Why Baseball Matters (to Me)

I was never a good athlete. I was too small, too short, too whatever. Feats of strength were beyond me, but I had a great imagination, and in the unsettled years of my preteen existence, I used to imagine I played baseball for the Atlanta Braves when I stood in my backyard and hit rocks into the garden using a beat-up, old baseball bat. Each thump of the rock against the barrel of the bat excited my senses. I imagined a live baseball taking a wonderful arc over the fence at the woeful Fulton County Stadium bringing home the greats of that era – Murphy, Horner, Hubbard, etc.

I did play Little League one year, but I mostly kept the bench warm for more talented players. My lone memory of a great hit (for me) happened when I accidentally connected with the baseball and it sailed all the way to the base of the fence in the outfield. I was fast then, and I made it all the way to third before the opposing team returned it to the infield. I remember the electric excitement that shot through me when I watched that ball bound off the bat and take flight to the outfield. The din of the crowd rang in my ears. For a moment, I was Dale Murphy swatting another game winner, but of course, it was nothing like that. We lost that game and most of the others we played.

My lack of talent never doused my love for the game. Even today, the earthy smell of a baseball field – all dirt and perfectly cut grass – gets me excited and sentimental. I remember all of the great moments playing baseball in the backyard with friends and cousins and that one singular year playing Little League. I remember watching my beloved Braves on TV with my dad when I was young and sometimes, years later, when I was older. There were even some fleeting moments when three generations of us Elrod men sat and watched a game at my grandfather’s old house on the hill. None of us said much. We just sat and enjoyed the game. Those are moments that exist only in my memory today – something that can never be relived. It brought us all together as if nothing else mattered.

Now, many years later, my grandfather and my dad are no longer around. It’s just me and my son. I’ve taken him to games, but he doesn’t get as excited as I did when I was his age. He has too many other things vying for his attention these days – much more than I did back then. Nevertheless, he goes to games with me, and he seems to have a good time. I think he’s starting to recognize how important it is to me and how important it will be to him many, many years from now. Baseball is about more than the game. It always was. To me at least.

Begin with the Log Line

Stephen Covey, the renowned self-help guru, said that you should begin with the end in mind in his seminal book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Although he was talking about life in general, the same advice can apply to writing a novel because you have to know where you’re going with your story before you can begin the journey.

Writing a good novel is hard. No matter how much you love to write or how much you’ve written in your lifetime, creating a story that sustains a reader’s interest from the exciting beginning to the satisfying ending requires a lot of hard work. Most writers can bang out a thrilling opening and the climatic ending, but the dreaded middle has rung the death knell for many a novel. I see it all the time in books I’ve read. They start out great but lose their center as they meander toward the climax.

To keep a book centered, it helps to begin with the log line. One of the biggest takeaways that I’ve had from The Fifth Semester program is the importance of the log line. A log line is a succinct, one-to-two sentence summary of your novel. It’s meant to be something akin to an elevator pitch. Imagine you’re on an elevator with an agent or a publisher, and you only have a few seconds to pitch them the idea behind your novel. That’s your log line. It’s hard to boil down a 90-thousand word novel to two sentences, but it’s a must if you want to pitch your idea successfully. It’s also incredibly helpful to keep you focused as you write your novel, so developing it up front and keeping it in sight during the writing process can prevent that dreaded middle from becoming a disastrous muddle.

I usually develop something like a log line when an idea strikes. I’ll jot down a bunch of notes on an idea, which is usually just a few sentences. The difference between what I do and what I learned at The Fifth Semester is that the log line it much more carefully crafted. My notes were often just spilling ideas on a page. Now, I still dump the ideas out of my brain in a haphazard fashion, but I then take those ideas and spend a considerable amount of time to craft a log line.

Having a solid log line before I begin work keeps me centered on the essence of the idea. Of course, there are other tools I’ve learned about that help me craft the story and avoid a sagging middle, but the log line keeps me focused like a laser on the story, and if I start writing something that drifts off that line, I either stop or I revisit my log line. Most likely, if I’ve developed a solid log line, I re-direct my writing.

Here’s the log line to my current project, Into the Caldera:

A shy college student meets the girl of his dreams only to lose her to his charismatic, life-long best friend. When the three go on a camping trip near the mouth of a volcano, a terrible accident forces him to decide whether death is the price of betrayal.

As I’m re-writing that novel, I keep that log line in front of me. It helps keep me focused on what I’m trying to accomplish with the story.


My father was old school, an anachronism from another era. He was born in 1942, technically not a baby boomer, but he married one. His view of the world formed in the 1950s, and his approach to fatherhood mirrored that wistful era when America prided itself on the sheen of progress that it projected despite disturbing realities that were locked in an attic somewhere rattling chains. He was a working man who came home and expected a meal on the table and left the care of his brood to the woman he married.

He didn’t have time to be philosophical or think too deeply about much other than the decision to switch from regular Salems to Salem Lights, which he smoked one after the other. He expected his three boys to behave enough so that it didn’t bother him. Children were best seen, not heard, and if we got out of line, the rise of his voice was enough to put us back in our place. He didn’t kowtow to whining and he didn’t care if we were bored. There was a great, big world outside the door to the small, old house we all shared, plenty enough to consume the attention of young boys.

If we were lucky, he’d feel like joining us outside on the weekends in between his naps and treks to the store to buy more cigarettes. We’d toss the baseball back and forth or shoot baskets at the tattered basketball goal that leaned at the end of our driveway. Those were great moments, however many there were. As we grew older, those moments stood out as the ones that defined our childhood in some idyllic way, probably more so than they actually did.

Many years later, in the waning moments of his life, when he lay in a hospital bed writhing in pain from the cancer that had slowly robbed him of his strength and dignity, he had a moment of clarity. He had grown more sentimental in the intervening years as our childhoods had faded into memory and grandchildren gave him a joy that seemed familiar. Maybe he felt something had been missing or that he had missed something. We never really discussed it because, like I said, he didn’t veer too much into the philosophical, but in that moment of clarity he uttered, “I did the best I could.” He didn’t say much more because he was drowning in pain and sedatives. It was a hell of a way to die and a haunting last few words to say to his oldest son.

His words felt like some sort of apology where none was needed like he had somehow come up short in his 45 years as a father. None of his sons would ever say that Dad had something to apologize for. Even when things were their most difficult, more times than we’d like to admit, we never doubted that he loved us. He didn’t have to say it or announce it to those passing by on the street. We knew it in our heart of hearts, an internal gravitational constant that guided us without fail. Our father loved us and that’s all we ever needed from him.

I never really understood it until I became a father myself. The love you feel for your children is unequivocal and incomprehensible to those who are childless. This visceral feeling manifests itself in many ways nowadays, often missing the mark. Too many parents set out to be the best, to win the parent of the year award for the sake of the trophy. They spend so much time obsessing over the perfection of parenthood to the point of self-inflicted misery that they forget the point, they miss the most important aspect of being a parent – love.

My dad  was not perfect. I doubt he ever changed diaper. He didn’t attend parent-teacher conferences and he infrequently went to the games I played. I remember seeing him at some baseball games when I was in Little League and a handful of basketball games, but he didn’t attend a single tennis match during my four years of high school. He did show up at my graduations, but he always had the look of someone who’d rather be somewhere else. While these events or milestones were important, they weren’t as important as knowing that I had a father who loved me. That’s all I really needed.

I keep this in mind with my own kids. If they know anything, it is that I love them without fail. I’m not the perfect father. I don’t always get it right, but I don’t beat myself up over it either. I’ll always love them, and that’s all that matters in fatherhood. That much I learned from my dad.