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.