Writer dogged by her jock past

Susan Perabo has a plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame -- but what's that got to do with her book?

By Maria Russo
Published August 6, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
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Months before Brandi Chastain's sports bra was even a gleam in the nation's eye, Simon & Schuster had conceived a unique publicity hook for Susan Perabo's debut book, a collection of short stories called "Who I Was Supposed to Be." Perabo, it turns out, was the first woman ever to play NCAA baseball, a fact commemorated on a plaque at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. So right after the usual writerly credentials -- "teaches creative writing at Dickinson College," "work has appeared in 'Best American Short Stories,'" and so on -- the book's jacket and all its publicity materials note Perabo's place in baseball history

Perabo is amused that the 12-year-old episode is being resurrected to help her literary career. She'd always been athletic, but she entered the record books almost accidentally: Her college, Webster University in Missouri, didn't have a women's softball team, so she landed a spot on the men's team, which was Division III and not very competitive anyway. "It was no big deal -- I wasn't trying to make a statement. I just wanted to play ball," Perabo told Salon Books. "Mostly I sat on the bench. The next year we got a women's club team going." She wasn't even aware of the plaque at Cooperstown until her parents came across it while visiting the Hall of Fame. There hadn't been any fanfare when she played at Webster: "I think the most people who ever saw me play baseball was about six," she says.


These days, Perabo hits a ball around once in a while with colleagues on the Dickinson faculty, and she's a serious Cardinals fan. But she's hard pressed to come up with any way baseball has influenced her work, either as subject matter or on that metaphysical level invoked by so many male writers -- none of them in the Hall of Fame, it must be said. Her stories are about ordinary people facing subtle turning points, often finding themselves doing weird, touching things as they try to make sense of their lives. Many of Perabo's narrators are men, and she seems utterly comfortable creating male voices. Could that be one way in which her days as a Webster Gorlok made their mark on her writing?

Meanwhile, Simon & Schuster is urging Perabo to do some baseball writing. "They'd like me to do a baseball novel," she says, sounding dubious about the idea.

Maria Russo

Maria Russo has been a writer and editor at The Los Angeles Times, The New York Observer and Salon, and is a regular contributor to the New York Times Book Review.

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