Sports for Hartís Next Book

When Hart starts playing roller skate versions of soccer and basketball in Man Versus Ball, it’s hard not to think of what sorts of even more off-the-wall sporting activities there are out there. Here are a couple games that Hart might consider trying his hand at if he even does a follow-up to this book.

 

Quidditch: To be fair, Quidditch is kind of stupid. The sport, dreamed up by author J.K. Rowling for her iconic, world-famous Harry Potter series, may seem like it is fully grounded in the fantasy world, thanks to its use of flying broomsticks and Golden Snitches. However, a “muggle” variation of the game has begun to catch on with intramural college sports leagues. In fact, a documentary called Mudbloods is on the way that explores the rise of Quidditch in the real world. Hart should consider writing the book.

Curling: The sport of curling has become a sensation for Olympic viewers during the past few Winter Olympic competitions, mostly because it looks silly on TV. One can easily imagine that Hart’s attempt to further demystify this sport for American audiences would make for one of the classics of independent publishing.

Chess Boxing: Chess Boxing, as defined by Wikipedia, is a “hybrid sport” that is precisely what it sounds like: alternating rounds of chess and boxing. Whether this sport was developed as a means of watching chess grandmasters fight each other or because someone wanted to see how good boxers were at chess, it’s hard to say. Either way, there is no doubt that Hart’s sense of humor and endless devotion to sport would be a perfect match with this bizarre (and yet, popular) activity.

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Indie Groundbreaking Book: Man Versus Ball

Subverting Sports Book Conventions with Entertaining Results

Looking at the cover for Man Versus Ball, a new biography/sporting adventure book from author Jon Hart, it would be easy to assume that it’s just a dime-a-dozen sports drama. The bold red letters, overlaid on a textured tan backdrop, look like they are meant to mimic an old poster from baseball’s golden days, and the book’s promise to tell the story of “one ordinary guy and his extraordinary sports adventures” sound like little more than slick marketing talk. Sure, everyone enjoys the redemptive sports narrative: that’s why Hollywood keeps churning out movies like Moneyball and Remember the Titans. But these stories are very rarely groundbreaking, and truth be told, they are very rarely supposed to be.

But that’s what makes Man Versus Ball such a pleasant surprise. Jon Hart isn’t here to tell you about a team that managed to win the World Series against all odds, and he’s not here to bore you with stats about his favorite players. Instead, he’s getting right into the thick of it, throwing himself headlong into every misguided journalism assignment and every sport-related odd job he can find. As you can imagine, his journey is funny, cringe-worthy, and fascinating all at the same time.

In many ways, Man Versus Ball is like indie publishing’s counterpart to Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch. With that book, Hornby spoke candidly about his obsession with England’s Arsenal football club and how that obsession both enriched and ruined his life in equal margin. Both books are nonfiction works written by guys who love sports to the point of insanity, guys who probably would have gone for professional careers on the field if they’d had the talent to do so, but who instead ended up in the bleachers, exploring their love for the game in writing.

The difference between Hornby and Hart is that he isn’t content to just be a fan or a spectator. Instead, he takes every chance he can find to “get in the game.” Sometimes, his efforts are misguided, like when he decides to offer his press relations expertise for a semi-professional football team in exchange for getting a few minutes of playtime on the field. (Spoiler alert: he gets knocked out in his first 15 seconds.) Sometimes, like with his three years as a ball boy at the U.S. Open Tennis Championship, you’ll actually envy Hart’s adventures and how they get him so close to some of the biggest sporting events in the world. And sometimes, Hart’s sporting escapades just border on outlandish ridiculousness, like his 20-minute, 51-second dash up the 86 floors and 1,576 steps of the Empire State Building.

Still, while Hart’s stories sound like gimmick-heavy, stunt journalism on paper, each of his adventures ends up telling a story that illuminates the humanity, ambition, and passion of the people who devote this much of themselves to sports or crazy athletic pursuits. For instance, when Hart joins up with the Brooklyn Mariners—the “semi-professional football team” mentioned in the previous paragraph—he spends more time carefully developing the other members of the team and focusing on the bonds they form together than he does languishing in his own failure as a football player. They’re only featured in a faction of the book, but the Mariners—including a fervent and fiery coach named Pudgie, an NFL-prospect kicker that the guys just call “All American, and a teammate dubbed “Rambo,” who, despite his tough guy nickname, clearly has a heart of gold—make more of an impression than most readers might expect. That Hart is able to pour so much detail and feeling into what essentially amounts as a single vignette in his story is testament to both his skill as a writer and his ardent devotion to being a sports fan.

Readers should continue to expect the unexpected as Hart heads to the U.S. Open. There, he sheds light on the bizarrely competitive nature of being a ball boy, suggesting that maybe the most entertaining and unpredictable showdowns at the U.S. Open aren’t the tennis matches showed on TV. And when he races up the steps of the Empire State Building, or details his long-awaited rise to athletic achievement in roller basketball and roller soccer—both precisely what they sound like— he teaches us that passion and talent in sports extend far beyond what gets broadcast on primetime TV. (The fact that there is actually someone out there who managed the Empire State Building stairwell race in 9:33 proves this fact in spades.)

From the first page to Hart’s last sport-fueled endeavor—which, surprisingly, is the publication of Man Versus Ball and not some inline skate variant of bullfighting—he’s managed to make this book one of the most unique and consistently entertaining things I’ve read recently. It’s a work that will likely be enjoyed by a wide range of readers, whether they are die-hard sports fans like Hart or just people who enjoy the kinds of off-the-wall adventures that Man Versus Ball hands out like candy.

Interested in reading more of Hart’s unorthodox sporting stories? Man Versus Ball is available from Amazon.com in both digital and physical formats, as well as directly from its publisher, Potomac Books.

 


 

Craig Manning is currently studying English and Music at Western Michigan University. In addition to writing for IndependentPublisher.com, he maintains a pair of entertainment blogs, interns at the Traverse City Business News, and writes for Rockfreaks.net and his college newspaper. He welcomes comments or questions concerning his articles via email, at manningcr953@gmail.com.


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