East of Eden – Steinbeck

First of all, Steinbeck.  One of my favorites.  I’ve read a few of his works, but now I’m chipping away at his masterpiece, East of Eden.  It’s written with a full range of emotions, history, and philosophy, it’s a complete package if there ever were one.  I’ve read a little background on the book, and it is said to be based on a family history of the writer, with a touch of the book of Genesis from the Bible.  Steinbeck said he worked hard on the book to bring all writing styles he’s learned into one piece. Based on his style and the previous works I’ve read, I’m preparing for a heartbreak.  He seems to open the world to a reader in the beginning of a piece and then chips away glee to show the sorrow core as the pages turn until there is little left but a dash of hope.  I have no idea why I like this method, but the expression and descriptions his words bring to the books hook me.

East of Eden begins with a rich description of the Salinas Valley.  It’s in a beautiful area of California, very close to Big Sur, one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in my life.  Nestled between mountains, the Salinas Valley around the turn of the 20th century was mostly farmers who relied much on the chancy weather to bring the crops in.  The Hamilton family was unfortunate to settle land without a proper water source, but the patriarch, Samuel, was a handy man and made due by inventing and providing services to the other farmers of the valley.  Samuel was a wise, joyous man, and had a shrewd wife, Liza, with an unrelenting love of the lord.  Her mind was fixed on salvation and the idea that not much in life mattered, but the afterlife in heaven was all the worth.  They were a neat balance of each other, raising seven children, three girls and four boys.

The Trask family was from Connecticut.  Half-brothers, Adam and Charles, grew up close, but quite differently.  Charles, the younger, was competitive and always better at everything than his older sibling.  Adam was not competitive, and was reserved to the fact that Charles was better in all ways.  Their father, Cyrus, fought in a battle in the Civil war, and his fabricated stories of service grew to a point that he became a respected point of reference for many military men, and eventually served in office for the war department.  Adam was told from a young age he would be a soldier, but was confused and jealous of the fact that his father made no such plans for the younger brother.  Before Adam was sworn into the US Cavalry, Cyrus admitted that the army could not make a man out of Charles, he had no fear and would not benefit from it; which is why he pushed Adam so hard to join.  After two five-year stints in the cavalry, Adam returned home to Charles and found their father had died a rich man in Washington DC.

Cathy Ames was described as an unusually beautiful but evil-child.  Her parents hardly noticed, but at an early age she learned how to manipulate people to do as she pleased.  She burned her parents alive in their house one night and ran off to join a brothel.  The manager saw her beauty and decided to keep her for himself.  He rented a house for her and paid her an ‘allowance’. This was not enough and she was always asking for more until they got drunk one night and she admitted that she had no love for him and she was using him.  The manager decided to take her to the brothel circuit to make her work and on the way there was a struggle and he beat her to an inch of her life.

The Trask brothers found Cathy crawling onto their porch that night and Adam decided to nurse her back to health.  Adam was smitten and asked her to marry him after she was healed.  She knew there would be trouble if the brothel manager found her so she agreed.  Adam decided they should move to California and with Cathy refusing, they settled in the Salinas Valley.

Upon settling, Adam decided to buy a ranch and renovate it to build an ‘Eden’ for his love.  Cathy was pregnant, but was unusually cold and distant during the pregnancy.  She told Adam she had no plans to stay, and that she would leave as soon as she had the child.  Adam was so in love, he ignored her words and said she would feel much better after she has the child.  After Cathy had twins, she packed her bags and shot Adam as she left, ending up working at a whorehouse in Salinas, and eventually owning it after gaining the manager’s trust, then poisoning her.  Adam became stuck in a cloudy world and paid little attention to his sons.  The Chinese servant, Lee, did most of the child rearing that first year.  Soon Samuel Hamilton (he had helped with the child birth) heard that the twin boys still didn’t have names after a year so he visited the Trask farm and got physical with Adam, trying to shake some life back in him.  It seemed to work and they decided to name the boys Caleb and Aaron.  While discussing the possible names for the boys, they brought out the Bible and discussed the story of Cain and Abel.  Lee, Adam, and Samuel had a long and deep discussion of the verse.  Lee presented the idea that rejection brought forth anger and crime for the rejection.  Lee proposed that if rejection were omitted from life, there would be little, if any crimes and the world would be a better place.  Upon further search for meaning, Lee visited his noble elder scholars and had a two-year examination of the story of Cain and Abel.  They even learned Hebrew to find more meaning in the words.  An enlightening epiphany grew out of this as they found many religious were teaching that it was an order or an automatic forgiveness to avoid sin by using the translation of English words, ‘Do thou’ or ‘Thou shalt’.  Upon translation, the elders found the original word, timshel in Hebrew, to mean ‘Thou mayest’.  The difference being that every man has a choice.  A choice to sin, a choice to strive for greatness.

