Baltimore Orioles provide purpose for dying man

“Final Season,” by Richard Frost (who reviews books for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise), is a first-person novel about baseball and dying. When 55-year-old physician Dan Jameson’s cancer progresses, he rejects further therapies and follows his passion: the Baltimore Orioles.

The novel begins with the Orioles playing the Kansas City Royals at Camden Yards on April 30, 1993. The Orioles win the game, and we are introduced to our narrator, who is losing his battle with lymphoma.

Soon we are on the road with Jameson, driving from Baltimore to attend games in Minnesota, Toronto, Boston and New York, and flying to see the Orioles on the West Coast. His journey is not an uncommon desire — many of us who once dreamed of playing major league baseball later dream of buying an RV and visiting every team’s stadium.

The leisurely pace of baseball, as well as its intricacies and geometry, allows Jameson to look at the field, muse about life and keep score. Baseball is the frame Jameson sees everything through, the game that has no clock for a man whose days are numbered. Baseball allows Jameson to approach his end with few regrets: “There may be more pleasant ways to spend a sunny summer afternoon than sitting in the Club Section of Camden Yards, but it’s hard imagining them.”

Soon, however, in Milwaukee in June, Jameson acquires a traveling companion. Sitting in his car and mapping out his route to Cleveland, “She tapped on the glass. I pushed the button, and the window slid down. ‘Hey, mister. Willing to give a girl a ride?'”

Jameson does, and non-baseball fan Janice joins his Orioles odyssey, providing an eager audience for Jameson’s observations. The relationship between the 55-year-old man and the 20-something woman is, of course, curious. But slowly they reveal themselves to each other, often indirectly and implicitly, talking mostly about baseball and what to do with the time Dan has left.

The teacher-student dynamic, naturally, mutates. Janice urges Dan to involve himself in something other than baseball as his life winds down. And he does, in his own way — he arranges for an Orioles player to visit the children’s ward of the Baltimore hospital.

As his illness takes its toll, Janice becomes more important.

“I found myself wishing I could live longer just to be around her,” Jameson says.

Frost, who is a physician himself, is familiar with medicine, illness, therapies and hospitals. His writing about patient-doctor conferences, for example, is well done.

“Final Season” is reminiscent of other books that create a frame for philosophical observations. Robert Pirsig’s 1974 “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” comes to mind. Pirsig’s captivating meanderings surrounded his motorcycle journey with his son. Baseball games are Jameson’s motorcycle ride.

William Least Heat-Moon’s 1982 “Blue Highways” took readers off America’s superhighways onto local roads and into small towns (think of Route 30 in the Adirondacks). Dan Jameson often takes an indirect route from one baseball stadium to the next.

Fortunately, Frost is a very good travel writer, with years of essays and books behind him, and “Final Season” has good descriptions of Harry Truman’s home in Missouri and the beginning of Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, for example. His writing about towns and diners and wait staff are as good as his baseball descriptions.

Dan Jameson dies, before the season ends, in his seat at Camden Yards, where he had watched his Orioles play the Tigers. Baltimore ends up in third place, 10 games behind the winning Toronto Blue Jays and a few games behind the Yankees.

“Final Season” is not perfect. There are structural problems, and the dialogue sometimes clunks. But Frost writes well about America, baseball and people. It’s a good book to pick up as the season winds down.