The Nervous Light of Sunday

April 5, 2009

First of all, I wanted to welcome anyone coming to this site for the first time after reading the story about it in today’s New York Times. If you saw the paper version of the story, you already got a look at the happy dufus pictured below, so apologies for the redundancy. I hope you stay a while and have a look through my shoebox (you can access posts on all the players featured so far by clicking on their names in the “categories” section of the sidebar to the right). If any of my old cards strike a chord, I hope you’ll be moved to comment on the post about that card. On most blogs, where there’s a premium on the immediacy of the present moment, on what’s happening right now, conversations have short expiration dates. But since the focus here is mainly on the past, all these cardboard celebrations are by virtue of their unfresh ingredients like internet versions of that unappealing apex, or nadir, of indestructible American production, the Twinkie. Which is just to say, if you feel like sharing your thoughts on, say, other bespectacled baseball players besides the one pictured here, such as Kent Tekulve or Brian Downing or Jamie Easterly, then this is the place and now (or later, or whenever) is the time.

As for this picture, my guess is that it was taken at a game on a Saturday during my last little league season in 1980.


For a couple months in the spring, every Saturday was filled—filled in a way that no day ever could be again—with a baseball game. This picture captures the happiness of those Saturdays. A chance to take my cuts! To connect! (You’ll have to take my word on it when I tell you that I was actually a decent player in little league. I realize that this is hard to believe, given that I was obviously a member in terms of disposition and appearance of the subspecies of bespectacled little leaguers who took the immortal Alfred Lutter‘s athletically inept team statistician Ogilvie from The Bad News Bears as their prototype. My friend Charles just called me and interpreted the photo along those lines, seeing it as capturing the moment when the nerdy benchwarmer with the too-large helmet was dispatched from his stats-keeping spot in a sunless corner of the dugout to make sure all the bats were ready for the “real players.”)

Sundays were a lot quieter. There were long blank passages of time to cross on Sundays. To combat that, there was the fat New York Times my parents got every Sunday. I read the sports page from cover to cover, paying especially studious, Ogilvie-esque attention to the batting average lists. It was a shelter against the rest of that long aimless day, a shelter against a diffuse feeling that was something like a polar opposite of the feeling of being on deck in uniform on Saturday. On Saturday there was literally an order, a batting order, and my name was in it, and when it was getting close to my turn I moved out to the on-deck circle to get ready. On Sunday there was no order, just that island of the sports section. In the years to come, the “nervous light of Sunday” (to use a term coined by one of my literary heroes, Frederick Exley) would spread beyond the borders of its day to all days. Meanwhile the feeling of being a distinct name in a knowable order diminished.

The boy in this picture had begun to see this diminishment. This was, after all, one of the last little league games he’d ever play. What happens when this Saturday version of the boy disappears? I don’t know, but as I continue to try to keep that Saturday version of that boy alive, it’s a nice feeling to see that his name shows up at least this once on a Sunday.


  1. Congratulations on the New York Times piece. I came across the story on the sports wire while I was working last night. I was pleasantly surprised that the NYT would deem Cardboard Gods story worthy. Interestingly (or not), I live in Mr. Exley’s hometown.

  2. Congrats on making the NYT—that’s cool!

    It’s also cool that you got pants as part of your little league unis. All we got were hats and shirts. We had to supply our own pants. Good times though. 🙂

  3. Josh, the NYT article contains the following:

    ‘…because of his Web site, he recently signed a contract to write a literary memoir. Tentatively called “Cardboard Gods,” it is scheduled to be published by Seven Footer Press in the spring of 2010.’

    Congratulations! This is what about 1000 comments here have been hoping for you for quite some time. Had you mentioned this yet and I missed it? Or were you planning to keep it a secret for while except, you know, for the New York Times? (Speaking of which, I just heard an interview on NPR two days ago with someone who had written a book about her addiction to, and recovery from, internet gambling, but had never told anyone, including her husband or the book, how much money she had lost. The NYT would not publish the interview or article unless she told them, So she did. And then NPR. Was it like that? You had to divulge the name of Seven Footer Press, or else?)

  4. Congratulations. I just discovered you last month and love your stuff. I’m and English teacher and I’ve been telling some of my colleagues about the blog. What a great way to teach budding writers! I wonder how many copycats are out here now?

  5. Congratulations on the book and the article! Well deserved.

  6. owlatnight:
    Is there anything historical about Exley in that town? (A plaque or something…?) That’s Watertown, right?

