Bigger Than The Game

Dirk Hayhurst, the author behind the New York Times' bestseller The Bullpen Gospels and its sequel Out of My League, returns with Bigger Than The Game, which chronicles his time on the disabled list with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2010; his last year on a major league roster.

The appeal of Hayhurst's books are twofold; his ability to come off as a regular guy attempting to compete in the world of super jocks, which frequently resemble the guys that gave you a locker room wedgie in seventh grade and more importantly the rare and unique ability to not always portray himself in the best light.

The shtick of appearing as someone not blessed with athletic talent and trying to survive by guile and deception is somewhat true. I saw Dirk pitch in the minor leagues several times and while there were many who had more "stuff" or fastballs with greater velocity, and secondary pitches with more movement, Hayhurst had the rare ability to throw multiple secondary pitches to go along with good command of an average fastball to make him a viable major league middle relief candidate.

Remember Dirk Hayhurst was three times an all-conference pitcher at Kent State and inducted into their Hall of Fame. He is not someone who is bragging about making the all-star traveling squad in the fifth grade.

The truth is Dirk always had a bit more talent than he lets on but that is really a tale for a scouting report. As with many minor league players a combination of injuries and not being used correctly, his strength was never as a starter, probably ended his major league pitching career a earlier than it should.

In all of his books, he never shies away from the anxieties that haunt him as a professional athlete; the insecurities based on what he perceives as the constant judgment of himself through the prism of his performances on the mound. The result can occasionally manifest itself in a character that comes across as a self-pitting coupled with a quasi-Machiavellian streak when interacting with members of the front office and media to achieve his goals.

The most interesting part of Bigger Than The Game is Hayhurst's description of the rehabilitation process of his injured shoulder, which cost him his season. The Blue Jays graciously decide to keep Dirk on the injured reserve for a full season because in their view he got hurt trying to help them. Being placed on the IR, or as some derisively refer to it "Club Med", ensures that he will be paid a little over $400,000 for the year with the additional bonus of the organization picking up all expenses for the surgery and associated rehabilitation expenses at the world renown Dr. James Andrew's clinic in Birmingham, Alabama.

This strange part of the story is how much money was being invested in him and how laissez-faire the Blue Jay's attitude was on his rehab work. Although they provided some guidance, it was pretty much up to Hayhurst to decide where, when and how much he wanted to do. At the end of the year the Toronto despite carrying him on the books for a full year.

Dirk came back to pitch in 2011 with the Durham Bulls, the Tampa Bay Rays AAA team, before hanging up his cleats at the end of the year to become a broadcaster for Toronto.

Bigger Than The Game, as does its predecessors, attempts to give the reader a glimpse of the world just inside the door of professional baseball. The false hubris of players that are constantly trying to convince themselves that they belong or face returning to nondescript towns for a life of minimum wage servitude to the ones at the top of the heap with their retinues of sycophants, catering to their every whim.

Part of me has always felt a little sorry for Dirk in that he has ever really given himself enough credit for making the major leagues when so many of the guys he played with did not. Then again nearly all his adult life has been around other, and frequently more successful professional athletes.

Hayhurst, who recently completed his degree at Kent State, seems somewhat inclined to venture out into the world beyond baseball. Somewhere down the road I can see him in an office setting, outside of the world of professional sports, listening to one of his suite mates drone on with another interminable tale of how he threw a slider on the outside corner to strike out this guy in his over forty hardball league that was once recruited to play on a junior college team.

Which Hayhurst would respond, "Yeah I tried that once to Manny Ramirez and he took me over the right-field wall in San Diego."

And with that he can calmly take a swing of his coffee and walks back to office with the knowledge that compared to the rest of us he actually got to touch his dream.

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