I have great esteem for Chad Harbach’s debut novel, The Art of Fielding, as a work of contemporary fiction, for its feel for its characters (most of them, anyway), its deft handling of themes, and its incorporation of Melville and Chekhov. But I have to admit, as a baseball fan, I quite nearly can’t stand it.

Baseball and its players are interesting enough in themselves for me, so novels that try to invest the sport with a bunch of mythological hooey, like The Natural and Shoeless Joe, drive me up an ivy-covered wall. After a start every bit as promising as a rookie pitcher’s shutout debut, Fielding sours for me from the moment the near-perfect shortstop Henry Skrimshander commits his first error, sending himself and everyone around him into a funk of Steve Blass Disease.