In his startlingly poetic and evocative "The Unnatural Natural," L.A. Times writer J.R. Moehringer, author of "The Tender Bar: A Memoir," tells the story of "Homeless" John Meeden, an enigmatic 64-year-old softball phenom in a Midwestern senior league:
The hobo Roy Hobbs. The unnatural natural. A homeless guy who clouts homers in a softball league somewhere in the heartland. It sounded too good to be true, at first, but baseball is full of things that are too good to be true—baseball itself is too good to be true—and that's one of the things we love about it. Like no other sport, baseball caters to our need for mythology. For pretend.
Here's this guy, lost to the world, who rubs shaving cream into his mitt before every game. Who lives in a $190-a-month apartment in a place you've probably never heard of. Who grew up a hellfire-and-damnation preacher's kid, into a life of odd jobs, divorce and electroshock therapy. Who listens to Tony Bennett records he finds in the trash. Who didn't like softball as much as he needed it. Who bats .600 in the senior World Series, which his team wins.
Just another fluff piece in which autumnal metaphors are driven hard to deep center? Part Kinsella, part Malamud, part Ring Lardner? Oh hell, maybe. Baseball offers a metaphor for many things, but sometimes it's just about baseball. And a well-told story always taps into something about each of us. A poisonous fear, a half-remembered dream, a secret flaw, a shared memory ... something. If you care a whit about mythology, baseball, rhapsodic writing, and the triumph of human spirit, click through to Moehringer's piece.