Sunday, June 18, 2023

Q&A with Mark Braff




Mark Braff is the author of the new book Sons of Baseball: Growing Up with a Major League Dad. He spent many years working as a public relations professional, and he lives in Bergen County, New Jersey.


Q: What inspired you to write Sons of Baseball, and how did you choose the father-son pairs to include in the book?


A: I had the idea for the book as far back as 20-25 years ago, but time and financial constraints made it impossible to do anything about it. Flash forward to late November 2020. I retired just before Thanksgiving and, a couple of weeks later, the idea for the book popped back into my head.


I realized that the two big obstacles from the past were no longer factors in that I was retired, so I had time, and I could do the interviews via Zoom, so I wouldn't have to incur travel expenses. I felt it was important to be able to see the people as I interviewed them. 


The question that stayed with me all these years was, what is it like to grow up as the son of a major league baseball player? Dad is gone for much of the summer, and when he is home does he really want to toss around a ball in the yard?


What about the pressure of playing Little League baseball and hearing people compare you to your dad? What is it like to go out with dad or the entire family and find yourselves being constantly interrupted by autograph seekers? What's it like to hang around the ballpark with access that the rest of us can only dream of?


It's just such an unusual way to grow up.


The book explores these and other issues, giving readers a look at the family lives of the players through the eyes of their sons.


For the interviews, I tried to get sons representing a cross-section of players, meaning superstars as well as those who enjoyed long careers but weren't necessarily in the headlines all the time.


Q: Did you find various themes that consistently came up over the course of your interviewing?


A: Perhaps unsurprisingly, I found that these baseball sons grew up with all the same issues as the rest of us. There were happy parental marriages and divorces, family tragedies and joy, close father-son relationships and estrangements.


The only difference -- and it's a huge one -- is that this all occurred with the backdrop of major league baseball, so their lives were anything but ordinary.


Also, it was interesting to me that the dads -- the ballplayers -- almost universally did not encourage their sons to aspire to pro baseball careers. In fact, in many cases the dads actually discouraged it.


This is because they knew how incredibly difficult it is to get to the major leagues. They all had friends they made in the minor leagues, friends who never made it to "the show" and spent years riding the buses in the minors for pretty lousy pay.


On a more humorous note, you'd be surprised how often Bazooka Gum, of all things, was mentioned by the sons. It seems that major league locker rooms contained big tubs of Bazooka, which led to some interesting stories from the guys I interviewed.


Q: What surprised you most in the course of your research for this book?


A: I was very pleasantly surprised at how willing the sons were to share the stories of their childhoods. When I started the project I was uncertain as to the enthusiasm with which it would be greeted by the interview subjects.


I quickly learned that these guys really enjoy talking about the subject, perhaps because it can be fun to reminisce, or perhaps because they rarely get asked to talk about it. Whatever the reason, I was both surprised and relieved at the response.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: I think readers will come away with a better understanding of what life is like for families of major league baseball players; not only for the sons, but the daughters and moms as well. As Tyler Kepner of The New York Times said of the book, it "gives readers a seat at the dinner table with a big-league dad."


Q: What are you working on now?


A: At the moment, my days are filled with promotional work for the book along with occasionally babysitting the grandkids and, more frequently, helping out my 94-year-old father. So, in other words, there are no other book projects in the works at this time. Maybe a bit down the road... we'll see.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: My other major takeaway from this project is the incredible level of ignorance I had about book publishing. When I began, I thought it was a three-step process: Do the interviews, write the book, pitch it to publishing houses and hope to find one that says yes.


I knew nothing about having to find a literary agent, writing a book proposal, securing endorsement blurbs, promoting the book, and numerous other steps. Turns out it's a lot of work, as you well know, Deborah!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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