When revising Six Innings, I eliminated about 25% from the first draft (for more on that topic, click here). One of the plot lines that got axed involved Alex Lionni’s relationship with his father, a man utterly disinterested in sports who gets involved as an assistant coach after his divorce.
During this editorial stage, we generally minimized the role of adult characters. There was another scene when Mr. Lionni called Coach Jeff Reid and, despite his woeful lack of baseball knowledge, asked to help with the team. He was a man in pain, looking for some way to connect with his son. But, but, but.
As writers and editors, we often wrestle with the issue of balance, fiction’s inverse relationship of “pace” and “depth.” It’s a push-pull situation: pace/depth; plot/character. To move fast, you have to travel light; but if there’s not enough meat, nobody cares how quickly the story goes. So you are always making choices, bargaining. Slow it down, speed it up, linger here, hurry forward, skip the stone across the water, or let it sink below the surface.
The deleted scene below is backstory, character development, an exchange that took place about two years before the championship game of Six Innings.
Alex tossed a baseball to his father in the parking lot after the game.
Casper Lionni muffed it, at the same time fumbling the thick book (an epic poem, Homer’s The Iliad) that he’d tucked under his arm. The book fell with a thud. The ball bounced away and rolled under a Honda Odyssey.
“My bad, I’ll get it,” Alex said.
The boy stretched out on the pavement, reached under the minivan and recovered the ball.
This time, he handed it to his father.
Mr. Lionni wore a puzzled expression.
Alex explained, “If you hit a home run, they let you keep it. See,” he pointed to some writing on the ball, “Coach even wrote down the date.”
“Neat.” Mr. Lionni moved to return the ball to Alex.
“No, keep it,” Alex said.
“Yeah, Dad,” Alex said. “I think batting practice really helped last week. Not to mention the new goggles. So, um, thanks. I want you to have it.”
“But Alex,” Mr. Lionni protested. “This is your home run ball.”
“That’s okay,” Alex replied. “I’ll hit another.”
They did not speak of the problems at home. How Alex’s father was moving to an apartment, how everything was turning upside down. Sometimes it was better not to talk about these things. At this moment, in a parking lot beside a baseball diamond, Casper Lionni tucked a baseball into his jacket pocket. He ran his thumb over the seams. “Thank you, Alex,” he said. “I’ll treasure this.”
And so he would.
The ball would be displayed in a plastic cube on a mantel in the living room of his apartment. The place he called, awkwardly, his “new bachelor pad.” On silent nights, when Alex was away sleeping in the old house, Mr. Lionni would remove the ball from the clear plastic cube. He would hold the home run ball in his hands, thumb feeling the raised red seams, thinking about victories and loses, trying to understand how things had ever come to this, how a lifetime could have possibly led him here, alone in an apartment, filled with regret.
“How about we stop at Jim’s Tasty Freeze for some ice cream?” he suggested. “We’ve got a home run to celebrate.”
Alex Lionni thought that was a most excellent idea.
NOTE: I have to add that it tickled me when Mr. Lionni dropped The Iliad, and fumbled the “homer” ball, which rolled under a Honda Odyssey. Clever, huh? But not, I hope, “look at me” clever.
Or Elmore Leonard wouldn’t approve.
For the record, I’m fine with those cuts. It’s a matter of pulling back and trying to look at the whole, as opposed to becoming too attached to the specifics of a given scene. It also comes back to trust, and with Six Innings I had faith in my editors, Liz Szabla and Jean Feiwel. To keep the zip and zing of the thing, some decent background material winds up on the cutting room floor. It was more challenging with Six Innings, since I was interested in an ensemble piece, an Altmanesque approach that included many characters, many plates spinning at once. A strategy that works against a singular forward focus. Of course, the game itself became that focus, the engine that pulled everything else up the mountain and down the track.
Here’s a sixty-second example of a deleted scene from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” It’s a boring scene and, though it may have told us a tiny bit about Harry’s friendship with Ron, and coyly foreshadowed the chess game, it would have brought the movie to a crashing halt:
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