Synopses & Reviews
For most of his life, Josh Wilker has been on the sidelines. Spending his days in a cubicle in the far reaches of Chicago, and his nights in front of Red Sox games, he has been content to let others take center stage. From childhood onward, he sought comfort from anxiety and depression in the archival pages of sports almanacs and stat sheets: a place where forgotten players lingered, and time seemed to stop--a welcome relief from worldly problems. He found joy in the trivia of long-lost athletes, like the former NFL player Walter "Sneeze" Achiu.
But when his first child was born in 2011, Wilker found his anxieties put to the test: how do you remain on the sidelines when a tender, fragile baby needs everything from you? How do you go from third-string forward on the winless 1988 Johnson State College Badgers to a strong, responsible father? Bit by bit, Wilker learns to overcome his demons, protect his son, and eventually take a few wobbly steps with him.
In homage to his favorite pastimes, Wilker has written Benchwarmer as just that: an A-to-Z reference on failing at sports. In entries from Asterisk to Barry Bonds to "the Yips" to Zero, Wilker mingles his own story among those of famous collapses, errors, and also-rans. A candid, bighearted, funny presence, Wilker writes about sports the way Michael Chabon writes about comics, or Rob Sheffield writes about music: as if the universe was contained in every blocked shot or dropped fly ball. In Wilker's hands, it is.
is the funniest, saddest, most touching picture of manhood in the 21st century that I have ever read.and#8221;and#151;Jonathan Eig, author of Luckiest Man
and#147;Sports as an organizing principle for stumbling through life and fatherhoodand#151;funny, enchanting and lyrical. Painfully familiar.and#8221;and#151;Sports Illustrated
and#147;Josh Wilker wants you to believe he has no realm of expertise at all. As a man, a husband, a breadwinner, a first-time father, a onetime college athlete, heand#8217;s not only never sure of himself; heand#8217;s often so unsure that he beats himself up over it, literally. But Wilkerand#133; once again proves himself the possessor of a particular kind of mastery in his new memoir, Benchwarmer. By fixating on failures and#151; both his own, personally and as a parent, and those of his beloved sports heroes and#151; heand#8217;s crafted a game plan that turns out to be unbeatable.and#8221;and#151;The Boston Globe
and#147;Josh Wilker wants you to believe he has no realm of expertise at all. As a man, a husband, a breadwinner, a first-time father, a onetime college athlete, heand#8217;s not only never sure of himself; heand#8217;s often so unsure that he beats himself up over it, literally. But Wilkerand#133; once again proves himself the possessor of a particular kind of mastery in his new memoir, Benchwarmer. By fixating on failures and#151; both his own, personally and as a parent, and those of his beloved sports heroes and#151; heand#8217;s crafted a game plan that turns out to be unbeatable. If the unexamined life is truly not worth living, Wilker takes its flip side to the extreme. A lifetime of addiction to the minutiae of sports, the box scores, career averages, and endless anecdotal legends, has made him a top-shelf Socratic thinkerand#8221;and#151;Publishers Weekly
"The delights of this fatherhood confessional are various. Perhaps most striking and unusual is Wilker's choice of framing his narrative in the form of an almanac. The almanac becomes a moving metaphor for a universal need to organize the chaotic borders of life experience...This almanac of fatherhood (and other failures) is honest, relatable and humorousand#151;an indispensable read for fathers (and sons) whose joy in life comes not from winning the big game but being alive to witness the beauty of its happening."and#151;Kirkus Reviews
and#147;[Wilker expounds] randomly on his lifelong fandom and new fatherhoodand#133;amidst a pantheon of athletic failures, goof-ups, goats, mediocrities, and losers. Most fans will find something in that litany to enjoy.and#8221;and#151;Booklist
and#147;Benchwarmer is the funniest, saddest, most touching picture of manhood in the 21st century that I have ever read.and#8221;and#151;Jonathan Eig, author of Luckiest Man
and#147;Saying Josh Wilker writes about sports is like saying Proust wrote about cookies, or Tolstoy about Russia. The courts and ball fields are merely arenas in which he illuminates the entire human experience. Wilker is able to recognize within the ordinaryand#151;missed free throws, child rearing, the unheroic challenges of daily lifeand#151; the authentically sublime. Benchwarmeris the best kind of art there is, the kind that makes you delighted to be alive.and#8221;and#151;Matthew Specktor, author of American Dream Machine
and#147;Josh Wilker and I traded baseball cards and played Little League together. Yet each time I read his moving prose, I learn more about lifeand#8217;s journeyand#151;his, and that of our generation.and#8221; and#151;Buster Olney, senior writer, ESPN
and#147;Benchwarmer is a book for anyone whoand#8217;s ever loved sports, or had a kid. Itand#8217;s a book about boys and about men, and you will weep.and#8221; and#151;Rob Neyer, Fox Sports
and#147;The area where sports and life intersect, in the fanand#8217;s brain, is like a network of caverns that Josh Wilker is mapping better than any writer since Frederick Exley. In Benchwarmer, he goes spelunking in some of the deepest and darkest of those caves, where he painstakingly discovers that marriage and fatherhood, unlike sports, cannot be measured by wins and losses. This is a book filled with heart and tremendous grit.and#8221; and#151;Jonathan Miles, author of Dear American Airlines and Want Not
A moving, funny, inventive parenting memoir, written in a surprising form: an encyclopedia of failure in sports
What can a new father learn about parenthood from reading sports almanacs? For most dads, the answer to this question is: nothing. But to Josh Wilker, whose life and writing have been defined by sports fandom, all of the joy, helplessness, and absurdity of parenthood are present between the lines.
After all, what better way to think about losing control than Eugenio Velezand#8217;s forty-five consecutive at-bats without a hit? How better to understand ridiculous joy than the NFL career of Walter Achiu, whose nickname was and#147;Sneezeand#8221;? In the stories of sports figures large and small, Wilker finds the pathos in success and the humor in losing.
As the terrified father of a one-day-old, Wilker recalls the 1986 World Series, when the moment was too big for the Red Sox. When he finds himself stealing away for an hour of alone time, Wilker thinks of boxer Roberto Duran, so beaten by Sugar Ray Leonard that he finally gave up. And yet, even as the frustrations and anxieties build, Wilker remembers Mets pitcher Anthony Young, who broke the baseball record for most consecutive lossesand#151;and never stopped showing up.
Finding the richness of life in obscure wrestling maneuvers and pop-ups lost in the sun, Benchwarmer is a book of unique humanity and surprising wisdom.
About the Author
Josh Wilker is a contributor to FoxSports.com, Vice Sports, The Classical, Baseball Prospectus, ESPN.com, and more. His previous memoir, Cardboard Gods, was a featured book in the 2010 and#147;Year in Sports Mediaand#8221; issue of Sports Illustrated, a 2010 Casey Award finalist, and a 2011 Booklist best book of the year. He also blogs on his own site, cardboardgods.net.