Monday, June 7, 2010

Dirk Hayhurst and The Bullpen Gospels


The 2010 baseball season was going to be one to remember for 29-year-old right-handed relief pitcher Dirk Hayhurst. After seven seasons at various levels in the minor leagues, a roster spot in the Blue Jays bullpen appeared to be a certainty and opening day was to coincide with the release of his highly anticipated first book, The Bullpen Gospels: Major League Dreams of a Minor League Veteran. Unfortunately, off-season shoulder surgery has delayed Hayhurst’s big league aspirations but The Bullpen Gospels debuted on the New York Times Best Seller List while he was rehabbing an injury that could have threatened his career.

“It has been a lot of hard work and for it to pay off like this is so rewarding,” Hayhurst said about the reaction to The Bullpen Gospels. “I will say this though, if I could trade in my New York Times Best Seller List and be healthy and playing in the big leagues right now, I would do that.”

“When the injury happened, I was really afraid I was going to miss the whole year,” Hayhurst confided. “I’m confident that I will be back in some capacity but it’s rough. I was right at the threshold of being a guy that could break camp with the team for opening day and then one day, one weight-room routine, and everything changes.”

As a writer, Hayhurst first began to share his personal experiences with Baseball America in 2007, writing the Non-Prospect Diaries for the popular magazine; a column now emulated by several other baseball players. He became a storyteller instead of describing the day-to-day activities of the team and the column led to writing The Bullpen Gospels, chronicling his 2007 season with the Single-A Lake Elsinore Storm and the Double-A San Antonio Missions.

“I didn’t think that people would be OK with me writing a book while I was playing and it not being an exposé book, which it isn’t,” said Hayhurst. “I didn’t have to sell somebody out to make it successful and I am proud of that.”

In his most popular column for Baseball America, which also appears in his book, Hayhurst describes a young mother and son standing near the bullpen fence, attempting to get the attention of the pitchers. With fans clamouring for baseballs and autographs on a daily basis, the pitchers tried to remain aloof and not acknowledge the pair. When Hayhurst finally relented and approached them, the young mother whispered that her son had terminal liver cancer and his dream was to meet the players.

Hayhurst quickly lifted the boy over the fence and the entire pitching staff showered the youngster with affection and autographs. It brought into perspective what baseball can mean to people and the role he could play. As he wrote at the end of that column, “I still can't explain why people treat us so special for putting on a baseball uniform. But in those few moments together, it didn't really matter, in those few moments, baseball made perfect sense.”

“The book and how I get the perspective of writing about baseball the way that I do is basically by rejecting the way that it was sold to me when I was younger,” revealed Hayhurst. “Which is, it is some kind of god-like occupation that elevates you out of the struggles of everyday people's lives, that shelters you from everything bad and that you can use this sport to fix all of your problems - but you can't.”

“Let’s be honest,” continued Hayhurst. “There is more to baseball then who is winning, who is losing and who signed the biggest contract, but that's really all you hear about anymore. I kind of made a personal vow, that as long as I was in this profession I would try to do something different with it. I wanted to go a different route and I wanted it to be honest and real.”

Any revelations in Hayhurst’s book are about himself, not his teammates; his self-doubts about making it to the big leagues and the pressures of being judged as a statistic, a life threatening injury suffered by his father when he fell off the roof of their home and experiencing poverty when his parents lost their jobs. Hayhurst also candidly discusses his brother’s alcoholism and the resulting violence in his family. Masterfully combined with stories and anecdotes of endless bus rides and quirky conversations in the bullpen amongst the relievers, The Bullpen Gospels is a thoroughly compelling read.

“This book has a mass audience appeal,” said Hayhurst. “Essentially the vehicle of the book is baseball but the story and the essence of it is not, it is about the human struggle. It is about redeeming yourself in baseball and about finding the truth of who you are underneath the jersey.”

With The Bullpen Gospels, Hayhurst has reached his goal; the book has touched many and made a positive impact on their lives since its release. The honesty contained within its pages not only gives the reader a glimpse into the world of baseball, it successfully shows us the man beneath the jersey, a man that has searched for answers on the field and found them within himself. The Bullpen Gospels is an essential addition to every sports fan's collection.

For more info on Dirk, visit his website: www.dirkhayhurst.com

Photo by TVOS
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