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Fiction-writer Gildner (English/Drake Univ.; A Week in South Dakota, 1987, etc.) traveled to Poland in 1987 to teach American literature--and became, partly because he was a countryman of Stan Musial's, coach of the ""Spark-Workers' Sports Club of Warsaw,"" one of eight teams in the fledgling Polish Baseball and Softball Association. Promising grist for his writer's mill; but this account of his experience is as dull as the ""low ratty gray"" sky he so often describes. Gildner's players range from those who have never worn a glove to two young Cubans who know something about the game to one college student who lived in Brooklyn for a year. He gives them pet names like Pizza Hut, Froggy, and July. Dariusz, the manager-organizer, chain-smokes his way through the games while doing play-byplay from the sidelines, or from the pressbox if there is one. Virtually every conversation with Dariusz is to Gildner an apparent exercise in humor: ""People need vacation,"" Dariusz says when asked why there will be no baseball in June, July, or August. ""Vacations very important to Polish people. Beach traditional,"" he adds. ""Also mountains."" To Gildner's ear, every Pole speaks this way, and so he reduces the people he meets to mere comic foils. He fares better with their games, often markedly different from the US version. Pitchers work only seven innings so that really good ones will not completely dominate each game. Most of the diamonds are lopsided because they are usually stepped off on a rectangular soccer field, leaving a very short right field. The Poles employ a ten-run ""knockdown"" rule: a team leading by that margin after five innings is declared the winner. Gildner covers more than baseball here--his personal life, literary ruminations (most often about Joseph Conrad), and sidetrips to meet Lech Walesa or to hobnob with the embassy crowd also figure in. But he never quite manages to switch gears: his description of being caught up in a Solidarity march is described as flatly as that of yet another base-on-bails issued by a Sparks pitcher.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1990
Publisher: Univ. of Iowa Press