I’ve been reading lately

I have recently finished reading Jim Knows: The Book. Unfortunately, it was not written by me, it was written by a man named John Hodgman. And he chose not to call it Jim Knows: The Book, but instead The Areas of My Expertise. Obviously, since I’m mentioning it on this web site, there is some baseball-related content. It comes from the section titled “Some Prophets Who Were Not Actuaries.”

SARAH WOODHOPE grew up in the suburbs around Boston and was noted in her high school yearbook as the school’s only guitar player and its first practicing Wiccan. In the fall of 1985, at the age of seventeen, she had a strange and vivid dream: a Patriot win over the heavily favored Dolphins in the AFC championship. She only mentioned the dream to one or two friends. But when it came true, she tearfully confessed that she had been dreaming of sporting events every night since she had gotten into Bryn Mawr early. She saw flashes of hockey games, whole innings of baseball that would not be played until the following summer, the tips of Larry Bird’s fingers releasing the ball in what would be the last NBA game he would ever play. “I never asked for this,” she told the Boston Globe when her strange gift became known. “Why would Gaia put these awful images in my head? I only wish it would stop.”

Woodhope’s visions continued, however, and Bostonians will recall that she eventually agreed to share them once a week with local disc jockey Dale Dorman during his drivetime shift on KISS-108. Her glimpses of the sporting future did not always predict a winner, and indeed they were often incomplete and imperfectly understood by Woodhope herself: She never quite grasped the rules of football, for example, and expressed surprise when she was told that William “The Refrigerator” Perry was an actual human and not a fantastic invention of her unconscious. “I thought…,” she said in a laughing declaration that would be played by Dorman again and again over the years, “I thought he was some kind of beautiful ogre!” At the end of each segment, Woodhope would explain a principle of Wicca and encourage the listeners to help heal the earth through enlightened white magick. This was her condition for appearing, and her advocacy is at least partly responsible for the large number of covens in Boston today, as well as the tradition of burning incense before Bruins games.

The following September, Woodhope went to Bryn Mawr, where she became an English major and would go on to write feminist fantasy novels. According to her autobiography, Cauldron Sister, her dreams ceased once she left Massachusetts. But there was one final vision she held back from Dorman: She dreamed of a short grounder along the first-base line, the ball hop-rolling gaily through the legs of an instantly ruined Bill Buckner and continuing on over the queasy green outfield at Shea Stadium. It was, of course, Game 6 of the upcoming 1986 World Series. This was the first time, she wrote, that she actually understood what she had seen, and what it would mean to Dorman and his listeners: that Boston would have to wait another eighteen years before it could break the curse laid on the Red Sox by Babe Ruth, that noted warlock of swat.

“I couldn’t put that kind of sadness out into the world,” she wrote, “especially since I knew it would only come back to me threefold: that is the Law.” Still, an unlikely friendship had developed between the DJ and the composed young witch, and so on her last broadcast that Labor Day, she kept her silence, offering only a hopeful Wiccan farewell: “Hoof and horn, hoof and horn, all that dies shall be reborn. Corn and grain, corn and grain, all that falls shall rise again. So mote it be!”

I actually wish this had been written before the 2004 World Series so it didn’t include the “another eighteen years”; it’s obviously much more melancholy if you think about a vision of the Red Sox never winning the World Series.

Yes, if you like this excerpt, you will like the book. As another endorsement, when interviewed on “The Daily Show” about this book, John Hodgman made Jon Stewart laugh repeatedly to the point that he had trouble getting his questions out, in a way I have not seen before or since. Why, if there had been a wall behind him, he might have hit his head from throwing it backwards as a result of all the uproariousness.

Now, please feel free to comment on all this, so that I can continue to post excerpts from books under the guise of “fair use for the purpose of criticism and commentary,” at least until spring training starts.

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