Tag Archive for New York Mets

My Pecha Kucha: Baseball’s Red Thread

I gave a Pecha Kucha presentation a couple of years back at our local Opalka Gallery on the Sage Campus in Albany. The other day I came across the text for it, which comes close to what I actually said that evening (my talk was pretty closely memorized, no notes). I thought I’d share it here, because it brings together two things I love, baseball and my mother, and I happen to be missing both of them these days. The images here are the ones I used for the original talk.

BUT FIRST: WHAT IS PECHA KUCHA?

I grabbed this off the web:

Pecha Kucha is a presentation form of 20 images for 20 seconds. The slides change automatically and the speaker must synchronise their speech with the images. It’s sometimes also called a 20×20 presentation. So the entire presentation always lasts for exactly 6 minutes and 40 seconds.

It started in Tokyo in 2003, designed by architects, Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham. It was soon adopted by fans of alternative presentation styles. Similar to the short-length focus of an elevator pitch, Pecha Kucha relies upon concision and brevity. By applying a limit on the number of slides, the presenter is forced to streamline their content. It also forces the speaker to prepare and practice, as there is no option to go back or skip ahead. Pecha Kucha is also a very visual presentation style. It is based on single powerful images. Striking visuals enhance any presentation. They captivate the audience in a more immediate way than written words.

 

 

On the outside there are two cowhide coverings stitched together with waxed red thread. There are exactly 108 stitches in the sewing process of a major league ball. I feel like that red thread has been woven through the fabric of my life.

 

If you’re a kid, sooner or later you’ve got to unravel one of these things. Inside there’s a rubber-covered cork core and four types of yarn. It’s the yarn I like best, because a yarn is also a long story. My yarn, today, is about baseball. But that’s not entirely true.

 

My mother was the big baseball fan in our house. A huge Mets fan. The games were always on when I was growing up. She’d listen on the radio or watch on TV, snapping the games off in despair when the Mets were losing. And they were often losing.

 

 

Speaking of yarn: There were always balls of it my house. Everywhere you turned. My mother did most of her best work while watching the Mets on television. We still wrap ourselves in her blankets. This remains the world’s second best use of yarn.

 

 

My mother married in 1948. Seventy-two years ago. Around that time, she threw away her collection of Brooklyn Dodger baseball cards. My father had no interest in baseball. It was time, she thought, to put aside childish things.

 

 

It was my mother who taught me how to play catch. I was her little southpaw, the youngest of seven. And I’d ask her, “Am I graceful, Mom? Am I graceful?” And she would always answer, “Oh yes, very graceful.”

 

 

Some nights she’d let me stay up to watch the end of the games. My tired head on her lap, her hand in my hair, a cigarette in the other. She liked “little” Buddy Harrelson the best. Mom always seemed to have a crush on little shortstops.

 

Around this time I invented my own baseball games. I’d write out the lineups for two opposing teams and play imaginary games. I’d roll the dice. A 2 was a HR, a 3 a triple, 4 was a ground out, and so on. Then I’d play again, and again.

 

 

I filled notebooks doing this. Today I’m a professional writer. And I often think that it began back then. There I was, pen in hand, filling pages, fueled by my love of the game.

 

 

In the morning I reached for the newspaper. I loved the boxed scores. Each boxed score reveals a story. I eventually moved beyond the numbers to the articles. Those were the first writers I loved. The game had turned me into a reader.

 

 

The first time I saw a color television set was in my grandparents’ home on 100th Avenue in Queens Village. My grandfather was sitting in a leather chair, smoking a cigar, watching baseball. I stood transfixed. The grass was impossibly green.

 

 

I grew up. Along the way, I lost my friend, Craig Walker, to cancer. This photo was taken on the day we watched Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. The ball rolled through Buckner’s legs and we stood and we cheered and we hugged, ecstatic.

 

 

Quick Craig story: My mother was pleased and surprised to see Craig, more than two decades ago, at my second wedding. “Craig! I didn’t know you’d be here.”

“Oh yes,” he said. “I come to ALL of Jimmy’s weddings.”

Funny guy.

 

 

In 2009, I published my first baseball book. Writing it, then finally placing that book on the shelf with my collection of baseball books, I felt like I’d come home. Baseball, of course, is a game about coming home. I dedicated it to my pal, Craig.

 

 

You strike the ball and you journey out like the hero Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey. First base, second base, third base . . . and finally to return home again.

Safe. Triumphant.

Into your mother’s arms.

 

 

I began playing hardball again in my late 30s. This is my son, Gavin, who’s now in college. These days I play in two extremely old man’s baseball league, ages 45-up and 55-up. Don’t laugh, for in our hearts we are young.

