Book Review: The Bullpen Gospels

Dirk Hayhurst already has accomplished more in his professional careers than most people do in a lifetime.

And yet in “The Bullpen Gospels: Major League Dreams of a Minor League Veteran” (Citadel Press), Hayhurst rarely puts on airs or displays the ego of a major league baseball player, or of a published writer whose book has been blurbed by the likes of Bob Costas and Keith Olbermann.

Instead, Hayhurst writes as the minor league veteran in the title of the book. The former Kent State ace became a fairly middling Padres minor leaguer, and he knows it when the book dawns. He knows he’s not a “prospect,” and when he starts telling the story, it’s 2007. Hayhurst had reached Double-A the previous season, but he started ’07 back in high Class A Lake Elsinore, his fourth stop there.

Hayhurst carries the hopes of his family, as well as his own hopes, into another season nonetheless and takes fans on a comic ride through a minor league season, one that turned out to be his best. Hayhurst makes it clear that the book isn’t meant as a blow-by-blow journalistic account of the season and that some players’ names were changed, and that others are “composites blended together for ease of reading . . . This book’s purpose is to entertain, not to name names . . . if you’re looking for someone’s dirty laundry, you won’t find it here.”

No one’s but Hayhurst, that is, as he lays himself open in his season-long search for purpose in the minors. The pitcher is a character who develops both into a prospect during the ’07 season—he earned the first of two big league callups in 2008, a fitting finish to the book—and develops as a teammate and as a man.

Hayhurst, whose online diary at and in his hometown newspaper, the Canton (Ohio) Repository, helped build his writing career, has grown as a writer too. He keeps the pace brisk and deftly mixes in bawdy clubhouse episodes with deeper reflections on the journey no one thought he’d make—the journey to the big leagues.

Among the book’s highlights are its description of the minutiae of spring training, from details such as the importance of securing a suite to the drudgery of PFP (pitchers fielding practice), to his role after a promotion to Double-A San Antonio as it pursues a Texas League pennant. And just when you’re immersed in the on-field drama as both his team and his career are taking off, Hayhurst has a stirring confrontation with a troubled family member in Chapter 42, a reminder that real life can come crashing in on the fantasy life of a baseball career at any time.

Hayhurst is hurt now after arm surgery, throwing his playing career in doubt. His writing career, though, should have a future, judging by “The Bullpen Gospels.” As an author, he’s certainly a prospect.