Dad, is this a scrimmage?” Ten-year-old Quinn Lewis, starting pitcher for the Dynamite girls’ softball team, is standing at the dugout on a chilly afternoon in Berkeley, California.
“No, it’s a game,” says Michael Lewis, the Dynamite’s co-head coach, as well as the author of Liar’s Poker, Moneyball, and, most recently, Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood. Clad in khaki shorts and an adult-size Dynamite jersey, he ponders the clipboard on which he has been attempting to sort out a batting order.
“Then where are the umps?”
At this, the elder Lewis looks up and hails a manager of the Jackrabbits, today’s opponent. “Did you happen to see if we have any umps?” A conference ensues. The coaches, it seems, will be forced to umpire. The Dynamite are also down an assistant coach, so Lewis appoints a joint first-base coach–umpire from the crowd: me.
At first glance, the 48-year-old Lewis would appear to bring a formidable literary-coaching pedigree to the ballpark. In addition to 2003’s Moneyball, about the Oakland A’s revolutionary use of statistics to build a winning baseball team, he authored Coach: Lessons on the Game of Life, about the invaluable tutelage of his own hard-ass high-school baseball coach. And Home Game is a compilation of stories Lewis wrote for Slate, detailing the parenting realities thrust upon him—not always happily, but often hilariously—by the births of his three children. “That first stretch when the baby is not sleeping was so disruptive, and I was just so pissed off about how it affected my life,” he says. “Writing about them, it’s horrible to say, was a kind of perverse incentive system to pay more attention as a father.”
On the field, however, Lewis’s expertise goes unnoticed. “When there is a close call at first,” he concedes, “I can’t whip out Moneyball and say, ‘But I wrote this book! She’s safe!’ ”
After a first inning dominated by infield hits, the Dynamite trail 4–3. “You just witnessed the greatest output of offense by two teams all season,” Lewis marvels. Not that the score matters. Berkeley being Berkeley, the onetime Wall Street bond salesman notes with approval, “the whole goal of the league is to be the anti–Little League”: evenly picked teams, no obnoxious parents. The girls aren’t even supposed to know the score.
Nevertheless, one Dynamite parent appears to be the designated scorekeeper. “This is my first time doing this,” he says, gesturing in puzzlement at the clipboard. “I’m kind of learning as I go.”
The Dynamite rally to retake the lead after two innings, at 6–5, aided by a pair of hits from Quinn. Two players, struck by wayward pitches, have returned to the bench in tears. With the sun starting to dip behind the trees, Lewis jogs over to huddle with the coaches. He returns to announce, to Dynamite cheers, that the game will continue. “He couldn’t bear to go down to defeat in two innings,” Lewis jokes of the opposition skipper, “so we’re gonna go one more.”
Much of Home Game confronts what Lewis calls “the central mystery of fatherhood,” namely: “How does a man’s resentment of this … thing … that lands in his life and instantly disrupts every aspect of it for the apparent worse turn into love?” These days, he’s turned disruption into a feature, arranging to bring Quinn and her younger sister Dixie on the upcoming Home Game book tour. His productivity seems undimmed; he has almost finished another book, due out in November, about the origins of the financial collapse. Later this month, film versions of both Moneyball (starring Brad Pitt) and his 2006 football tale, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game (with Sandra Bullock), will be shooting simultaneously.
Back on the field, it’s the top of the third, and the Dynamite have two runners on, with two outs. Quinn steps into the batter’s box, bangs her bat on the plate à la Manny Ramirez, and then rips the first pitch foul toward the dugout, directly into her father’s hip. She drops the bat and hides her face behind her hands: “Sorry, Dad!”
“It’s not your fault!”
Quinn grounds out on the next pitch, but the Dynamite hold a 7–5 lead heading into the bottom of the inning. Time for Lewis to call on his ace: Miya, a.k.a. “the Randy Johnson of 10-year-old-girls’ softball,” he says. Sure enough, the Jackrabbits manage one run before Miya mows down three straight batters. Ball game.
“You saw it all,” Lewis says as he loads bats into the family station wagon. “Spontaneity. Bloodshed. Tears. How many times do you come to a baseball game and see two people cry?”
What I missed, he tells me, “were the complaints of the opposing teams’ parents” around a first-inning call at first base, “by you.” Despite the noblest of aims, it seems the Berkeley softball league can’t contain the human impulse to criticize bad umpiring. “The thing in this town that works against the league etiquette,” Lewis says, “is that nobody trusts authority.”