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For most of his life, Josh Wilker has been on the sidelines. Spending his days in a cubicle in the far reaches of Chicago, and his nights in front of Red Sox games, he has been content to let others take center stage. From childhood onward, he sought comfort from anxiety and depression in the archival pages of sports almanacs and stat sheets: a place where forgotten players lingered, and time seemed to stop--a welcome relief from worldly problems. He found joy in the trivia of long-lost athletes, like the former NFL player Walter "Sneeze" Achiu.
But when his first child was born in 2011, Wilker found his anxieties put to the test: how do you remain on the sidelines when a tender, fragile baby needs everything from you? How do you go from third-string forward on the winless 1988 Johnson State College Badgers to a strong, responsible father? Bit by bit, Wilker learns to overcome his demons, protect his son, and eventually take a few wobbly steps with him.
In homage to his favorite pastimes, Wilker has written Benchwarmer as just that: an A-to-Z reference on failing at sports. In entries from Asterisk to Barry Bonds to "the Yips" to Zero, Wilker mingles his own story among those of famous collapses, errors, and also-rans. A candid, bighearted, funny presence, Wilker writes about sports the way Michael Chabon writes about comics, or Rob Sheffield writes about music: as if the universe was contained in every blocked shot or dropped fly ball. In Wilker's hands, it is.
A moving, funny, inventive parenting memoir, written in a surprising form: an encyclopedia of failure in sports
What can a new father learn about parenthood from reading sports almanacs? For most dads, the answer to this question is: nothing. But to Josh Wilker, whose life and writing have been defined by sports fandom, all of the joy, helplessness, and absurdity of parenthood are present between the lines.
After all, what better way to think about losing control than Eugenio Velez?s forty-five consecutive at-bats without a hit? How better to understand ridiculous joy than the NFL career of Walter Achiu, whose nickname was “Sneeze?? In the stories of sports figures large and small, Wilker finds the pathos in success and the humor in losing.
As the terrified father of a one-day-old, Wilker recalls the 1986 World Series, when the moment was too big for the Red Sox. When he finds himself stealing away for an hour of alone time, Wilker thinks of boxer Roberto Duran, so beaten by Sugar Ray Leonard that he finally gave up. And yet, even as the frustrations and anxieties build, Wilker remembers Mets pitcher Anthony Young, who broke the baseball record for most consecutive losses—and never stopped showing up.
Finding the richness of life in obscure wrestling maneuvers and pop-ups lost in the sun, Benchwarmer is a book of unique humanity and surprising wisdom.
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