For the Love of the Game

Although they eventually made the playoffs, the New York Yankees were stinking up the joint back in April 2007, and super fan Jane Heller had had enough. The former literary publicist turned novelist – eight of her 13 books have been optioned for film or television – decided to air her grievances via an op-ed piece for The New York Times announcing her intention to "divorce" the Yankees.

That's when the you-know-what hit the fan, pun intended.

The backlash to the article sent Heller – who moved to Montecito with her real husband, photographer Michael Forester, three years ago – out on the road, where she followed the Yankees to every game in an effort to check on her own passion and maybe help the team in the process.

The result of that obsessive family expedition, "Confessions of a She-Fan: The Course of True Love with the New York Yankees," was published earlier this month, and the chick-lit spin on baseball's Evil Empire is the most unlikely "sports" book you'll ever read.

Consider: Heller questions superstar slugger Alex Rodriguez's reported insecurity in relation to the size of his, uh, equipment, while still in the prologue; finds a villain in Yankees' publicist Jason Zillo, who has banned her from the press box; refers to the Yankees as "we" – as in "We play a double-header" or "We're gaining in the standings" – ("When you're a true fan, it's like we're part of each other's families," she explained); keeps a detective-story thread running throughout the book about whether she'll land an actual player for an interview; and spends a lot less ink, especially in the later chapters, on the nitty-gritty of the game than she does on the process of fandom and her journey of self-discovery.

Along the way we hear advice from Heller's Montecito neighbors, including photographer Dorothy Dar; revisit the fear of the summer's Zaca Fire possibly heading into town, and learn all about Forester's debilitating issue with Crohn's Disease, all in a very breezy read. Try that, Joe Torre!

Heller will appear at the "Take Me Out to the Book Launch!" party and book signing at 3 pm on Feb. 28 at Hollister Brewing Company at the Marketplace in Goleta, joined by famed Montecito actor Tab Hunter – the star of "Damn Yankees" – as well as Santa Barbara Foresters players and coaches.

She discussed the book with me in a recent conversation. Here are some excerpts.

Q. I've read the book, Jane. No offense, but you do know you really are a bit insane, right?

A. (Laughs ) Well, yeah! But where do you think the word "fan" comes from? But I'm not that unusual. People have been e-mailing me things like "Finally, someone who's like me! I'm going to give this to my wife so she understands me." I'm not alone, trust me.

And I'm a bit better now. It was a learning experience. I did have a journey, as lofty as that sounds. I used to carry their losses with me. If they played a day game, which would be ten in the morning here, and they lost, I'd be grumpy and crabby the whole rest of the day. But after writing the book, that was the end of it. Now I just get on with it. I realized…that Yankee fans don't understand how hard it is to win, because we got spoiled. And it's true. But when you're on the road and you see the grind of the travel – it was hard for me, and I wasn't playing! – I have a new appreciation.

But you still love the Yankees.

Well, of course!

How did you get so obsessed? Most people, especially women, think baseball is boring.

Especially my women friends. They think I'm some sort of freak. I have a line in the book that I'd rather talk about Johnny Damon than Jimmy Choo. The thing is, I'm as girly as the next girl. But for me, this is much more interesting.

The way I became a fan is that when I was six my father died, and my two grandfathers would come over on the weekend, and light up cigars and watch the Yankee game. They taught me how to keep score. When Mickey Mantle hit a home run, everybody was happy. You gravitate towards sports as an escape. And I still see the Yankees and baseball as part of a cheerful time.

Did you notice at some point that this obsession probably wasn't physically good for you?

Yeah. I wasn't happy being that way. The high's were too high and the lows were too low. I guess that's how you describe someone who's bipolar. It got a little intense. I was ignoring my husband in favor of ballplayers I'd never know. The season would start and I'd say, "Bye." It's like he was a sports widower. Although Michael is a big fan, but just not like me.

Speaking of that, how was your husband with all of this? How did Michael react to all of your private laundry – and his medical conditions – being aired for all to read?

Obviously I didn't write anything without his permission. But he did have to sign a release. Publishers are being so careful these days, so I had to get them from any of the friends I talk about, show them the pages and have them sign off. Now Michael is the one getting fan mail. That's the hysterical part. People think he's the Zen master. I wrote that he should get combat pay for putting up with me, and it's true. But he loved every second of it. He loves baseball, just not in such a noisy way as I do.

There's been a wonderful byproduct of the book coming out. We've been in contact with the national organization on Crohn's disease, wondering how we can help. We'd like to have Michael be a spokesperson to show that people who suffer from the disease can not only function, but can go on tours of ballparks and eat hot dogs all day!

What was your favorite moment of the season?

It had to be the last game of final Red Sox series…when the Yankees were fighting for a playoff spot. We were ahead 4-3, Mariano Rivera was on the mound trying to close it out. (Red Sox slugger David) Ortiz is up with the bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the ninth. It's that moment where you say, "Oh my god." But I was feeling like I couldn’t bear it any more, I couldn't take the torture, the tension, the stress. If he pops the ball out (a home run) that would've been it. Then I looked at Michael and he's smiling thinking this is as good as it gets. I felt horrible. That's when I realized there was another way to look at this.

