The lead-off double that sparked Murakami’s writing career

I was browsing in a local independent book shop with my daughter today. The serendipity of discovery in a book shop has an organic vitality to it that Amazon’s algorithms just can’t match.

The staff had placed copies of famed Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami’s newest release, Wind/Pinball: Two Novels (which, actually, were his first two novels), on a front table, and I opened it to the introduction and read this remarkable story of how his writing career began:

One bright April afternoon in 1978, I attended a baseball game at Jingu Stadium, not far from where I lived and worked. It was the Central League season opener, first pitch at one o’clock, the Yakult Swallows against the Hiroshima Carp. I was already a Swallows fan in those days, so I sometimes popped in to catch a game—a substitute, as it were, for taking a walk.

Back then, the Swallows were a perennially weak team (you might guess as much from their name) with little money and no flashy big-name players. Naturally, they weren’t very popular. Season opener it may have been, but only a few fans were sitting beyond the outfield fence. I stretched out with a beer to watch the game. At the time there were no bleacher seats out there, just a grassy slope. The sky was a sparkling blue, the draft beer as cold as could be, and the ball strikingly white against the green field, the first green I had seen in a long while. The Swallows first batter was Dave Hilton, a skinny newcomer from the States and a complete unknown. He batted in the leadoff position. The cleanup hitter was Charlie Manuel, who later became famous as the manager of the Cleveland Indians and the Philadelphia Phillies. Then, though, he was a real stud, a slugger the Japanese fans had dubbed “the Red Demon.”

I think Hiroshima’s starting pitcher that day was Yoshiro Sotokoba. Yakult countered with Takeshi Yasuda. In the bottom of the first inning, Hilton slammed Sotokoba’s first pitch into left field for a clean double. The satisfying crack when the bat met the ball resounded throughout Jingu Stadium. Scattered applause rose around me. In that instant, for no reason and on no grounds whatsoever, the thought suddenly struck me: I think I can write a novel.

I can still recall the exact sensation. It felt as if something had come fluttering down from the sky, and I had caught it cleanly in my hands. I had no idea why it had chanced to fall into my grasp. I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now. Whatever the reason, it had taken place. It was like a revelation. Or maybe epiphany is the closest word. All I can say is that my life was drastically and permanently altered in that instant—when Dave Hilton belted that beautiful, ringing double at Jingu Stadium.

He then went home and began writing his first novel, thus beginning a distinguished career as one of the most significant writers of the generation. 

What an odd way to have a career epiphany. Maybe I’ve had similar moments where my attention was on one thing and an insight from elsewhere struck me. 

But Murakami’s story is remarkable because the next morning he arose early and started writing. And he kept at it over many months until he had written his first novel. That first attempt ended up winning a writing prize and made him into a full-time author. 

The Dave Hilton double and its resulting epiphany wouldn’t amount to much of a story if Murakami hadn’t taken action, if he hadn’t begun doing what novelists do. 

And that’s the real lesson for me. Don’t hope for a light-bulb moment (or a lead-off double moment). Just decide what gift you want to share and get busy doing something about it. 

Act as if you are who you want to be and do what that person would do.