A love of baseball really comes across in this book, and after talking to Greg for a little while, you can't help but share his love of the game.
1. What brought you to writing? And what made you decide to write books for children?
I have been writing for decades. As a perennial student writing countless papers; as a pastor writing countless sermons; as a teacher writing any number of class outlines, I have been writing most of my life. I have kept journals for years and am now writing frequently in separate journals for my grandchildren (thoughts, life-insights, reports of their activities that their parents don’t have time to record). It’s natural for me to write books for children because I am constantly telling stories. My kids and I would make up stories before bed. We would tell stories while taking long road trips. We would tell each other our dreams (or nightmares!). I love exercising my imagination and including my listeners, children or adults, in the process.
2. Where do you find inspiration for writing?
It’s just in me. It’s a part of who I am. I write and tell stories as a way to help me organize my thoughts, or work out a solution to a particular problem, or entertain others. Also, I am a voracious reader. I always have been. I read anything and everything, even cereal boxes. I just love words. Of course, not all my reading is necessarily enjoyable. Some, I just have to do (like email). Good writing, fiction or non-fiction, however, is such a passion of mine that I fear I might go crazy if not surrounded by books and the written word. I am also something of an introvert, in the sense that I live in the world of ideas. I love to ponder. I get energy from being able to think, dream, and wonder. Although I love being with people, and am naturally gregarious, I can be depleted by a crowd. Books help me re-charge.
3. One of the important themes in Betsy’s Day at the Game is family. Did you model any of the characters after members of your own family?
I did. The little girl is modeled after my daughter. She is and has always been a very strong, capable girl. Athletic. Smart. Open to fun and new adventures. She was the kind of girl who would dig up earthworms to go fishing, not minding the fact that she was chipping the fingernail polish off her tips. Catching the foul ball from her favorite players is modeled after my son’s experience of chasing down a ball from one of his favorite players.
4. Another great thing about the book is that it comes with a scorecard so that children can learn to keep score along with Betsy. Who taught you how to score baseball games? Is it something that you have taught your children and grandchildren as well?
Yeah, I love the fact that kids (and adults) can immediately apply something that they’ve just learned. A new skill can be quickly acquired. With that kind of “immediacy,” it’s likely that they will continue exercising the skill. I was mostly self-taught but wanted to teach my kids and grandkids. I needed some way to hold their attention, so I could enjoy the game. My daughter, in particular, loved filling in little boxes, making little check marks, somehow physically marking the action she saw playing out in front of her. It not only “kept her in the game,” it allowed her to more fully understand it and know how to play a better game herself. We added a little feature, jotting some notes about life in our family that captured moments in time for us to remember. It became a family journal of sorts. It’s fun to look back at a score sheet from baseball games we attended and read about what was going on in our family at the time – in a sense, our family history through the lens of baseball.
5. Why do you think a baseball game is such a great experience to share with children?
Oh my, where do I begin? Baseball nuts like me will appreciate everything from the history of the game and its role in American society to its theology (we can go there some other time, perhaps). Seriously, so much of life can be explained from the perspective of baseball. It’s a pastoral game, played in parks or fields, not stadiums or arenas. It’s unrushed. Need to call “time?” – no problem, take what you need. Scoring results from people coming home, often by hitting the ball over a fence. The playing surface is shared and it’s not the purpose of either team to dominate physical territory. There are no bombs, sacks, or blitzes and everyone wears a cap. Watching the game involves the whole experience: the field, the players, the activity, as well as the fans, the food vendors, and weather. People have time to sit and gab. No one is watching a clock or worried about “time running out.” For a family, especially in our fast-paced, non-stop culture, sitting in a baseball park and “unplugging,” is an absolute gift for them. Back to the history and role in society – baseball is the only game that has seen us through war, depression, drought, riots, all manner of sickness, as well as times of great joy, achievement and success. It adds a stabilizing force in our society. Even when things seem to be falling apart, there’s always baseball, a game to slow us down, take time, just be together.
6. Do you have any favorite childhood memories playing or watching baseball?
I played baseball or had something to do with a bat, ball and glove, nearly every day in the summer as a kid. We were constantly hitting fly balls and grounders to each other, and getting enough other kids to have teams to play a game. As I got older, there were organized leagues. One of my favorite memories as a young boy was being at a World Series game with my grandpa. And watching my son scramble over seats to retrieve a homerun ball from one of his favorite players was another awesome sight.
The most amazing memory, though, happened while sitting in my son’s easy chair. I was visiting from Minnesota shortly after his son was born. The little guy was asleep on my chest. I leaned back in the chair, reached for the remote, and turned on the TV. A baseball game was on! How perfect! It was a National League game, but so what, baseball is baseball. As I looked, I realized that my son-in-law was at the game with his best friend who has season tickets at that ballpark. They are very good seats. Whenever a right-handed batter comes up to the plate, one can see the fans sitting near the edge of the field. I could see the young men clearly. Not only that, they had my other grandson with them. So, I called my son-in-law. “Are you at the game?” I asked. “Yes,” came the reply. “Are you wearing a blue tee-shirt and are you there with (our grandson)? Wave” I explained the situation: in my son’s living room with one grandchild on my chest, watching a baseball game in a far-away city with another grandchild and HIS dad on the screen. A better definition of verisimilitude I cannot find.
7. Who is your favorite baseball team?
My favorite team has always been the Minnesota Twins. I was in junior high when they came to Minnesota from Washington DC. I thought it was so exotic to have a professional team that had once played in the nation’s capital. Now, they were “ours.” I follow other teams from time to time, especially having lived in several parts of the country. Of course, I’m a sucker for any team considered the underdog.....but then, you see, that’s part of who we are as Americans.