It’s my special privilege to introduce you to author (and my writing mentor) Josh Pahigian. He and I met via Twitter over a love of baseball. He helped me in so many ways to become the writer I am and I’m very excited to feature him here on my blog. He has a new baseball book out (which is a must-read for all baseball fans) and he agreed to sit down with me for an informal interview. Take it away, Josh!
Just as your books inspire authors, what authors have inspired you?
Growing up in central Massachusetts, I remember reading Peter Gammons’ weekly Baseball Notes column in The Boston Globe with near-religious fervor. We lived in a small town and our “paper boy” was actually a grown man, who would slow his Chevy Malibu to a swift roll and fling the bundled newspapers out the car window into your driveway. On many a Sunday morning I was waiting for him when he rolled down our street at sunrise. That’s one to think about the next time your modem is a tad slow when you sit down at the computer to read the morning news!
Jack Kerouac is another author who inspired me. I remember reading On the Road as a teenager and thinking, I’m going to do that someday … just get behind the wheel and drive. Little did I know I would be following the road to baseball nirvana.
What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?
If you’re writing nonfiction like me, I suggest you start by identifying the two of three things you’re most passionate about. Make that your subject matter. Second, read or at the very least survey as many published titles in that genre as you can find. Familiarize yourself with the terrain other authors have covered in your realm. Then, and this is where it gets tricky, find some new ground within this domain to cover. Find a niche to make your own and set about getting the experience, knowledge, and expertise to fill it well. Then, write your masterpiece. Along the way, believe in yourself even when others don’t. I wish I had saved the stack of rejection letters my co-author and I got from literary agents and publishers when we first sent around our proposal for The Ultimate Baseball Road Trip back in 2001 or 2002. After dozens upon dozens of them, we landed a great agent and then a publisher willing to pay for the rest of our trip to all of America’s big league parks. And to think, how close we came to giving up at so many junctures. But we believed in our idea and that kept us going.
Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Do you have any advice on how to deal with the bad?
Sure, I read my reviews… the ones by the pros and the ones by readers on Amazon and the other retail sites. I think it’s important to know how readers are responding to my work. I often try slightly new approaches in my books and want to know if they work for people. For, example, in the new edition of 101 Baseball Places I tried to get more deeply into the colorful stories and characters behind each of the best baseball sites. Will readers like that, or would they prefer to just get the facts about each site? I’d like to know. So, I’ll read the reviews.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?
Often in my baseball travels, I need to sample ballpark foods so that I can offer readers tips on which eats to seek out and which to avoid. I refuse to eat raw fish though. So, ballpark sushi is one subject I will never write about… at least not with any authority.
How many books have you written prior (if any?)
If you count revised and updated new editions as new books (which I am inclined to), then this is my eleventh book. Otherwise, I remain stuck at eight. Why do I count new editions as new books? Because I know how much work goes into creating a new edition and I want full credit!
What are you working on now? What is your next project?
I’m working on another ballpark travel book right now. It covers some familiar territory but with a unique twist. It’s not under contract yet, so I’d better clam up.
Where is one place you want to visit that you haven’t been before?
I would love to tour the ballparks of Japan and Australia and to write a book about my experiences with those versions of the American Game. I have two young children right now though, and traveling that far afield will have to wait until they’re a bit older.
What were you like as a child?
I grew up listening to Red Sox games beside my dad and watching the Sox play on the tube when they were on TV. This was before cable, which now treats us to every game in beautiful high-def, of course. I played baseball with my dad, my brother and my neighborhood friends. I played Little League. I was a fanatical collector of baseball cards. Every dollar I got my hands on led me straight to the one store in our town that had a box of Topps wax packs on the counter beside the register.
Have you always liked to write?
Absolutely. I remember my first publication. I was in the third grade and it was almost Halloween. Our teacher had us write spooky short stories which she submitted to the local newspaper. Three of them, including mine, were selected for publication opposite the Comics page. Mine was about meeting the ghost of Babe Ruth while trick-or-treating. He whipped a ball at me (I guess I caught him after one of his famous benders) which I walloped with a stick just in the nick of time. Softening toward me, he said, “Kid you’re going to make it to the majors one day.” I didn’t. But I did win a gift certificate for a Carvel ice cream cake, and more importantly, I fell in love with the idea of seeing my work in print. I hope my writing has improved some since then… and I apologize to the Bambino for portraying him as if he were the ghost of Ty Cobb!
What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
From a writing standpoint, I would have to say publishing my first book—The Ultimate Baseball Road Trip—with my co-author Kevin O’Connell has been my greatest thrill. That was the hardest book to get into print, just because we were two newbies with no real connections when we started out. We just had a shared dream to visit all of the parks and write a book about it. I’m pretty excited about my latest book too. I think this new edition of 101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out features the most consistently engaging writing I’ve managed to produce in the decade-plus I’ve been in the business… and I know it has the most visually arresting photos of any book I’ve put my name on yet.
