages

Josh Wilker grew up with baseball cards, a brother, a mom and sometimes a dad and another guy who his dad supported. Wilker tells the story of his life through the prism of the baseball card, stringing together events of his life with great players like Carlton Fisk and Carl Yasztremski and nobodies like Bo McLaughlin. I recognized some of these cards and owned some of them myself; hell, even Daryl Dawkins (AKA Chocolate Thunder) makes an appearance.

More than that, I began to remember what I did with these cards as a kid. No stick 'em in the spokes for me; I did not have a bike. I made teams out of them, carefully arranging batting orders that made absolutely no fucking sense. This has led me to remember names such as Bill Nahordny, Vic Correll and the legendary Shooty Babbit. Billy Martin once said "If I have to watch him play second base again, just shooty me." Why have a team with Shooty Babbit, who in the game I made up in my 8-10 year old loneliness hit leadoff, play short five inning games with David Clyde? In short, I wanted to be on a card, just like everyone else I knew and just like Wilker.

More than that, I now as a 38 year old waste inordinate amounts of time playing a game called baseball mogul, in which the card teams ride again. Wilker's Cardboard Gods wander in and out; Herb Washington, the designated pinch runner of the A's, is used to ask "what the fuck" as his mom's boyfriend Tom tries to make a living as.....a blacksmith. Kurt Bevacqua appears because Josh realizes that his brother Ian is getting annoyed with him for asking how to pronounce "Bevacqua"; Josh then begins to understand that he and his brother will not always be sharing a room.

Childhood is scary. When your family is fucked up as a kid, you hang on to things that you understand. For Wilker, it was baseball cards. For me, it was Dungeons and Dragons. I think in both respects, we were something with these items. We were better with these things than without them; in some cases they can become a prison of our own making. In most cases, they can be a maze which gives us some confidence providing we can find our way through. Wilker's book is funny, irritating, brilliant and moving. Do yourself a favor and read about him navigating the maze.

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