Jon Hart is the George Plimpton for the 21st century. In his new book “Man versus Ball,” Hart shares his adventures as a common writer competing in the sports world. It is a quick and enjoyable read.
Did I say Hart is the new Plimpton? Well, almost. While Plimpton was famous for competing in an NFL scrimmage and pre-season game, pitching to major leaguers in an exhibition game and sparring with boxing champs, Hart’s level of competition is not as accomplished. It is hardly his fault; these days there is no way that a team or league would allow an amateur to walk onto a playing field. The monetary risk is just too great.
So Hart is relegated to competing on Plimpton’s edges. Instead of the NFL, the New Yorker plays semi-pro football with the Brooklyn Mariners. Semi-pro ball is no joke; Hart gets his clock cleaned in a game.
Instead of playing baseball, Hart is a vendor at Yankee Stadium, Citi Field and Shea Stadium, including the days when the Mets blew their final games of 2007 and 2008. Would he ever reach the vendor’s promised land of getting to sell beer? There is also a very short passage on Hart’s time playing with the New York Gothams, which is in a baseball league that plays by 19th century rules. That means no gloves and a broken pinky for Hart. I wish that section were longer; it sounds really interesting.
Instead of playing tennis and golf, Hart is a ball boy at the U.S. Open and a caddie, respectively. He also takes part in the extremely challenging sports of roller basketball and roller soccer. It is just what it sounds like — basketball and soccer on roller blades. And yes, it is dangerous.
“Man versus Ball” is fun to read mostly because it is clear that Hart had a lot of fun taking part in his adventures. While he might have taken his endeavors seriously, he does not take himself seriously. His self-deprecating humor keeps the tone of the book light even as Hart is suffering minor and not-so-minor aches and pains.
If I have one criticism it was Hart’s use of nicknames for all of the colleagues and bosses he met along the way. He hardly ever uses their real names, instead giving them monikers such as The Tank, Hustle, Doc, Superman, Zeus, The Czar and Heckle and Jeckle. Why not just use their names? They were real people, after all. It gives the book a slight air of inauthenticity.
This minor complaint did not hurt my overall enjoyment of this book. “Man versus Ball” is a must-read for any sports fan, as well as those who just want to be inspired to take a risk or two in life.