Currently halfway through, and I’m not disappointed.  More to come.

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Part Two – The Art of Scouting – Stewart

A must-read for baseball fans far and wide.  This book has stories upon stories from seven decades of scouting in MLB.  It’s hard to choose a place to start from as I begin reflecting on the book.

Art Stewart not only put in great stories from his experiences, but threw in advice and things he learned along the years that made him a great scout, and great employee.  Three pieces of information that he used to point out some of his success as a scout were:

  • Never leave a game early
  • Always sign a player as soon as possible
  • Keep your mouth shut and your ears and eyes open

The last one, he advised, works for many professions.  Sometimes if you’re too busy talking, you might miss good information that will help you become better at your profession.

It’s a hard life for baseball scouts.  They’re on the road most of the year, watching game after game looking for those diamonds in the rough.  Long hours in the car, and quick lunches and dinners in between. He noted it’s not the life for everyone.  You really must love the game.  A professional player is considered a success if he gets a hit every third at bat, but a good scout has an even lower percentage of signing a player every year, let alone signing an above-average all-star player.  A scout watches hundreds of games a year and might sign two or three players to the club if they are lucky.

Stewart shared two stories about signing some of the most controversial players.  In the 1950s, Stewart scouted and signed a young pitcher named Jim Bouton.  If the name is familiar, you might have heard of his tell-all book “Ball Four” (after reading Stewart’s book this one is now on my list of books to keep an eye out for). The book shook up the baseball world in 1970.  Until then, baseball was like a secret fraternity. As Stewart describes it, what happened in the clubhouse, stayed in the clubhouse.  Professionals and media didn’t discuss personal matters or drug and alcohol abuse.  Bouton changed that with Ball Four.  Many people in the baseball world resented him, and some even pointed fingers at Stewart for bringing Bouton into the pro-baseball world. Stewart was always quick to point out that Bouton won 21 games in his second year in the league, he was signed for his ability, anybody would have signed him based on his skills.

Another story Stewart shared was of a young pitcher he signed who shook up the baseball world in the 1970s.  A pitcher named Fritz Peterson.  Peterson wrote Stewart a letter to ask him to scout him and Stewart followed up and ended up signing the young man.  After Stewart left the Yankees, Peterson and his friend, Mike Kekich, traded lives.  They swapped wives, children, even family pets.  They traded lives. Another story that had flipped the baseball world and made off-field situations gain attention in the public media.  Stewart mentioned that Ben Affleck and Matt Damon have even showed interest in creating the story into a Hollywood film.

Stewart has been a strong part of the Royals organization since they started in 1969.  Upon the Royals’ owner Ewing Kauffman’s recommendation, the organization started a revolutionary program called the Royal’s Academy in the 1970s.  The team scouted young talents at camps and invited them to join the academy.  The academy offered two years of baseball experience with the best future players and coaches in the country, and two years of free college education.  It paid off for the Royals as they were able to build strong relationships with the players, and helped make those players better.  One of the greatest products the Royals gained from the academy was Frank White, a member of the 1985 championship team, and one of two Royals players inducted into the Royals’ Hall of Fame.  Upon others that came through the program, was Ron Washington, who eventually led the Texas Rangers to the World Series as the team’s manager in 2011.

I grew up a Royals fan for all of my life, so this book was a neat read as far as learning so much about organization from the inside.  The stories about the players, scouting, and management of the organization were really insightful on learning about the operations of the club you usually don’t hear about.  It was a nice read and if you have any interest in the Royals, or just baseball or sports in general, I recommend finding a copy.

Rating *********9/10

The Art of Scouting – Stewart

The Art of Scouting by Art Stewart with Sam Mellinger is a great baseball book. The book explores Stewart’s first hand experience through working as a professional baseball scout since the 1950s.  There are many great baseball stories out there, but this one is unique.  He tells about how he encountered many of the greats in the beginning stages of their careers.  He worked with the NY Yankees in the 1950s-60s where he met so many greats in the organization, Mantle, Maris, and Rizzuto to name a few.  When he left the Yankees in 1969, they had won six of the ten World Series over the 17 seasons he scouted for them.  The climate with the Yankees changed and became much more formal and run like a corporation.  The opportunity came to join a new franchise in Kansas City, my home team, the Royals.  He was there from the start, and now has been with the organization the longest.  He wasn’t sure what he was getting into, but after the first meeting with Ewing Kauffman, he was all in.  Kauffman was not a baseball man, but was a KC grown engineer, a natural leader, and owned the prosperous Marion Laboratories.  Stewart said that baseball is full of tradition, but since Kauffman was not a baseball man, he thought outside the box and instituted many changes that led the Royals to be one of the most successful new franchises in baseball history, going to the ALCS in 1977, World Series in 1980, and winning the World Series in 1985.