    Some kids in our league wore jeans. There was something menacing about them.

    I’ve been meaning to mention the book deal for a week or two (it just recently became official), but I just haven’t gotten around to it. I might have to do a post soon about how I’m going to have to slow the (already not-exactly-light-speed) pace of posts here for a while as I hustle to complete the manuscript. In fact, I should be working on the thing right now.

    thecobra39, sb1902: Thanks!

  7. Congrats, Josh. You deserve all of it. I can’t wait for the book.

  8. Congrats on the NYT article. Welcome to the big time. 🙂

  9. Josh, it’s nice to see the world knows what we lucky few have known for sometime. I’m ecstatic for you, go get yours brother! Looking forward to buying and reading the book. Don’t overthink it too much, just go with it.
    CHEERS! Let’s go METS!

  10. Very happy to see you getting some much deserved publicity. Thanks for doing what you do.

  11. Congratulations for discovering the cure for cancer!!!

    You are a Very Very Important Person.

  12. I’m not sure, Josh. I’ll have to get back to you. I kind of doubt it. But a writer who no longer works at our paper wrote quite a bit about Exley, so I’ll comb the archives.

    Yes, it’s Watertown.

  13. Like many, I have been urging this direction (a CG book!) for a while.

    My heartiest, and ever so slightly envious, congratulations on this welcome, long overdue news.

    Rest assured you have one sale in the bank-whenever it comes, I will be there, money in hand.

  14. Congrats, the book deal is excellent news. Here’s a second sale; good luck completing the project.

  15. in the old days, sundays were made for double headers. today we got a different kind of two-fer: an article about cardboard gods in the times, and the news that there is at long last a well-deserved book deal.

    single-admission back-to-back baseball games are a thing of the past, but it’s heartening to know that great writing is still recognized in today’s era when anyone and everyone can have a blog and write about anything they want anytime at all. your careful attention to detail, your willingness to share the difficult parts of your life, and the sheer glee you have in discussing america’s pastime — even if you are a bosox fan — is invigorating to us all and separates cardboard gods from the rest of the pack (stale pink gum included).

    so go to work on that book and meet that deadline, but don’t forget about us poor folk here, waiting with bated breath for your newest entry — which player will take the spotlight, how it will relate to your life, and how it will relate to ours.

  16. I’m a person who rarely feels good when someone has a major success. I’ve met too many people who have had undeserved accomplishments. I know that sounds petty, but I’m just sharing how I generally feel. Sometimes though, I come across a person who I think is doing something great and I’m thrilled when they get rewarded for their hard work and talent. I’m really excited for you, Josh. Now Esquire magazine needs to give you a regular column.

  17. First and foremost: Congratulations, Josh!!!!

    What you are doing here is something unique, whether you can see it that way or not…

    Per Scott, you deserve a much wider audience, and I’ll be ready to plunk (eric?) my money down when the book is ready…


  18. That is awesome! Congrats!

  19. Also. Man. You were one goofy looking kid. 😉 I fit the description of #10. hahaha

  20. Josh–congrats. All the time I think about writing you the “why aren’t you more famous?” e-mail, only to let it go as not to join the hundreds of others like it I assume you get daily. Now I don’t have to worry about it any more!

    “even if you are a bosox fan”, said seaver41, oh so casually. What does it mean? A Mets fan–who (unless he’s one of those “I root for New York”, i.e. “I have a back-up plan” fans) therefore hates the Yanks, as we do, should think of us as friendlies in the other league who share a common goal (and have a lower payroll than the Mets, note), and who never did anything to them but hand them their one moment of glory in the last 39 years on a silver platter. Please explain.

  21. gedmaniac:
    Thanks very much for the congrats. As one Red Sox fan to another, I have to disagree with the notion that the title was handed to the Mets in ’86. Those dudes reached out and grabbed it and deserved to win that year. They were the better team.

  22. I am so excited that you got a book deal and I just wanted to extend my heartiest congratulations. I will definitely purchase it as soon as possible and eagerly await the book tour so I can get my copy autographed.

  23. Josh,

    As a long time reader, I am nothing but proud and excited for you. We’re close in age and I can relate so well to your stories and views.

    Good luck!

    Jason @ IIATMS

  24. Outstanding!

  25. Hey Josh! Congrats man, Amanda and Drew let me know about the article. On opening day and everything. Let us know how much the web traffic jumps!

