Most of us are either right or left-handed with a few rare ambidextrous types in between. The Man With Two Arms by Billy Lombardo is a novel about a unique baseball pitcher who can throw as well as with his left arm as his right arm.
Set in the baseball mecca of Chicago, the book follows Danny Granville – who is tutored to pitch with either arm by his baseball-obsessed father - from birth to his rapid progression into the majors and sporting superstardom. So-called switch-pitchers are very rare but not unheard of.
The novel is not just about baseball – it also examines family ties, a sporting obsession, a marriage under strain, first love and how pressure affects people in different ways. Granville is portrayed as both a wonder-kid and a freak. The author, who has also written How to Hold a Woman and The Logic of a Rose: Chicago Stories took time to answer our questions.
AbeBooks: Why did you place Danny with the Cubs in the novel? Are you a cubs fan?
Billy Lombardo: "Originally, I had Danny playing for the White Sox, but I ran into a couple of problems. One was that I desperately wanted him to be a hitter, so I needed him to play for a National League team. The bigger problem was that I didn't quite know to work in the fact that the White Sox had just won a World Series championship in 2005. I felt I couldn't ignore it, but I also didn't know how to deal with it. Should I use real players' names? Could I? Those questions drove me crazy.
"I was born and raised in Bridgeport, home to White Sox Park, so I had some explaining to do when I told my son Danny Granville was going to the Cubs. That said, I'm a baseball fan, and though it's not fair to say that I root for the Cubs, I only root against them when they're playing the White Sox."
Abe: Do you have any experience with ambidextrous athletes?
Billy Lombardo: "My research for this book was pretty much limited to Google, to be perfectly honest. There've been about five or six major league switch pitchers. Pat Venditte (a fringe New York Yankee player) is the first who has a real shot at being a switch-pitching specialist in the majors."
Abe: Do you think there could really be a top-level major league switch-pitcher one day?
Billy Lombardo: "I think Venditte's got a real shot. He's not terribly imposing from either side, but he's a smart pitcher. Joe Girardi (the Yankees manager) called him up the other day. I think he'll keep his eye on the kid and he'll get his shot. That said, I don't know if he'll be as good as Danny Granville. But I don't doubt we'll see a top-level switch-pitcher one day. It'll happen."
Abe: Why did you not put more game-time narrative into the book?
Billy Lombardo: "You know, I grew to have a real respect for sports writers through the creation of this book. I think it's wildly challenging to write about sports, and frankly, I felt weakest in my writing in this area. They were among the most taxing passages to write. And because I felt like I lacked in this area, I felt I had to limit those sections."
Abe: Do you think the book will appeal to non-baseball fans?
Billy Lombardo: "I hope it appeals to non-baseball fans. I hate the idea of someone not picking the book up because he or she doesn't like baseball, or doesn't like sports in general. I'd like to think there's a lot here that might appeal to people who are interested in art and science and parenting and love, too.”
Abe: What are your favorite sports-related books?
Billy Lombardo: "I don't read much non-fiction, but sports non-fiction is a genre I'm drawn to. I loved Michael Lewis's Moneyball and Jane Leavy's book on Sandy Koufax, A Lefty's Legacy. I loved The Natural, too. I'm due for a re-read of that. I haven't read it since I've been reading for craft."
Abe: Have you received any reaction from real-life sports people about the book?
Billy Lombardo: "I actually have heard from a few baseball folks. I've got a number of emails from baseball insiders who took issue with some of my passages related to Danny's skyrocketing through the minor leagues. I heard from a sports agent, too, but the list is short. I thought I was close to getting a blurb from Pat Venditte, too; I was quite interested in hearing his thoughts about the book. Frankly, I would like to have been in touch with him when I was writing the book."