4, 2003: Taking
the blues out of baseball
Red Sox fan Wes Tooke '98 takes his team to the top, almost, in
his debut novel
C.W. Tooke'98 takes on professional baseball in his first novel,
Ballpark Blues (Doubleday). Tooke, a former editor for PAW
who also has written for Salon and New Jersey Monthly, tells the
story of Russ Bryant, a young sports writer who has lost his love
for the game until a baseball-playing phenom, Casey Fox, enters
his life and jump starts Bryant's career and social life. Tooke
says it's no mistake that readers end up knowing what Russ, the
book's narrator, thinks.
"There's long been an idea in American fiction that, god
forbid, you have a central thesis that is explicit, as opposed to
being realized through dramatic action," says Tooke, who traveled
the country this spring publicizing the book. "The classic
piece of American fiction over the last 20 years is the sprawling,
rambling, family novel/memoir-type, and I don't have any interest
at all in that type of fiction. That's why Russ ends up having more
of a point of view than I think most first-person narrators would."
Here he speaks with PAW.
How did you come up with the two main characters?
Russ is basically the person I was afraid I'd become if I went
to work for a newspaper and became a sports journalist. Casey is
the athlete I'd always wished I'd run into as a writer someone
who is self-aware and interesting enough to have something intelligent
to say about his environment. And honest enough to be able to share
that with a reporter . . . which means he is obviously a complete
creation of fantasy.
How much of you is in Russ Bryant?
In fiction you have to find enough of yourself in the person you
are writing about to be able to do it authentically. The character
has to have qualities you can empathize with. Particularly if you're
writing a first book and you're using a first-person narrator. Russ's
worldview is more cynical than mine . . . at least I hope it is.
But his core attitude toward sports is very similar to mine.
Was Casey too good to be true for your editor?
I think if I'd been publishing with a company that specialized
in sports books, or if I'd been working with an editor at Sports
Illustrated, everyone would've had difficulty believing in Casey.
But at my publisher's, which doesn't handle much sports fiction,
no one had that problem
As far as I can tell, you got the atmosphere of the locker
room down pat, as well as the relationship the media has with athletes
There was a fair amount of research involved. And a lot of it comes
from having grown up in Boston and having spent my life plugged
into Channel 38 watching the Red Sox. I grew up in the atmosphere,
so it was more a matter of capturing it then figuring out what it
You're a diehard Boston Red Sox fan. What's been the reaction
A lot of Red Sox fans have come up and said, 'As long as you're
writing a novel, why couldn't you at least let them win the f***king
thing?' They'd laugh, and I'd always say, 'I didn't want to blow
all my credibility at the end.'
Is this your first book?
I wrote a coming-of-age novel, which, like most, was incredibly
self-indulgent, rambling, poorly constructed, and under-invented.
So it is sitting in my desk never to be seen by anybody else ever
Tell me about your book tour?
I'm glad it's over, but it's interesting to try and sell a book
at the grass roots level. Reporters have to go out and meet people,
and be social and be an active part of society. But as a writer
of novels, you crawl into your hole and live in this nice sheltered,
little world that you've constructed, which suits my personality
fairly well. It's kind of a culture shock to have to be social and
meet people. It takes some gearing up, but it's been enjoyable.
What was it like promoting the book in your native New England?
I really enjoyed the cross-promotions we did with several independent
minor league baseball teams. One in particular was the Nashua Pride,
managed by Butch Hopson, who was the manager of the Red Sox and
one of my childhood half-heroes. You never expect in your life to
be standing at a book signing in Nashua, New Hampshire, with Butch
Hobson on one side of you, and a six-and-a-half-foot stuffed moose
on the other the Nashua Pride mascot.
That was a proud moment for my writing, and Princeton, I think.