When Dave Hilton's double created a novelist

Rob Neyer

Haruki Murakami has been ranked "among the world's greatest living novelists." 

This essay, published five years ago in The New Yorker, is largely about Murakami's decades as a long-distance runner.

Early in the piece, though, is this delightful passage about the moment when Murakami decided to write a novel. He'd never really entertained the notion before, and was fully occupied running his jazz club in Tokyo ...

I can pinpoint the exact moment when it happened. It was at 1:30 P.M., April 1, 1978. I was at Jingu Stadium, alone in the outfield, watching a baseball game. Jingu Stadium was within walking distance of my apartment at the time, and I was a fairly devoted Yakult Swallows fan. It was a beautiful spring day, cloudless, with a warm breeze blowing. There were no benches in the outfield seating area back then, just a grassy slope. I was lying on the grass, sipping a cold beer, gazing up occasionally at the sky, and enjoying the game. As usual, the stadium wasn’t very crowded. It was the season opener, and the Swallows were taking on the Hiroshima Carp. Takeshi Yasuda was pitching for the Swallows. He was a short, stocky pitcher with a wicked curveball. He easily retired the side in the top of the first inning. The lead-off batter for the Swallows was Dave Hilton, a young American player who was new to the team. Hilton got a hit down the left-field line. The crack of bat meeting ball echoed through the stadium. Hilton easily rounded first and pulled up to second. And it was at just that moment that a thought struck me: You know what? I could try writing a novel. I still remember the wide-open sky, the feel of the new grass, the satisfying crack of the bat. Something flew down from the sky at that instant, and, whatever it was, I accepted it.

If you're just a baseball fan, you can stop reading there. If you're a runner, I highly recommend reading Murakami's whole essay. If you're not a runner but have some interest in the human condition ... well, you know. There's an awful lot to read.