 

 

Look at these guys. My teammates. We take the field, smack our gloves, and look to the sky from where the high fly falls, drifting back and back, saying, “I’ve got it, I’ve got it, I’ve got it.”

And most of the time, but not always, we make the catch.

 

 

Today my mother is 94 years old. Still a Mets fan. But these past seasons something changed. For the first time, she’s lost track of the Mets. She can’t remember the players, or summon the old passion she once had for the game. It’s all become a great blur in her mind.

 

 

And to me –- my mother losing the Mets — feels like the end of something important. A symbol, a metaphor. A red thread, cut.

 

 

And so hanging by a thread, we return home -– to baseball, to my mother, my sense of well-being. It’s gotten so I can’t think of one without the other. It’s all interconnected. And I now understand that my love for baseball is really just an expression of my love for the other.

Thank you.

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #229: About Those Crazy Names

 

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Here’s one from the Sunshine State!

Dear Mr. Preller,
 –
My name is Nicolas.  I am 8 years old and I am in 3rd grade at ____  Elementary School in Miramar, FL.  I am writing to tell you that I really liked The Case of The Sneaker Sneak.  This is the third Jigsaw Jones book I have read because I really like Jigsaw Jones.
 

51Xxdj8lrdL._SX335_BO1,204,203,200_Jigsaw is a lot like me.  He and I both like mysteries.  We like to solve puzzles.  I also like that Jigsaw plays sports.  I play sports too.  I play soccer, although I like to watch football like Jigsaw plays with his friends in the book. My family likes to watch and play football on Thanksgiving every year just like they do in the book.  I could really picture myself playing with those kids.  I think it is great how Mila and Jigsaw are always able to find clues to solve mysteries and help others.

One question I have for you is where do you come up with all the unique names of the characters in the book?  Do you know people named Solofsky, Pignattano, or Copabianco?  Do you have friends with nicknames like Bigs or Stringbean?

I really enjoy the Jigsaw Jones books and can’t wait to read the next one in my collection.

Sincerely,

Nicolas

I replied:

Dear Nicholas,

Thanks for your terrific letter. I am so glad that you are enjoying the series. I just wrote a new one, The Case from Outer Space, and it will be out in the Spring of 2017 — less than a year away! (You can click here to read a sample chapter. Or not! It’s a free world here at Jamespreller.com.)
 
I’ve never really thought about it before, but I guess you are right. I do put some unique names in the books. Joey Pignattano came directly from my love of the NY Mets. When I was your age, the Mets won a World Series in 1969, and one of their coaches was named Joe Pignatano. I changed his name slightly by adding an extra “t,” and that was that. Copabianco came from a girl I knew in college. It was just one of those long Italian names that musically rolls off the tongue. I did not know anyone named “Bigs” or “Stringbean,” but I did have a friend that we called “Wingnut” because of his large ears. 
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The books in the Jigsaw Jones series have been a little hard to find lately, because they are in the process of moving from one publisher (Scholastic) to another (Macmillan). Hopefully there will be more available next Spring, with all new covers. Look for them where fine books are sold.
 
Keep reading, Nicholas, and I’ll keep writing! And if you ever feel up to it, you might enjoy checking out my “Scary Tales” series. They are not much harder to read than Jigsaw, but you do have to be the sort of kid who likes creepy, suspenseful stories. 
 
My best,
 
James Preller
P.S. For a lot more background on The Case of the Sneaker Sneak, click here — you won’t regret it!

 

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #’s 222 & 223: Two for the Price of Nothing!

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Okay, let’s roll. This one is from Kieran in Jersey, and in the interest of time I’ll only show an excerpt:

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I replied:

Dear Kieran,

Thanks for your letter. Like you, I prefer The Case of the Snowboarding Superstar over The Case of the Groaning Ghost. There are 40 Jigsaw Jones books. I wanted them all to be brilliant and funny and entertaining, but of course no one can hit home runs every time they get up to the plate. Like the great slugger Ted Williams said, “I just try to put a good swing on the ball.”

As for your questions:

Jigsaw Jones has been out of print for a few years, but he's making a big comeback in 2017. I'm so happy about this.

Jigsaw Jones has been out of print for a few years, but he’s making a big comeback in 2017. I’m so happy about this.

1) Yes, I am currently writing my first Jigsaw Jones story in seven years. I don’t have a title yet, still fooling around with it. I believe we are hoping that it will come out in 2017.

2) I have gone skiing in some of the same places as you. These days, I prefer cross-country. No lines, no crowds! I’ve never gone snowboarding because I’m pretty sure I’d die.