I would think the worst had to be the insects during the playoff game in Cleveland.

It was so surreal. I overheard a fan saying, "That bug spray doesn't work. It just attracts them." And I kept saying to Michael, "I've got to go help them. I have to share this intel." I felt this responsibility, like I should jump on the field and run over to the trainer and tell them what I heard. I'm not quite that nuts. But I really did want to stop the madness.

Now of course as a diehard Red Sox fan, I was completely taken aback with how you treated all those, ahem, smart and reasonable Boston fans like they were serial killers, or worse. What's up with that?

I think I was perfectly well behaved unless I was provoked. Then I'd say to Michael, "C'mon, they started it!" And he said, "What are you, in kindergarten?" He was right. It's completely juvenile. I admit it. I'm guilty, guilty, guilty. It's childish and silly, but I think it's part of what I love about it. We have such responsibilities as grownups. (Rooting for your team) is a great way not to have to deal with it.

The book is as much about you and Michael and the people around the Yankees as it is about the season or the game.

It's a memoir. It's my story. I went on the road initially to prove to those New York Times readers that I wasn't a traitor, only to find maybe I wasn't such a true fan after all, and it really was all about the winning. Then the odyssey of trying to gain access to the clubhouse and getting rebuffed over and over turned out to be a great thing. I got to be with the fans and watch the games from the very point of view I was trying to understand. It made a much better story for me to figure out what it means to be a fan in all its many facets.

So how has the book been received?

Joe Torre's book came out the same day mine did, so nobody was really worried about my little book. And then the A-Rod stuff about steroids hit. So it's been hard to get some traction….But actually I think it's benefited me. Nobody wanted to think about baseball when they were first pitching me to the talk shows in January. Then Torre hit the headlines, and our books got linked on same product page on Amazon.com. And with A-Rod I've been doing radio shows giving the super fan's perspective. Every time there's a controversy now, I get a call.

You wrote that you were working on a novel when the Yankee thing came about. What's going on with that?

Oh, gosh. This saved me from it. It was really going nowhere and I think it will stay there. It's in the closet somewhere.

So what's next?

I just got an offer to do something else baseball related. I have this idea for a completely new way of chronicling a season, so I may just do it.

You've had eight of your novels optioned. But nothing has actually been made yet?

That's right, and it's time to change that. I'm really tired of it….While it's been very lucrative and somewhat flattering, I'm like, "Okay, where's the movie?" After I had four of them optioned in one year, I figured I had a little more leverage, and could have my agent ask if I could write the screenplay. The answer came back, "Sure."… But then I turned in two drafts and just like all the others, nothing happened. I'm actually hoping that the "She-Fan" book has a chance. I sent it to Penny Marshall (who directed "A League of Their Own," the successful film about a women’s baseball league). She's a big Yankees fan. So who knows?

How did you come to live in Montecito?

We’ve had a nomadic existence. We were living in Connecticut and had just bought a house, an 1810 colonial, and then there was this horrible blizzard. And we looked at each other and said, "Why are we staying here?" It was really that simple. But when you grow up in the Northeast you think Florida first. We ended up staying for seven years. Then we had another of those conversations where we asked, "Is this it? Is this what we want forever?" Everybody was retired and there's not a lot going on culturally. We were feeling the itch to move.

Both of us had cousins in L.A., and since some of my novels had been optioned for films, I thought, "Maybe I should get more involved in that aspect of my career." While we were in L.A. , which was another six years, we kept coming up here visiting friends who had a really nice house on the beach, and kept thinking how nice it was, and eventually just decided to move here in 2006.

So you're still a newbie, but what's your idea of a perfect Montecito day?

We belong to the (SBIFF) Cinema Society, so my favorite day is getting up and going to the Riviera Theatre at 11am on a Saturday or Sunday and seeing something great. I love movies. I wish they'd make one out of my books. I also love walking on East Beach. I'm always there with my Yankee cap on.

Really? I play volleyball there all the time. I haven't seen you recently.

Yeah, well, I'm a warm weather person. If it's the least bit cold, I just bag it.

Boyle’s Back with “The Women”

T. C. Boyle, Montecito's intrepid novelist and a master at fashioning fascinating fiction out of creative, perfectionist real-life characters of the last century (sex researcher Alfred Kinsey in "The Inner Circle," cereal magnate John Harvey Kellogg in his earlier hit "The Road to Wellsville"), has taken on another powerful icon with his latest tome.

"The Women" is a portrait of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, including his career and achievements as seen through the perspective of the four most important women in his life. If the provocatively witty and typically sly 464-page hits closer to home than previous work from Boyle – who often laces his short stories with thinly disguised local landmarks – that's understandable; the writer lives in the George C. Stewart House, the first private residence Wright built in California.

Boyle is currently out on a national book tour promoting "The Women," which winds up this Sunday with a 3 pm reading at Chaucer's in Santa Barbara.