Josh Wilker, the author of “Cardboard Gods,” one of the best-ever baseball books not necessarily about baseball, is back with another memoir. This time, it chronicles his first year as a new father, and the insecurities (and joys) therein. “Benchwarmer” presents his son Jack’s first year, while also detailing, in almanac form, the annals of all-time benchwarmers/sad sacks. Its not the easiest subject matter to traverse, as Wilker lays his first-time fatherhood neuroses and raw emotions out for all to read. There are of course, moments of joy as his son grows, but there are also many moments of wrenching angst. Its not a book you’ll finish in a day or so, but you WILL want to finish it. It will be worth it, especially if you are a parent and especially if you are new to parenthood.
Wilker was delighted to answer some questions I had about the book, including his affinity for athletes as diverse as Calvin Schiraldi, Mackey Sasser and Walter “Sneeze” Achiu:
VORG: How did you come up with the “almanac” format for the book? Was there a particular inspiration?
JW: The core idea for the book came in a bit of a rush, but I later saw from looking through my notebooks that I’d been dancing around a book like it for quite a while in different ways. The book really started taking shape when I came up with a working title, “Failure Face,” based on a concept coined in a Peanuts strip by the Shakespeare of the artistic depiction of losing, Charles M. Schulz. Years ago my brother and I built a whole mythology around the notion of the Failure Face as it appeared in sports, most notably with Calvin Schiraldi in the ’86 World Series, and when my wife was struggling through her labor this face was exactly what I saw in the mirror. Just a guy totally overmatched by the moment. I hadn’t been able to write about that labor or about anything I’d been struggling through as a new parent, but I figured I could at least write about Calvin Schiraldi, and from there I figured I could grope my way through the experience one Calvin Schiraldi at a time, so to speak. The encyclopedia format appealed to me not only because I’d loved sports encyclopedias as a kid but also as a potentially dynamic juxtaposition, in its orderliness, to the total disorder of my new life. Also, when you’re a new parent you are suddenly completely bullied by the alphabet every two seconds. It seems to emit from every object and surface all the time in an insanely cheery sing-song. I don’t know if the book was a product of a mental breakdown in the face of this onslaught or an attempt to head off such a breakdown. Maybe a little of both. I did really enjoy playing around with the encyclopedia format. One of the last fun developments stemming from the form came during the proofreading process, when one of my brethren in that heroic calling found that I’d put one of the entries just slightly out of correct alphabetic sequence. At first I was mortified and wanted to fix it, which we still had time to do, but then it struck me as a perfect comment on the whole doomed attempt at bringing order to the world.