Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, A Dream by H.G. Bissinger

Bissinger is a Pulitzer Prize Winning Journalist and this book reflects the caliber of his journalistic writing skill. While I have always heard “Football is like a religion” in Texas, Friday Night Lights truly illuminates what that means to an outsider.

What I love about this book is that Bissinger paints the complete picture of Odessa, Texas; it’s history from founding to oil boom and subsequent collapse. Without this context, it is impossible to fully understand the mania surrounding Permian football and high school football for the entire state.

Bissinger shifts from narratives following  the stars of 1st team offense and defense and their personal stories to the state of the town and its struggles with socioeconomic separation, racism, and prioritization of education (both past and present). The result is an eye opening view of these people’a flaws yet at the same time instilling a sense of empathy for each player, parent, and townsman.

Let’s not forget the game itself. Bissinger earned the good fortune of not only attending each game but riding along and accessing the locker rooms with the team. He’s able to show the technical play by play for each game in the season while simultaneously revealing the emotional turbulence each kid goes through in anticipation, during, and as a result of any given game. This makes me fall harder for the sheer strategy and tactics of football while experiencing emotional attachment for players.

This is one of those books I regret having borrowed from the library as I could not underline and highlight the commentary that really stood out to me. I may consider buying a copy for myself to reread, highlight, and go back to reference.

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The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip through Buck O’Neil’s America by Joe Posnanski

This has to start with my relationship with baseball. Baseball was not a household term and my first exposure to baseball came through elementary school. Every year, the school district awarded A’s tickets to kids with perfect attendance. There were also field trips to watch the A’s play. However, these were the days before they closed off the nosebleed nosebleeds at the Oakland stadium so my first impression of baseball consisted of this: a small field extremely far away where I could barely see any of the players or what was happening in an already slow game.

It wasn’t until years later post-college that I started playing softball with some friends from church during the summer that I started to appreciate the game. It wasn’t like I never played before then, but for some reason the intricacies of the game were just lost on me until then. Maybe it was my competitive spirit that helped me invest in the outcome. We played tournament style and who doesn’t want to win?

I started talking to my friend, lover of baseball about my newfound appreciation for the sport and he recommended this book to me. Of all the books he named, he said to start with this one.

Initially when I began reading, I couldn’t get into it. What drew me into the sport was the technical side of it… the analytics, the strategy. I learned the complexity of the game and the impact of each position and player. I was not prepared for the narratives from Buck O’Neil. However, as I read on, I learned from Buck what he was trying to teach everyone he encountered at his speaking engagements — the soul of baseball and the love of the game. Through this book, I realized that baseball is romantic. Baseball is nostalgic. Baseball is emotional. I never expected that… I thought of baseball Moneyball style, and now I can see the significance of breaking away from the traditional approach.

Buck O’Neil was a player in the Negro Leagues and much of his stories are about the great African American players before Jackie Robinson went to play for the Dodgers. The book very much provides a look at a segregated America, where players went hungry after traveling games because not a restaurant in town would serve colored folk. There are stories about eating stale sandwiches and crackers on the bus or being seated at a table in the kitchen, but still playing for the love of the game and enjoying every minute of it.

This book helped me reconcile my head and my heart when it comes to baseball, and I appreciate this sport that much more because of it.