Book Title: 101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out, 2nd edition
Author Name: Josh Pahigian
Genre: Sports Travel
This brand new edition of the finalist for the 2008 Casey Award profiles America’s greatest baseball museums, shrines, sports bars, pop culture landmarks and ballpark sites. From sandlots and skyboxes to TV rooms and sports bars, America’s love for baseball has inspired countless memories, discussions, and tributes. Josh Pahigian takes us across America to explore the places where the game’s history, culture, and lore come to life. Whether we travel by car or sit in the comfort of our favorite armchair, the book guides us to 101 amazing baseball places—including Ted Williams’ boyhood home, the Field of Dreams movie site, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Babe Ruth’s grave, and scores of other captivating landmarks. Offering 25 brand new chapters, while providing updated info and stunning color photos for the rest, Josh Pahigian has created the perfect gift for any baseball fan.
Beyond the Vines Columbarium
Bohemian National Cemetery
5255 North Pulaski Road
Chicago, Illinois 60630
Each year brings with it the departure of several of our favorite old-time baseball heroes to that “big ball field in the sky.” Whether the deceased was a perennial All-Star who went on to assume his rightful place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame after his playing days were through, or whether he was a mere mortal, who played alongside the giants of his era, if his career held special meaning to our team or our city, we mourn his passing and recall his exploits on the field during the halcyon days of his youth. As the decades fly past, these losses become all the more meaningful to us, perhaps because we realize our own halcyon days are fading into memory. When such weighty thoughts besiege us, we fans often turn to the game for comfort, losing ourselves in the rhythms and routines of its marathon season. After immersing ourselves in a nine-inning, three-plus hour diversion, thoughts of our own mortality don’t seem so close or menacing. And when death visits the game, taking with it another of our heroes, we like to pretend, maybe in jest or maybe in wistful acknowledgment of our own ignorance of the great beyond, that he really might be up there in heaven, toeing the rubber, or crouching into a fielding stance, or kicking up some dirt in the batter’s box. He’s young again and playing the game we loved to watch him play almost as much as he loved playing it.
But what is there for fans? Does that big ball field in the sky come complete with field boxes and a roving hotdog vendor or two? We rarely extend the metaphor that far, though many more fans of the game shuffle off their mortal coil each year than former players.
Doing one better than the metaphorical field in the sky, a Chicago Cubs diehard championed the construction of Beyond the Vines, a twenty-four-foot long facsimile of Wrigley Field’s famous outfield wall. The columbarium, which was erected and opened for “visitors” at this cemetery on Chicago’s north side in 2009, was the brainchild of Dennis Mascari. The loyal Cubs rooter borrowed money from friends and family members to fund the design and construction of the most unique luxury boxes ever conceived. Then, he became one of the columbarium’s “lifetime season ticket holders” in 2011, when he lost his battle with cancer at age 63. Prior to his death, Mascari explained that when he visited the final resting places of his relatives, he was always left feeling depressed. He conceived Beyond the Vines in the hope that his loved ones and those of other Cubs fans might have a different sort of mourning experience.
Visiting the columbarium today, you find a wall covered in ivy, joined by four box seats that once resided within Wrigley Field, a bench that once sat in the Cubs’ bullpen, a home plate set in infield dirt, and a patch of sod that once grew at Wrigley. The unique resting place has 288 niches to house the cremated remains of Cubs fans. These spots in the wall can be purchased for about $2,000. A stained glass window in the center of the wall replicates the famous Wrigley bleachers, scoreboard, and rooftop viewing decks and reads “Cubs Fans Forever: Beyond the Vines.” Beneath the stained glass, visible through a veil of ivy and written in yellow paint, is the number “400.” This looks just like the outfield marker at Wrigley, where—you guessed it—the distance from home plate to centerfield measures 400 feet. The clock on the top of this unusual monument is set to 1:20, which is the traditional starting time for Cubs’ afternoon games.
Although the Cubs have no affiliation with this cemetery, a licensing partnership between the Cubs and a funeral products manufacturer makes it possible for loved ones to commemorate their diehard relatives with oversized placards (like baseball cards!) that bear the Cubs’ iconic blue, white and red “C” logo. The card belonging to a gentleman, whose birth year is listed as 1911 and year of death as 2009, reads: “I saw Ruth and Gehrig play.” As for Mr. Mascari, his plaque showcases a photo of him smiling contentedly at Wrigley, alongside the words: “Please tap here after they win.”
You may visit this impressive monument to the lives of one team’s rooters within Section V of Chicago’s National Bohemian Cemetery, which is bounded by Pulaski Road on the West, Foster Avenue on the South, Bryn Mawr Avenue on the North, and Central Park Avenue on the East. The cemetery is open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/101-baseball-places-to-see-before-you-strike-out-josh-pahigian/1100305631?ean=9781493004782
Books A Million: http://www.booksamillion.com/p/Baseball-Places-See-Before-Strike/Josh-Pahigian/9781493004782
Lyons Press: http://www.lyonspress.com/101_baseball_places_to_see_before_you_strike_out-9781493004782
Josh is the author of several baseball books, including The Ultimate Baseball Road Trip and 101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out, both with the Lyons Press. The latter title was a finalist for the 2008 Casey Award, presented annually to the best new baseball book. Josh’s latest is a revised and updated edition of 101 Baseball Places that includes 25 brand new chapters, new photos, updated visiting information, and a complete re-ranking of North America’s best baseball attractions. Josh is also the author of the Old Orchard Beach mystery novel Strangers on the Beach (Islandport Press). In addition to writing, he serves as an instructor in the University of New England’s Center for Global Humanities, and as a writing instructor in the Western Connecticut State University low residency MFA program in Creative and Professional Writing.
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