A Review of Stacey May Fowles' Baseball Life Advice: Loving the Game That Saved Me
Review by Jessica Rose
Award-winning novelist, journalist, and essayist Stacey May Fowles knows which sections of a ballpark are safest for her to sit in. She knows where she’s least likely to be harassed or to hear sexist, homophobic, or racist language. She also knows that despite being a space that is often unwelcoming to women, a ballpark is her “church,” a place that offers her a precious few hours of escape and a sense of constancy.
Baseball Life Advice: Loving the Game That Saved Me is Fowles’ collection of enthusiastic essays that celebrates baseball and the “strange grip” it has on her, while also being critical of the sport. It is a much-needed look at baseball through a gendered lens, exploring topics including Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy, the correlation between sports injuries and mental health, and the male-dominated media’s “very limited and skewed depiction of women’s relationships with sports.”
On many occasions, Fowles’ fandom seems obsessive. “The emotion the game stirs in me is like an itch I can’t scratch, a feeling I’ll never really understand,” she writes in the book’s first essay, “It’s Enough That We’re Here: Thoughts on Baseball and Recovery.” At times, her wistful language and metaphors that compare baseball to romantic love might seem hyperbolic, especially for casual baseball fans. However, it is quickly understood that Fowles’ love of the game is deeper than an admiration for her favourite hitters and pitchers. Baseball is a refuge from her sexual assault, infertility, and “the thick fog of sadness” that overtook her mental health.
“Baseball was a perhaps frivolous little diversion that kindly assuaged the silence and loneliness of grappling with my failure to conceive,” writes Fowles in a particularly emotional essay called “The Year in Coming Close,” that openly and beautifully explores how her love of the game “blotted out my more fatalistic thoughts and emotions about infertility.”
Fowles’ exhilarating depictions of baseball and its players are highly entertaining; however, it is the candid and warm essays about how the sport contributes to her wellness that make this collection unique. These essays, including the previously mentioned “The Year in Coming Close” and “Baseball Anxiety Is Good For You” provide the critical perspective of a female fan — a voice not often elevated in sports culture — on topics that are rarely, if ever, discussed in sports media.
With essays including “An Ode to Marcus Stroman” and “Adam Lind Is Traded, Long Live Adam Lind,” Baseball Life Advice demands that readers have at least a casual admiration for and knowledge of baseball; however, it also offers something universal, forcing readers to think critically about the spaces we inhabit and how we inhabit them.
“I never feel more human, or more sane, than I do inside a ballpark,” writes Fowles. A reader who knows the tug of a corner pub, a music festival, or a movie theatre, will surely relate to Fowles’ very human desire to enter a place and escape, even if only briefly.