  26. Congrats. I’m certain the book’s going to be terrific. And the movie…

  27. gedmaniac —

    must i be a fan of either the yankees or the red sox? can’t i hate them both and root for my poor american league team, the orioles? (by the way, i don’t believe in regional backup plans.)

  28. Josh, I’ve been following Cardboard Gods for a long time, and it’s wonderful to see a great writer rewarded. It means a great deal. Having long been a fan of Boyd and Harris’ great baseball card book, I was so happy to see someone take the love of cards to a more eloquent, personal, autobiographical level. Great, great job.

  29. Congratulations Josh. I’ve been reading for a long time now. This news is well deserved and also somehow felt inevitable. The exact opposite (unfortunately) of a Cleveland Indians Championship which would be undeserved and eternally evitable. I can’t wait for the book.

    Just one request, on the book tour, please don’t pass over beautiful, sunny Cleveland. Don’t believe what you’ve heard. The weather is great!

  30. “As one Red Sox fan to another, I have to disagree with the notion that the title was handed to the Mets in ‘86. Those dudes reached out and grabbed it and deserved to win that year. They were the better team.”

    Well, that is a different argument–though I would say you can’t give the Mets credit for Stanley’s wild pitch, or that horribly botched rundown play, or McNamara’s leaving in Buckner purely for celebration purposes. The point is, though, even if the Sox 100% gave it to them, or the Mets 100% took it from us, how would that contribute to a Mets fan hating us?

    Seaver41–I am certainly glad to hear you’re not a Yanks/Mets hybrid fan (which is way more prevalent than people outside the tri-state realize). As for hating the Sox–you can hate whoever you want, I’m just wondering what one team has to do with the other. Different leagues, and, like I said, in the ’86 Series, you’re the ones that beat us, and it’s not like you could have that “they have money and we don’t” thing either. So I’m just looking for reasons, which, by all means, you don’t even need to have, that’s your choice. I just wonder, in 2004, as a Mets fan, when we capped the comeback over the Yanks, did you sit there with a sad face saying, “Eh, I hate both teams anyway?” or were you on your hands and knees praising the baseball heavens to have just witnessed the Yankees complete the biggest choke in baseball history? I feel like if I was a fan of any other team, it would be the latter for me.

  31. gedmaniac —

    i hate both duke and unc, the islanders and the devils, the yankees and the bosox, the cowboys and the giants, so when they play each other, i don’t watch, don’t root, don’t care. yeah, i’m a big sports fan and it doesn’t make complete sense to miss out on some classic games, but if i loyally root against a team all season long, i’m not suddenly gonna want them to win in a battle of the lesser of two evils. (actually, i do sometimes watch the yankees and the bosox — because my wife forces me too — but i root for both teams to really suck.)

    that got me into trouble in 2003 when i was offered a pair of tickes to game 7 of the alcs and didn’t think twice about turning them down — until my wife, a diehard yankees fan, came home and found out what i had done.

    but enough about my hatred of the red sox — which really seems to bother you — and back to josh. i might not root for the sox, but i love reading josh’s writing about them.

  32. “i might not root for the sox, but i love reading josh’s writing about them”

    Full disclosure: my friend “seaver41” published my first writing about the Red Sox back in October ’02 in The New York Resident. It was an embittered fantasy about Ted Williams rising from his icy afterlife to lead the Red Sox to their first world series victory. I think the first line was “The Red Sox will win the World Series as soon as someone invents a cure for death.”

  33. Josh,
    Congrats on the article and on the book deal! Great news!

  34. A Mets fan–who (unless he’s one of those “I root for New York”, i.e. “I have a back-up plan” fans) therefore hates the Yanks, as we do, should think of us as friendlies in the other league who share a common goal (and have a lower payroll than the Mets, note)

    For the longest time, I had this attitude towards the Mets. They were my NL team. But I have drifted away from them over the years. That’s not why I came here, though. I just wanted to congratulate a fellow Yazist. Mazel tov, Josh!

  35. Josh,
    huge congratulations from Isabelle, Sammy, charles and Helene. We are so proud of you. I can’t wait to hear about doug flynn in future stories.

  36. Awesome. Can’t wait for the book, Josh.

  37. Congrats, Josh. As a longtime reader, I have mixed emotions about your book deal. I will most certainly purchase the book, but if it causes you to post less here, I will be disappointed. How greedy can I get, huh?

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