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'Bigger Than the Game' recounts a life in baseball

Dirk Hayhurst, author of

Dirk Hayhurst, author of "Bigger Than the Game: Restitching a Major League Life" (Citadel, February 2014). Credit: Jeremy M. Lange

BIGGER THAN THE GAME: Restitching a Major League Life, by Dirk Hayhurst. Citadel, 305 pp., $14.95 paper.

Being a major league baseball player isn't particularly fun.

Oh, it's a grand existence if you're, say, Derek Jeter or David Wright: The money is big, the endorsement opportunities are ceaseless, the fans know your name and worship the ground upon which you step.

Behind the stars, however, are men who jump from team to team and live paycheck to paycheck, just hoping to grab a final roster spot and a fat per diem check.

Men like Dirk Hayhurst.

Not much was remarkable about a pitching career that spanned eight years, and included only a couple of cups of coffee in the majors. Yet, Hayhurst's story -- which he chronicles with both humor and heartache in "Bigger Than the Game" -- is worth telling.

The book focuses on Hayhurst's 2010 season, which begins with the promise of a near-guaranteed spot on the Toronto Blue Jays' roster but quickly crumbles when a pre-spring-training shoulder injury ruins everything.

"After getting the weight up five times, on the sixth attempt I felt a pop in my right shoulder," Hayhurst writes. "I dropped the weights to the floor, where they rumbled across the rubber mats like boulders. Sitting up, I grabbed my shoulder with my left hand. No pain via touch, but when I wound my arm over my head, I felt a bite at the top of the circuit like an electric shock."

The Blue Jays do the favor of not releasing him (in a cutthroat profession, this constitutes a favor), but when Hayhurst arrives for spring training, he is removed from the big league clubhouse and placed with the minor leaguers. It is pathetic and humiliating, made worse by a handful of teammates who openly mock his demise (Hayhurst's first book, the bestselling "Out of My League," won him few friends in the game). What ensues is, well, awful. Hayhurst turns to painkillers, then seeks out help. At his best, the author delivers brilliant, back-and-forth dialogue, like this exchange with his therapist:

Hayhurst: "Am I going crazy?"

Therapist: "More crazy than the usual ballplayer?"

Hayhurst: "I'm serious."

Therapist: "Have you stripped naked and run through the streets covered in your own feces yet?"

Hayhurst: "Uh . . . not yet."

Therapist: "Then you're fine."

Ultimately, Hayhurst's dreams of returning to the majors fail to come to fruition. It's a sad plight for a ballplayer who's devoted his entire life to a singular endeavor.

And yet, the result is something terrific: a warts-and-all portrait of life as a professional athlete.

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