Stewart met his wife, Donna in 1960, and she was just as enthralled with baseball as he was.  She was a strong asset to his scouting, and joined him at every game until her death in 2008.  They worked well together and he valued her input, even though she wasn’t an official scout, she knew what she was doing and made Stewart better at the job.

In the early 1980’s one of Stewart’s associate scouts pointed him onto a young, phenomenal athlete, named Bo Jackson.  Bo was a three sport star through college in Auburn.  The Royals organization was never sure which direction Bo would go, he could do it all.  The local Royals’ scout built a strong relationship with Bo and his family and that’s how we ended up with one of the best overall athletes of this century.  In the book, it tells all the details of scouting him from high school through college.  He was drafted twice before the Royals got to him, but the Royals knew Bo wanted to complete school, it was so important to his mother, so they patiently waited until they got their chance and it all worked out.

The year before Bo joined the Royals, they were also scouting a young man in high school in Florida.  The Royals drafted him and the scout was on his way to the home to present a contract.  Feeling a little timid of going through a rough neighborhood late at night, the scout turned around and opted to return in the morning.  The next morning, the Florida State scout was at the house, signing Deion Sanders to play college ball.  The Royals missed out on signing another two sport athlete, could you imagine Bo and Deion playing in the same outfield in KC?  The point of the Deion story was to show Stewart’s emphasis on signing right away.  He ended up firing the scout.

There was another great scouting story that stood out to me.  In 1975, a good NAIA pitcher begged to sign with the Royals.  He said if wasn’t drafted he wanted to sign.  He had some decent stats, but nothing really stood out to any of the ball clubs so he went undrafted and called the scout, Rosey, to ask for a contract – no signing bonus, he just wanted to play.  The scout said it was getting late but he would have a contract ready if he was there within the hour.  With a few minutes to spare, the Royals signed the late, great Dan Quisenberry.  He went on to make three All-Star teams, closed for four playoff teams, and was inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame.  I’ve heard many great things about Quisenberry and was fortunate enough to meet some of his family members while working in the KC area.

In the 1980’s Stewart was the scouting director for the Royals and he really pushed the program into Latin America, the ground work that eventually landed Salvy Perez, our current All-Star catcher.  I really enjoyed a story he shared about his experience in the Dominican Republic.  He said their team played one from the Yankees organization and won.  They were all so excited they took the team to a Burger King on the way home and they “ate those burgers like a steak dinner at the Ritz.”  It reminded me a lot of when my dad coached our sports teams growing up and would take us out for pizza to celebrate the season, good times.  My dad by the way, a big Royals fan, gave me this book, and I’m so glad he did. Thank you.

The second half is coming soon…

Part 2 – House Made of Dawn – Momaday

Momaday’s book explored the dichotomy of life of a young American Indian during the mid-19th century.  It was a little confusing to follow as it jumped around in time and place, and even thoughts.  As a whole, it delved into the multiple perspectives of persons involved with Indian culture in the time.

Where I left off before- Abel was struggling living in the Anglo world in LA in the early 1950’s.  He became overwhelmed and returned to his home reservation with his grandfather, Francisco.  The dichotomy mentioned before was unique as the two worlds were colliding on Abel. As he grew up on the Reservation, he learned a lot from his grandfather and enjoyed learning the culture of his people.  In an action he believed was necessary, he broke the Western laws and was imprisoned.  After serving his term, the government and social agencies provided him a job and place to live in Los Angeles.  In the Anglo world, Abel struggled with adjusting to the idea of this new culture.  During his time there, the only changes he made were to get a job, which he couldn’t keep, and he began drinking heavily.  He stood up to others who denounced the old ways, and showed that he favored the life he knew, back on the reservation.  Upon his return to the reservation, there was little in terms of a financial future in Western terms, but it was rich with tradition, people, and places he loved.

Momaday used poetry, multiple perspectives, and even a diary of an 18th century missionary to make this fictional piece come to life.  He did a great job of putting a voice to different characters.  Most of the book was written through an omniscient perspective, but there was a chapter that stood out as Abel’s roommate in LA, Benally, gave a youthful voice and dialect to share his perspective of Abel’s time in Los Angeles.

Ever since the Europeans began to influence America, the native people continually struggled physically and mentally with adjusting to the new ways brought before them. Some continue to struggle as their elders encourage them to embrace native language, arts, and tradition, as the other society pushes to engage in formal education and employment. It’s a hard battle to fight, who’s to win when there is much to lose either way?

Rating *********9/10