It's been said that the toughest album a band will put out is its second.
When a band hits it big with its first album, it faces the daunting task of living up to the expectations that come with the followup. All too often, bands will end up writing songs about the fame and life on the top or try to simply echo the sound that gave them success in the first place. Second acts are tough.
This is Dirk Hayhurst's fourth book, but in many ways it echoes a band's second album. Hayhurst's first book, "The Bullpen Gospels" was the "Ball Four" for the 21st century. It dissected and explained life in the minor leagues for readers. His second book, "Out of My League," and a complimentary e-book, "Wild Pitches," detailed his surprising rise from non-prospect to big leaguer and the difficulty that arises from trying to keep your head above water as a rookie.
But this book, "Bigger Than The Game" (Citadel, $14.95), is the first to be written after Hayhurst went from being a pitcher with occasional posts at Baseball America to a New York Times bestselling author who also happened to be a pitcher. As you would expect, not all of Hayhurst's teammates were thrilled to find they had a prominent author in their midst.
Hayhurst's latest book deals with that fallout, as well as his struggles to endure a season on the disabled list. All of Hayhurst's books have been personal, with unflinching descriptions of a difficult home life, meeting and eventually marrying his wife, and his mental battle to convince himself he belonged in the big leagues. But this is his most personal book yet.
Part of that is unavoidable. Since Hayhurst spends much of the book rehabbing a serious injury, he's not part of the team and providing countless stories and amazing anecdotes. His struggles with his own mental health are a very prominent part of this book.
In a less-skilled writer's hands, this book could easily be a letdown after the laugh-a-minute stories of his previous books. But because Hayhurst has already let the readers into his world in his other books and because he's unflinching about his only struggles and failings as well as those of his peers, his difficulties connect in a way to which almost anyone could relate.
Hayhurst's baseball books have done an excellent job of reminding anyone that beyond the baseball field, players have the same issues as everyone else. As a memoir of struggles with mental health, this book would interesting even if you took all of the baseball out. Thankfully there's enough baseball to make it a true addition to the trilogy of "The Bullpen Gospels" and "Out Of My League."
The bad news is that Hayhurst has just one more year of his baseball career left to write about—a rather middling season in Triple-A Durham. The good news is that Hayhurst shows with "Bigger Than The Game" that he has the potential to write enjoyable books even if he's not standing on the mound or sitting in a bullpen.