“Pitching for Sanity: A Nervous Man’s Journey” (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; paperback; $9.95; 108 pages) is a short story, but Reuther is able to develop his main characters and storyline quickly. As is customary in Reuther’s work, the main character carries plenty of excess baggage and is generally too serious for his own good. However, the sidekick is the interesting character and carries the story.
It’s a familiar formula for Reuther, a longtime reporter for the Williamsport (Pa.) Sun Gazette who has tackled diverse reporting subjects such as sport, politics, health and local government. He’s also “a long-suffering” New York Mets fan, which probably explains his quirky characters. His last book, the 2014 “Baseball Dreams, Fishing Magic: One Man’s Trip Through This Crazy Thing Called Life,” combined baseball with another of Reuther’s passions — fly fishing.
“Nothing Down,” was about a pitcher who loved baseball so much, he was willing to play for free. “Return to Dead City,” Reuther’s 2011 debut, also features a world-weary main character that battles alcoholism and has a baseball history.
“Pitching for Sanity” is the story of Bill Barrister, an Air Force lifer who escapes a failed marriage in Texas and returns to his native Pennsylvania. Living off his military pension, Barrister’s days are filled with brooding, drinking and throwing fastballs into a haystack. He’s reliving 1975, but it’s never coming back. Two of the neighborhood kids, instead of admiring his fastball, believe Barrister is just “the strange dude who throws baseballs.” They go home to tell the mother of one of the boys about him, but she has her own demons to worry about and simply shrugs.
Barrister’s friend, Tom Godfrey, is a total opposite. He loves to argue and has a proposition for Barrister — a road trip to Texas to see a former high school teammate. Barrister reluctantly accompanies his friend, but Godfrey’s idea of a road trip is to bring along a dancer named Mandy to spice up part of the trip.
There was definitely some spice — for Godfrey — which left Barrister envying guys like him “who got through life seemingly oblivious to worry and anxiety.”
After dropping Mandy off, the two friends head south and wind up at the home of Barrister’s ex-wife, where they have a pleasant but awkward reunion. They continue into central Texas and unwittingly witness a convenience store robbery. The crooks leave, and Godfrey strikes up a friendship with the clerk. They go to the clerk’s house, where his wife gives massages and is a witch (seriously). Barrister gets a massage and Godfrey gets high with the clerk.
That surreal scene leads to the book’s finish, as the friends reunite with their former teammate. The ending is surprising, and while abrupt, it does leave open the possibility of a sequel. There’s no telling what Godfrey might do if the trip continues farther away from Pennsylvania.
Reuther writes easily and well, and his characters are sympathetic and without pretension. “Pitching for Sanity” is a pleasant read and a quick one. There is something endearing about a former pitching star that throws baseballs into a haystack to relax.