“We look back and wonder, ‘How did we do all that?’ It’s simple. We loved the game so much, we just looked past everything else. We were ballplayers. There was nothing we would have rather spent our time doing.”
–We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson
It’s not very often that a work of non-fiction captures my attention. It’s even more rare for a history to light me up. A book about baseball? Usually not even on my radar, except maybe as a gift for my husband. This book. This is the exception to all those rules.
It was the artwork that first drew me in. I was trolling the internet for good books, as I so often do, and the faces just leaped off the screen at me.
The whole book is full of these fantastic illustrations, painted by the author. Many are portraits of players, others show bits and pieces of games, full of tension and just barely restrained motion. I have flipped through the pages countless times, and the best word I can use to describe them is loving. Each one is just infused with empathy and affection.
And oh, the storytelling. From the first line (“Seems like we’ve been playing baseball for a mighty long time.”) to the closing paragraph (“These guys stand on our shoulders. We cleared the way for them and changed the course of history. And knowing that satisfies the soul.”) the whole book reads like a tall tale, a legend echoing out of the past, best told around a campfire or out on the back porch on a hot summer night.
I bought this book for my boys, my husband and my son, but unlike all the other sports books I’ve bought them, I read the entire thing myself. More than once. Which just goes to show you that the heart of a story is not in the subject matter, not in the what and where of the happenings, but in those who lived it.
This story is a story that was lived well.