3) Sorry, I don’t have any photos to send out. That’s just not something that fits my personality. Just the thought of a stack of glossy photos on my desk kind of grosses me out. I think I’m happier in the shadows. You’ll find the autograph below.

My best,

JP

 

Letter #223 comes from Spokane, WA . . .

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I replied:

Dear Dakota,

Hey, thank for that most excellent, typed letter. As you might know, I also write books for younger readers, and it’s refreshing to receive a letter that isn’t stained with grape jelly.

Thanks for reading Bystander and Six Innings. If you aren’t completely sick of me, you might also like The Fall, which explores some of the same themes as Bystander, but from the perspective of the so-called “bully.” It’s written in a first-person journal format, which makes it relatively quick and easy to read.

Coming in October, 2016: A father and son travel along the Lewis & Clark Trail. And, yes, the cover doesn't lie: There's a bear.

Coming in October, 2016: A father and son travel along the Lewis & Clark Trail. And, yes, the cover doesn’t lie: There’s a bear.

Yes, I love baseball. I guess you are a Mariners fan? I grew up a Mets fan, watching the games with my mother, and let me tell you, we’ve endured some rough seasons. But things are looking up these days. Got to love those big arms. My dream was to be a pitcher, but no fastball. Didn’t have the arm. Stupid DNA.

Good luck with ball this season. From the evidence of your letter, you are well on your way to becoming a very accomplished writer. I hope you keep it up. Sometimes our talents surprise us, in that they don’t always come from the expected places. You might dream of becoming a great ballplayer, like I did, only to discover that you have an innate talent for architecture, or medicine, or writing.

You never know!

BTW, nice signature. It will come in handy when you’re famous. 

JP

My New York Mets Hat

As a diehard New York Mets fan, I’d first like to say this . . .

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Also: I sometimes wear baseball caps. Not always, but it happens.

I might throw it on because I haven’t washed my hair in a few days. Okay, in six days. Or because I’m a Mets fan, expressing my allegiance to the team.

But this week, I’m wearing my cap as a signal. I am saying to the world: “Be gentle with me. I’m fragile right now.”

My author photo for the book SIX INNINGS. I still own the same cap. Admittedly, both the cap and my face have experienced a little wear and tear over the years.

My author photo for the book SIX INNINGS. I still own the same cap. Admittedly, both the cap and my face have experienced a little wear and tear over the years, but we’re still hanging out together.

On Writing: “Are You Jigsaw Jones?”

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I love this illustration by Jamie Smith from one of the Jigsaw Jones books. I mean, the glove looks like it might have been drawn by an Englishman, which it was, but the spirit is right. I am very grateful that Jamie illustrated so many books in the series; he was, I think, exactly right.

And, yes, I’m glad to see my love of baseball creep into another book.

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On school visits, readers often as if I am a particular character.

Am I Eric in Bystander? Jude in Before You Go? Am I the great detective Jigsaw Jones? Or the mouse in Wake Me In Spring?

(Okay, no one has ever asked that last question. And the answer is: no, I am not the mouse in Wake Me In Spring! Yes, we both have beady little eyes and whiskers, but beyond that the similarities are purely accidental.)

Back to the Jigsaw question. No, I’m not Jigsaw Jones. It’s rare for any character to fully stand in for the author. But, of course, there are elements of my life and personality — most definitely exhibited in Jigsaw’s sense of humor — in that character. And there are trappings of my childhood in his world.

Like me, Jigsaw is the youngest in the family. Like me at that age, Jigsaw’s grandmother lives with him. And like me, the boy loves baseball.

It was easier to write that way, more natural; I intimately knew those feelings.

But as I’ve grown as a writer, especially from my early days in college, I’ve learned how to distance myself from my characters. The writing, in my case, has become less autobiographical and more fully its own creation. The characters seem to stand and move around on their own two feet, acting according to their own (fictional) inner compasses. I don’t ask what I would do; I ask what they might do. At the same time, parts of my life, my world, leak into everything. How can it be any other way?

Art by Jeffrey Scherer.

Art by Jeffrey Scherer.

Anyway, I didn’t expect to write this muddled post today. I mostly wanted to share my excitement about the coming baseball season. I am coaching again this year, a really nice group of 15-year-old boys. We’ll play a travel season and enter some tournaments. My 10th-grade son, Gavin, will be playing JV baseball. It’s an impressive accomplishment; not so easy to make those teams in our town. And last but not least, my heart is filled with hope about my beloved New York Mets.

Dare I say it? I think they might actually be good this year.

I often sign copies of Six Innings the same way. “Dream big, and swing for the fences!”

Is there any other way to play?