True to his Dominican heritage, our adopted son fell in love with baseball at the age of 8. His exquisite poise made the game less boring. But I could not fathom how this sport ever became "the national pastime."
Now, decades later, I discover there was more going on than I could see. Hidden dramas unfold from dugout to diamond as players learn and sometimes defy unwritten codes of conduct governing etiquette on the field, rules for retaliation, methods of cheating, and proper respect for teammates.
Journalist Jason Turbow (with help from "ballpark rat" Michael Duca, an official scorer who has seen more than 3,000 Major League games) has written a gabfest of true tales that illustrate baseball's unwritten rules, communicated by decisive nods, stares, beaners, drills, and a few choice words.
"The Baseball Codes" showed me how our son's sublime skill at stealing bases might have gotten him into trouble for a breach of manners in the Majors.
I learned that second base is the ideal spot for runners to decipher the catcher's signals and help their batters anticipate the pitch about to be delivered. Over the years, some artful tricks for stealing signs got outlawed. Cheating came to baseball long before steroids.
Turbow helped me appreciate the unique burden on pitchers to uphold a team's honor and punish bad behavior by aiming to hurt or humiliate the next innocent batter. Those who understand the code will not take this personally, but will accept enforcement with a manly display of dignified restraint.
Some players, coaches, managers, and owners are scalawags, who delight in wreaking revenge for any perceived slight. Others lift the game to a higher plane. Consider the Oakland A's veteran first baseman Jason Giambi, who saw a disoriented young first baseman on the rival team "with nowhere to turn" and spoke to him, ignoring the A's rule against fraternizing with opponents on the field. The rookie remembered: "He took the time to talk with me . . . . He told me how to act, how to be. He became my friend."
While this broke an unwritten rule, Giambi's kindness was a "sea-change" that still "served the purpose of preserving the Code," Turbow writes. Like generations of players before him, the veteran "realized that, if left unchecked, unhealthy tendencies can quickly permeate the game."
This is a lively, fascinating book for anyone who loves baseball or would like to.