WHEN JESSE KATZ reads from his memoir, The Opposite Field, on November 24 at Broadway Books, it will be his third Portland reading of the month. Why so much face time for the author of a 337-page memoir about running a Little League team in LA? Easy: Katz is the son of Vera Katz, former mayor of Portland. As a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who used to cover the gang beat for the LA Times, Katz could easily have published a memoir about family and community without ever mentioning baseball. That he chose otherwise is part of the point.
"The cliché of Little League, of youth sports in America, is one of lost perspective: By taking it too seriously, adults have ruined a children's game. I have begun to think that the opposite is true, that we do not take it seriously enough." For four years Katz served as the baseball commissioner of La Loma Park, leading a revival of the diamonds in his Asian and Latino LA suburb. Baseball is not a metaphor for his life (thank god), it's the real thing; and his mother's political career is context, both positive (as an informative experience) and negative (as a shadow to flee).
With a chronology that comes full circle, no dramatic climax, and straightforward style, The Opposite Field is structured like a 300-plus-page magazine feature, and Katz's journalistic skill shines through. Players, parents, and coaches are profiled—the La Loma Park box set, the community shuffled like a deck. While it does grow tedious at times, revisiting draft strategies, championship showdowns, and even batting orders from his years as a coach, it doesn't bog down. The story unrolls for you.
From baseball, the narrative shoots off every which way—how he turned his bartender into his wife, how the marriage subsequently collapsed, how he couldn't get through to his stepson and struggled to hold onto and let go of his only son. Sometimes his reporting takes on a slightly unsettling level of professional distance, as if he is not still involved in these relationships, and for better or worse, he provides even more insight into his failures and miscues than his successes. In retrospect, it seems like the only way for an avid baseball fan to document his life—in full detail, in statistics, in anecdotes, and in summer season, year after year.