Paul Byrd's book is write on!
Much like his double-pump windup, Paul Byrd's book isn't the norm. Don't expect the Indians right-hander to reveal pitching secrets in "Free Byrd: The Power of a Liberated Life," though there are plenty of passages dealing with revelations of a different kind. The 222 pages deal with Byrd's devotion to God, family and the game of baseball. It's interesting, amusing and poignant all at once.
"I've always wanted to be a writer," Byrd said Friday night in the Indians' clubhouse. "I still did even after I took a couple classes and got laughed out of them for being no good."
It was a case of role reversal as the veteran pitcher admitted his desire to write while handing out copies of his book to writers who grew up dreaming of being ballplayers -- and were constantly told they weren't any good, either.
"Pitching at Yankee Stadium? I don't feel any pressure there," Byrd said. "That's probably because of my training in baseball, all the experience I've had through the years.
"Writing on deadline was a different story. My editors moved up the deadline on this book about six months to last December. I had to work fast and I was nervous, had writer's block, and didn't think I could do it."
He did, despite writing the final chapter under the most duress. "Faith and the HGH Scandal," deals with Byrd being part of the Mitchell Report about players using performance-enhancing drugs. It was written five months before he and others were granted amnesty by baseball.
"I said all along that I was telling the truth that I had a prescription to take the stuff, but I dealt with a lot of lawyers reading what I wrote, to make sure I didn't get myself in trouble," Byrd said. "When I wrote it, I didn't know what the people in baseball were going to rule, what kind of story they would come up with, and I was worried, even though I had been completely truthful."
Byrd dedicates the book to his wife, Kymberlee. John Smoltz, his teammate with the Atlanta Braves, wrote the foreward. The star pitcher throws a strike in his accurate description of Byrd's effort:
"If you look closely, this book isn't about baseball. It's not really about Paul's life either. It's about what it means to have a real relationship with God and not religion."
Byrd writes about it all in an amusing, self-deprecating style. At one point, he admits that the way he talks about being with God makes it appear as if the two of them are always going out for ice cream together.
Byrd writes of winning the NCAA championship as a junior at Louisiana State, then being invited to the White House, meeting President George H.W. Bush in 1991, along with Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio.
He writes of his days in high school, getting into trouble, playing baseball, basketball and fitting in. Somehow, you're stunned to hear the skinny white-bread kid utter, "What up, dog?" to his teammates. It's funny.
He writes of getting into a skirmish on the field when he was with the Phillies, wrestling Braves catcher Eddie Perez -- and being helped by teammate Curt Schilling. That came as a surprise to Byrd, who until that point didn't think Schilling cared for him at all.
There are a lot of insights, written in a thought-provoking and amusing way. Take for example this passage with a special friend that Byrd refers to as "Counselor Frank" from the chapter "A Pair of Navy Blue Knee-High Socks":
Counselor Frank asked me something. He said, "Paul, who are you?"
After a few short seconds of wondering if I was dealing with a moron, I answered him rather arrogantly.
"You just said it. I'm Paul."
"No," he replied with a tiny chuckle. "That's your name."
"OK," I said with a bit more respect. "If you put it that way. I guess I'm a baseball player."
"That's your job. That's not who you are."
"Oh, I got it. You mean like Catholic, Baptist or Evangelical?"
"No. That would be your denominational preference."
I could feel my right hand pulling back my exposed king like a desperate man playing chess. I didn't want to move too quickly so I took some time before my next move. After a short stare off I let my tongue gently proceed.
"No, that's your gender."
"I am now a single person who is going to be married to Kym?"
"No. Marital status."
"I am ..."
"I am ..."
I felt like rolling around on the floor, biting a stick, and screaming high-pitched cuss words while rabid foam began to drool from the corners of my mouth. I was mad! I was also twenty-two years old and didn't know who I was, which I supposed might be important in this life, possibly the whole point of it. Instead of being physically overdramatic, I just sat there and said the three words most people hate to say.
I said, "I don't know."
It was the first right answer I had given all day.
This entire Abbott and Costello type of conversation sets up a pertinent passage in which Byrd explains how a minor-league pitching coach continually yelled at him, turning him from bad to worse during a rough stretch early in his career.
The entire section is a great example of how Byrd blends philosophy, mental approach and religious strength with family values and just plain old baseball knowledge.
Byrd the author is much like Byrd the pitcher. Not every chapter has a crisp fastball and crackling curve delivered on each sentence. But there's enough funky material to keep you mesmerized.