The base­ball wives of the Washington Na­tion­als.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - RE­VIEW BY HANK H. COX book­world@wash­post.com Hank H. Cox is a writer liv­ing in Takoma Park, Md.

‘Pay no at­ten­tion to that man be­hind the cur­tain,” in­toned the ven­er­a­ble Wiz­ard of Oz. Those who love base­ball — es­pe­cially Na­tion­als fans — may want to heed the wiz­ard’s warn­ing be­fore open­ing this book. It may tell them things about the Amer­i­can pas­time they would rather not know. In “The Grind,” Barry Svrluga, a sports­writer for The Wash­in­ton Post, had ac­cess to Nats play­ers and staff, as well as play­ers’ wives, and has com­piled an en­light­en­ing in­side look at the world of pro­fes­sional base­ball.

Watch­ing the Nats play on a sunny af­ter­noon, one may envy those frisky fel­lows who seem to be hav­ing fun while mak­ing big money. In fact, they are hav­ing fun and mak­ing good money — a few of them lots of money— but they are acutely aware of be­ing at the top of a slip­pery pyra­mid, never cer­tain if and when they will slide off. As Svrluga re­minds us, there is a steady drum­beat of per­son­nel turnover be­cause of in­juries, poor per­for­mance, trades and a host of other fac­tors.

The prospect of sud­den re­moval is a source of con­stant anx­i­ety to the play­ers, es­pe­cially those with fam­i­lies who must ei­ther up­root them­selves from their homes or wave good­bye to Daddy for a pro­longed pe­riod of time. “Base­ball wives are ex­pected to wed at a cer­tain time of year,” Svrluga writes, “to give birth at a cer­tain time of year, to pick up the toys and the car and the dogs and the kids when Dad is sent to the mi­nors or traded mid­sea­son. They are full time moms, part-time real es­tate agents, oc­ca­sional fathers, all-hours dog walk­ers, lo­gis­ti­cal ma­gi­cians.” It can be stress­ful.

The wives, of course, are not among the 1,100 peo­ple on the Nats’ pay­roll in ad­di­tion to the 200 or so play­ers, most of whom toil in the mi­nor leagues. The other em­ploy­ees are kept busy at­tend­ing to myr­iad de­tails. To move a base­ball team with all its equip­ment and the play­ers’ per­sonal be­long­ings to a dis­tant town for a three- or four-day se­ries is a lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenge. But the play­ers don’t have to worry. When they get to the ho­tel, their suit­cases are in their rooms. They just have to play. Of­fi­cially, the base­ball sea­son be­gins with spring train­ing in mid-Fe­bru­ary and runs through Oc­to­ber, but it never re­ally stops. In the win­ter the ath­letes are work­ing out to stay in shape, and man­age­ment is study­ing films, adding up bud­gets and mak­ing deals. It truly is a re­lent­less grind, but what shines through Svrluga’s story is an abid­ing love of the game that binds all these dis­parate char­ac­ters to­gether over a long sea­son — and con­nects them with the fans. There is no place they would rather be, noth­ing they would rather be do­ing.

TONI L. SANDYS/THE WASHINGTON POST

Chelsey Desmond, wife of Na­tion­als short­stop Ian Desmond, holds her son Cruz while Grayson, 3, watches the game in Na­tion­als Park’s fam­ily room. The un­cer­tain­ties of life as a ballplayer can be stress­ful for fam­i­lies.

THE GRIND In­side Base­ball’s End­less Sea­son By Barry Svrluga Blue Rider. 176 pp. $23.95

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