As Chicago Cubs fans the world over gripped fingerwide grooves into their La-Z-Boys and nervously gobbled deep dish pizzas by the truckload while watching the Lovable Losers battle the Cleveland Indians into extra innings in the seventh game of the 2016 World Series, Mark Scarpaci may have been the only member of that long-tortured club who didn’t know what to root for.
A longtime Cubs fan, Scarpaci’s soul should have been ascending up, up, toward some sort of diamond-shaped, red, white and blue seventh heaven reserved for the legions of Cubs diehards who had waited for a moment 108 years in the making. Yet, when his son Tate looked over during the agonizing rain delay between the ninth and 10th innings, he knew by the look on his dad’s face that something was wrong.
“Dad, are you OK?” he asked.
He was OK, he did enjoy his favorite team’s eventual victory, and soon there would be plenty to celebrate. But even the most loyal Cubs fans would probably understand why Scarpaci, after having finally completed a novel five years in the making about a mythical Cubs pitcher who grows up to end the team’s World Series drought, felt slightly — OK, massively — conflicted watching his magical underdog story effectively demystified by none other than the Cubs themselves.
“Tate said, ‘Do you want them to win or lose?’” Scarpaci said of that fateful day last November. “I go, ‘I don’t know. I want them to win, but if they win what happens to my book?’”
What happened was, his book, titled “Wrigley Sanders,” was still self-published through Bookbaby in June, albeit with a lead-in disclaimer — “The events in this book happened sometime before November 2nd, 2016” — and thanks to its whimsical, fable-esque tone, an 11th-hour editorial decision and Scarpaci’s well-paced narration, it doesn’t suffer from the Cubs’ inconvenient breakthrough.
“Wrigley Sanders” is available at TreeHouse Books and Sammich in Ashland, Barns & Noble in Medford and online at https://store.bookbaby.com/book/Wrigley. Sammich will host a “Book and Brew” promotional event today starting at 4 p.m., and Scarpaci will read from his book at TreeHouse on Saturday (4-5:30 p.m.) and Barns & Noble on Sunday (noon). Both readings will also serve as Little League fundraisers.
An experienced writer with 35 years in the TV business (his credits include “Bill Nye the Science Guy”), Scarpaci, 61, was fairly satisfied with what would be his third novel, and first in 15 years, after early drafts generated some positive feedback from friends and family members. In hindsight, he says, those early critics were far too kind. For one, in its original form “Wrigley Sanders” weighed in at a bloated 900 pages. Secondly, it was inspired by Scarpaci’s childhood and included “about 8 million characters.” Lastly, it needed a spark, an activator, something to ramp up the tension.
“I was lost, but I didn’t know I was lost,” Scarpaci said. “I was having fun.”
Everything changed after a fly-fishing buddy connected Scarpaci with Adam Korn, an editor whose former employers include William Morrow Books/HarperCollins Publishers, for which he was working at the time, and Random House Publishing. Signals were crossed. Scarpaci thought Korn was a young writer seeking advice, not an editor of sports-themed books, so Scarpaci was stunned when Korn agreed to look over the manuscript and double-stunned when, three days later, he said he loved the protagonist and the story and wanted to help Scarpaci finish it.
The two met shortly thereafter at Sammich, the uber-popular sandwich shop decorated with Cubs paraphernalia and owned by Cubs fan Melissa McMillan. Korn showed up with eight pages of notes. It was the first of many meetings the two had over the next year and a half, during which Korn relentlessly hacked into smithereens layers of unnecessary exposition, meandering subplots, detailed backstories and several generations of characters. When he started the manuscript included, to its author, four books worth of content. But by the time Korn finished it was down to some 230 pages.
“(Korn) was a fabulous editor,” Scarpaci said. “I probably should give him a byline, he was so good.”
The finished novel can be described as a feel-good coming of age story. It follows the book’s namesake, an ambidextrous pitcher born in the bleachers of Wrigley Field who aspires to pitch for the Cubs and feeds his ambition by studying, via old film footage, the technique of baseball greats. The plucky underdog receives helping hands from a colorful cast of characters along the way, and Ashlanders, particularly those in the baseball community, will recognize a few names that Scarpaci, a former Ashland Little League coach, couldn’t resist including.
Former Ashland High School varsity baseball coach Don Senestraro makes an appearance. A hot dog vendor is named Gaviglio, a nod to former Ashland pitcher Sam Gaviglio, now with the Kansas City Royals.
The book is marketed as an uplifting baseball story, so it’s no spoiler to report that things work out well for Wrigley. The sap, it does flow. But Scarpaci, who turns into a romantic when discussing baseball, makes no apologies.
Saying goodbye to coaching Little League after his son grew out of it, Scarpaci said, counts as a great loss in his life, but also provided valuable inspiration.
“That’s what really allowed me to stay on this book, because of that whole connection with kids and families,” he said. “A lot of people don’t really think about it but sports is a great way to learn things and if anything this book is kind of a microcosm of what I learned in Little League — about failure and success, and not giving up on your dreams.”
— Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.