I have pretty much zero athletic ability, but I love watching sports. It’s definitely not just for the eye candy, although that doesn’t hurt. (I mean, soccer players. Holy muscular legs, Batman.) But I love the competitive spirit of it, too; the displays of talent and athleticism that I will never have; and, yes, the corny human-interest stories of triumph over adversity.
I’ve been a baseball fan since my dad took me to my first Yankees game when I was about twelve. I upgraded to “rabid fan” when I was in college, because I—a Yankees fan from northern New Jersey—wound up at a school in Massachusetts, and those kids from Boston, man, they take their baseball very seriously. And I was in college during a time when the Yankees had one of the best lineups ever (that link goes to Baseball Almanac, which lists the 1998 Yankees as the 8th best lineup of all time) and the Red Sox hadn’t broken that Bambino-related curse yet, so baseball fights got feisty. I think I became a better fan almost out of self-defense, because I didn’t quite yet understand how illogical team loyalties are so I tried to be armed with facts. (Like, people ask, “Ugh, how can you be a Yankees fan?” and I’m like, “Uh, 27 World Series victories?” but this is apparently not persuasive).
There’s a lot to like about baseball. It can be slow, sure, but there’s a rich history and a lot of juicy statistics. I realize that it takes a special kind of baseball wonk to get excited about sabermetrics, but… I totally get excited about sabermetrics. It’s fascinating to me that we can predict with reasonable accuracy how any player will do based on obscure statistics like what percentage of his at-bats result in him getting a walk or spending time on base. This is maybe meaningless to the lay fan, but it comes in handy around this time of year when some of us are thinking really hard about who we want to draft to our fantasy teams.
It’s also a really hard game. Think about it: a middle-of-the-road batting average is about .250. That means that most players only get hits about a quarter of the time they go up to bat. A player with an excellent average still only gets a hit about a third of the time. Every player on defense has a highly specialized set of skills designed to prevent the batter from scoring a run even if he does manage to make the bat connect with the ball. So the odds are stacked against the batter. It’s a game that requires strategy in which the players must have speed and agility rather than brute strength. And, sure, maybe not much happens in a low-scoring, nail-biter of the game, but the tension created by two very skilled teams playing against each other is so great you’ll spend the whole game on the edge of your seat. I love that kind of stuff.
So, baseball. It’s pretty great. So are romance novels. I’ve always been a fan of sports romances, and a number of years ago, I went on the lookout for baseball romances, gay and straight, and came up with hardly any. How could this be? Is the overlap in the Venn diagram of baseball fans and romance fans really so small? The few I did manage to find had so little sports stuff in them that I didn’t see the point. So, I took that as a challenge.
That’s a lot of where Out in the Field comes from. I wanted to write a book about gay professional athletes and I wanted it to be soaked in sports ephemera. I’m often preoccupied with setting in my novel, so I wanted baseball—the game, the stadium, the lingo, all of it—to be the sort of setting that comes alive in the book.
And then of course you have the problem of two Major League infielders falling in love with each other. One thing that I find truly encouraging is that there’s a lot of positive discussion of gay players in the professional sports leagues right now. I find it inspiring that athletes are saying, “I’d be totally cool with a gay teammate.” I was running with that idea in Out in the Field, creating a hypothetical future where a player like the fictional Iggy Rodriguez could come out. Maybe it wouldn’t be easy, but it wouldn’t end his career either. I feel like we’re finally getting to the point at which a gay player would have the support of his teammates, perhaps now even more than a year ago when the book was published.
But there’s more work to do. It should be up to league commissioners to ensure gay players feel safe being themselves—to have anti-discrimination policies on the books, to enforce those policies, to do something to prevent gay athletes from losing endorsement deals, to just keeping the conversation going and acting supportive. (For more on this, I recommend the excellent blog at Out Sports.) I actually look forward to a time when the scenario in Out in the Field is less of a novelty, but we’re not quite there yet.
Until then, enjoy the jocks! And go Yankees!
Kate McMurray is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn, NY. Her big baseball novel Out in the Field is a May-December romance between a Major League player whose career is on the decline and one whose star is rising; it won an honorable mention in the 2012 Rainbow Awards. When she’s not writing, Kate can be found knitting, chasing her cat around her apartment, playing the violin, or watching baseball. You can find her on the Internet at www.katemcmurray.com.
P.S. Kate has generously donated a copy of Out in the Field to our Jock Week giveaway so be sure to stop by and check it out!