Ashland Authors: Marshall Umpleby

You don't have to love baseball to love baseball books. Just as Ray Kinsella found the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson in his Iowa cornfield, so skilled writers find poetry in the diamond's symmetry and the unforgiving mathematics of balls, strikes and outs. Local author Marshall Umpleby follows in this tradition with his new book "Delayed Steal."

"Delayed Steal" is chock full of interesting what-do-you-knows: that the author's father played in the bush leagues of New England against future Hall of Famer Leo "Gabby" Hartnett; that Hartnett's sister Anna played alongside her brothers in the bush leagues; and that, playing for Wesleyan University, Umpleby's father got a double off Columbia pitcher Lou Gehrig.

"Delayed Steal" expands this material into a collection of stories about the relationship between a father and son. In a recent discussion, Umpleby talked about how the book evolved and why baseball will always be close to his heart.

MJ: Why did you choose to call your book "Delayed Steal" and what does the term mean?

MU: The first story in the book illustrates the term: A player steals home after the catcher returns the ball to the pitcher; hence, the delay. The second meaning refers to the younger brother "stealing" Anna from his older sibling. And finally, Anna steals second base twice in that one game. What Freudian scholars would make of it, I haven't a clue.

MJ: "Delayed Steal" is a book about a man's relationship with his father. Many of the stories depict the father as distant and not very supportive of a son trying to emulate him as a ballplayer. As the son ages, he appears to accept his father's emotional limits, while harboring some resentment about the past. Does the fact that the two share a passion for baseball allow them to avoid the real issues dividing them while reminiscing about the game? Is baseball a healing agent or just a painkiller?

MU: Great question! To put it on a personal basis, baseball was the healing agent. My dad was never a warm and squishy guy. He was a typical independent, somewhat distant New Englander. But we shared many precious moments via our mutual love of baseball.

MJ: In "Delayed Steal" the main character's mother descends into hopeless alcoholism, which is portrayed as a prime reason for her husband's frustration and distance from the family. In the story "Mother and Son" the mother is drinking and smoking in bed and sets the house on fire. Just before the fire erupts the son looks into his mother's room and finds her on the bed in a semi-nude pose — one that leaves nothing to the imagination. What was your intent in tying those two events together?

MU: Because of the boy's guilt in looking at his mother's near nudity, he connects that act and the fire. He tries to tell his father that the fire was all his fault.

MJ: "Delayed Steal" is your second book. Your first is a World War II novel titled "On Falcon's Wings." How did these two books differ in the writing?

MU: The writing was very different. The short stories in "DS" were all inspired by real events in my life and were written over a lengthy period of time. "On Falcon's Wings" was also inspired by real events, i.e. the historical background of Reinhard Heydrich's assassination and its bloody aftermath for which I did considerable research. There is absolutely nothing autobiographical in it. The boys and their families are pure fiction. (Heydrich was a Nazi who had a major role in planning for the extermination of Jews. He was attacked in Prague in 1942 and died from his wounds.)

MJ: On the subject of writers and writing, what can you say about being a self-published author? Does it pencil out and would you recommend self-publishing to others?

MU: Had I to do it over again, I would not self-publish via iUniverse, PublishAmerica and the like. I would find an agent and suffer those slings and arrows. If I can be released from my seven-year contract, I will revise "On Falcon's Wings," then seek an agent.

MJ: What's your next project?

MU: My second novel is entitled "Tommie" (working title). It is a tragic love story about a young girl and a boy who is desperately in love with her. Of course, they are both baseball players.