George Plimpton was an author best known for participating as an amateur in sporting events and writing about his experiences. His perspective and unique writing style exposed an entire new genre of sports journalism. Although he passed away in 2003, his influence remains, as evidenced by Jon Hart’s Man Versus Ball: One Ordinary Guy and His Extraordinary Sports Adventures (University of Nebraska Press, 2013).
In a very Plimptonian way, Hart documents a number of experiences he has had in the sporting world. These include working (for years) as a vendor at major league baseball games; playing semi-pro football; amateur caddying; working for several years as a ball boy at the U.S. Open; and professional wrestling.
Hart’s most interesting venture is his vending, which began as a writing assignment but continued well past that as an actual job. The politics of the trade, along with the little things most people would never think of when buying a hot dog or cotton candy at a game (taking time to find proper currency to give to the customer may increase the likelihood of simply being told to keep the change).
It may be a matter of self efficacy but Hart spends much more time discussing the challenges he faces when working with each experience than the successes. In particular, his time as a player for the Brooklyn Mariners, a semi-pro football team, and his foray into wrestling did not come naturally to him.
In most cases, instead of using real names, Hart comes up with nicknames for the people he interacts with during his adventures. This proved a little difficult to keep up with who was who but ultimately didn’t detract too much from the stories. It would have also been helpful to have a bit more insight into his professional writing and how much that impacted his decisions to immerse himself in these experiences.
A lot of people casually dream about participating in sports, professional or otherwise, but seldom go to the lengths Hart did to find out what all the fuss is about. He writes in an easy style that engages the reader, and acts as a conduit to let us all know what it’s like to do such things as sling hot dogs in Shea Stadium or get clotheslined in a wrestling match. I’m more than happy to let him experience them for me but am also entertained by reading about how he came to have such an eclectic résumé.
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