“The 7 Questions” is a new sports questionnaire — the Eephus way of catching a snapshot of the fan’s life. From writers to artists and beyond, we bring you answers every Monday morning (and sometimes Wednesdays too, I guess).
Today, we get the answers from J. Ryan Stradal, the author of the New York Times bestselling novel Kitchens of the Great Midwest, winner of the 2016 ABA Indie’s Choice Award for Best Adult Debut and the 2016 Midwest Booksellers Choice Award for the year’s top novel. Born and raised in Minnesota, he now lives in Los Angeles, where he is an Editor-at-Large at Unnamed Press, Fiction Editor at The Nervous Breakdown, Advisory Board member at 826LA, and, with Summer Block, the co-producer of the literary/culinary series Hot Dish.
1. When was the last time sports made you cry?
It was me watching my girlfriend, a Cleveland native, watch the Cavs win the finals. She couldn’t handle it, and who can blame her. As a Minnesota native, I get it — this was like when the Twins won in 1987, only more so, I think.
She and her family just couldn’t wrap their heads around what they’d just seen. At one point, about five minutes after the game ended, her sister texted her and asked, “Wait a second. Can we still lose?” It felt like a valid question. It was at least twenty minutes before we all finally believed that no replay, challenge, or technicality would change what we thought we’d witnessed. It really happened. Cleveland had won something.
2. What’s your most treasured piece of sports apparel or memorabilia?
Probably either my Al Newman signed rookie card (my favorite Minnesota Twin as a kid) or my copy of the “The Scouting Report: 1986” which was well before STATS, Inc. took over that franchise and made the writing a good deal more diplomatic.
Like many kids of my generation, I once owned an Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card, but I sold mine in 1994 to buy books for college.
3. Competed in any sports lately, at any level?
You could call it that. I played soccer until 8th grade and baseball in 9th grade. I batted .143 my last year. My career highlight was getting pulled from a game for swinging at a 3-0 pitch. I was 125 pounds in my winter clothes back then; my power stroke could be negated by a well-placed second baseman. Coach Hamilton was unpleased.
4. What’s your desert island sports movie or book?
Probably that aforementioned “The Scouting Report: 1986” just because of how unsentimental and impolitic they are about their subject matter. What kills me is that it was a staunchly mainstream publication — blurbed by People Magazine, no less — and written by Harmon Killebrew, Brooks Robinson, and Duke Snider, among others. There was no pretense to the effect that you were about to read something harsh, strange or edgy. Nowhere else at the time would you find these flourishes:
On White Sox SS Julio Cruz: “They call him ‘Juice,’ but Julio Cruz has played the last two years as if he has been squeezed dry.”
On Indians C Chris Bando: “Quick, get Inspector Clouseau on the phone. There’s a mystery in Cleveland and only he can help. Chris Bando’s bat is missing — really missing.”
Or this kind of bluntness:
On Cardinals P John Stuper: “He is a horrible hitter. He gives meaning to the phrase ‘sure out.'”
On Mets 3B Ray Knight: “If you think his bat is slow, watch his legs.”
On Brewers 2B Brian Giles: “I don’t think Giles will be in the major leagues in 1986. He cannot hit.”
It would be decades before the Internet would once again enable this style of sports writing, and by then, it would be in venues that openly flaunted it, which, while still enjoyable, took the fun out of it for me.
5. What do you like to eat and drink while you watch sports?
If I’m at the ballpark, I drink the worst, most sugary, fruity drinks I can find. And a bag of salted peanuts. At home, it’s usually kale salads and sparking water. I suppose if I had any sense I’d be doing it the other way around.
6. What’s the greatest length you’ve gone to watch or attend a game?
It was extremely difficult to find someone in Buenos Aires in 2007 with the interest and ability to stream a Minnesota Twins game. It involved me temporarily befriending some people who I never saw again, probably because they watched the game along with me and couldn’t figure out what the big deal was.
7. Ever caught a foul ball?
People become rabid wolverines when anything is thrown into the stands. I want no part of those unholy scrums. It’s more likely that I will be handed a baseball by Liam Neeson in the frozen food aisle of Trader Joe’s than catch one at a ballpark. It might be for you as well. And I’ve made my peace with it.