Ben Blatt and Eric Brewster are Harvard buddies. Blatt is a diehard Red Sox fan. Brewster couldn’t care less. But their friendship, and Blatt’s passion for our national pastime, drives them both to concoct a stunt-quest whose rules hinge on a perfect symmetry only a sports analytics nerd could truly appreciate.
They decide to see one home game of each of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams. They must stay for every pitch, from “Play ball!” through any extra innings. They must travel only by car. And they must complete their odyssey in 30 days.
Their account, “I Don’t Care If We Never Get Back: 30 Games in 30 Days on the Best Worst Baseball Road Trip Ever’’ is equally methodical: composed of 30 chapters, each devoted to a game at each home team’s stadium, from A (A’s) to Y (Yankees), but not in that order.
Blatt, a baseball geek and Slate staff writer, calculates a drivable route through MLB’s 2013, 162-game season that conforms to the absurd parameters of their trip. It’s not easy. Nearby parks don’t necessarily schedule home games on back-to-back days, and it’s nigh impossible that two-team cities like New York or Chicago book overlapping home stands.
Their algorithm creates brutal long hauls, like the 1,400 mile, 21-hour Arlington, Texas, to Los Angeles slog, to be completed in a 26-hour window.
The itinerary also takes plenty of bad hops. A rainout in Baltimore and time-zone miscalculation in Denver force our heroes to rejigger the trip. Half the fun is watching them adapt. “The Mets game on the thirtieth is at 1:10,” says Blatt at a crucial decision point. “It’s a three-hour, twenty-minute drive from Citi Field to Camden Yards. If the Mets game didn’t go longer than average and we didn’t hit traffic, we could get there. Hypothetically.” A lot of the book is like that.
Given Brewster is Harvard Lampoon president and an author of the Lampoon’s send-up “The Hunger Pains: A Parody,” you might expect that “I Don’t Care If We Never Get Back” would be more laugh-out-loud, rather than smirk-in-your-head, funny. But the authors’ Odd Couple repartee never quite belts the comedic home run they’re swinging for.
Some of the book’s best writing stems from asides. They dissect the fine art of mid-game “seat hopping” to gain a better vantage. They examine why the first stanza of our national anthem, “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” ends with a question mark. The proliferation of playgrounds, luxury dining, and Jumbotrons lead our authors to conclude, “Ballparks are judged by how much fun you can have by not watching the game.”
The clumsiest move involves Blatt and Brewster’s narration. They often use first-person plural, but they also seek to capture their different perspectives. So that leaves them switching between “we” and “Ben” or “Eric,” often mid-scene. Here’s a moment from a pit stop in Atlantic City: “Baseball wasn’t his pastime. Ben loaned Eric a crisp $100 bill and we sat down at a blackjack table.” Because of shifts like these the narration wobbles and weaves like a literary knuckleball. This strikeout could’ve been avoided had Blatt and Brewster taken turns playing narrator in alternating chapters or if just one of them penned the whole thing.
But shake off that error and you’ll find a fun ride that evokes the spirit of sports stunt journalist George Plimpton and the dazed road-trip fever of Hunter S. Thompson, minus the mind-altering substances. By story’s end, you’re rooting for these two guys to fulfill their quest, however pointless. “I Don’t Care If We Never Get Back” may not be a grand slam, but it’s great watching Blatt and Brewster race home.