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I am increasingly a fan of the essay form. It allows for a wide range of topics to be covered, united by a common thread, but drawing in a wide range of inspirations. This latest collection from Andrew Forbes has the Japanese baseball player Ichiro Suzuki running through it, but it is really the author’s devotion to the game that shines here.

There is lots of history within these pages, lots of statistics as there always is with this game, but also an essential personal touch as Forbes connects the turning seasons with the progress of his own life. That’s what sport does for fans, it grounds us and places us in a timeline of events, a particular game that recalls a big life change, a player that represents our youthful hopes and aspirations. Just as music fans have a soundtrack to their life, sports fans have a fixture list.

Obviously, this is a baseball book but it is wonderfully written and passionately observed, such that if you have loved anything you can enjoy and relate to this author’s love for baseball. I associate this to my own love of football in England, and perhaps Forbes captures it best when he says:

“…it’s the same flutter that baseball sometimes gives me, a recognition of lineage, and time passing, and things being handed along. How our entertainments and distractions can take on the dignity of labour if invested with enough care and love.”

Whether it is baseball or football, I have this same affinity to the game, this sense of being a part of something bigger than my own experience of it. Maybe this is just a case of middle-aged men wanting to justify the amount of time and energy they devote to something that on the surface can appear so frivolous, but when captured in this way, it feels not.

The main attraction to baseball for me, three thousand miles across the Atlantic Ocean from the major leagues, was this romance and mythology that imbued the game. The writing and the films that captured this essence were more important than the games themselves and with no deeply partisan affiliation I was able to absorb and enjoy all of this history.

I love that baseball fans still talk so passionately about the heroes of the past, that lineage that Forbes mentions is central to the experience and passed on through the generations with reverence. It has always felt to me that this is something that is lacking in football, despite the history, the characters, the glories and the scandals being just as rich.

Forbes is an accomplished narrator of the game and The Only Way Is the Steady Way is a pleasure that I fully expect to return to whenever I feel a need for a top up. Whether you have grown up surrounded by baseball or been drawn to it from afar, there is much to enjoy.

The Only Way Is the Steady Way will be published on 2 April 2021 by Invisible Publishing. I received an advance review copy via NetGalley.

Publisher’s Description

Essays about baseball’s past, present, and future—and the wisdom of Ichiro Suzuki

The Only Way Is the Steady Way is a baseball memoir in scorecards and baseball cards, a recollection of the game’s biggest stars and outlandish personalities, and introspective letters to a legendary player. These essays examine the meaning of baseball across international borders and at all levels of the game—from Little League diamonds to big league ballparks. Parents learn unexpected lessons at t-ball, cheap souvenirs reveal their hidden significance, and baseball’s beating heart is exposed through sharply beautiful observations about the history of the game. Forbes locates peace, reassurance, and a way to measure the passage of time with home run bonanzas, old games on YouTube, and especially in the unique career of beloved outfielder Ichiro Suzuki.

Just as he did in The Utility of Boredom, Forbes shows us how a summertime distraction might help us to make sense of the world, and how a certain enigmatic Japanese superstar offers a surprising ethos for living.