Baseball players, great stadiums, pols and poets

William McKeen is chairman of the University of Florida’s Department of Journalism and author of several books, including the Hunter S. Thompson biography Outlaw Journalist.

TAKE US OUT TO THE BALL GAME: For those of you already weary of the holidays, here’s a  bit of good news: only three months until pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

After this great

Of course, there’s the stadium thing. Tropicana Field has all the architectural charm of a Sam’s Club. But it’s not always about bricks, mortar and aluminum sheeting.  It’s the history and memories that make a great ballpark, and a lot of other stadiums have a head start on the Trop. Some of them are about to start their second century.

But great baseball history isn’t enough to save a ballpark. My beloved Tiger Stadium fell to the bulldozer. Every year, there are whispers about the futures of Wrigley and Fenway.

Nothing is sacred in sports commerce. Yankee Stadium, the House that Ruth Built, is no more. A new Yankee Stadium will open next season and one of the great traditions of baseball will be gone.

For  baseball lovers, but especially for Yankee fans,  you must get Harvey Frommer’s Remembering Yankee Stadium (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, $45).

This massive testament to one of the great sports venues in the world is more than just a pretty coffee-table book. Frommer, who has written 40 sports books, has put together an oral history of the Yankees from players, clubhouse boys, sports writers, fans … hell, he even has Michael Bolton in the book. But don’t hold that against him.

This is everything a great sports book should be. Frommer knows Yankee history and lore backwards and forwards, and this is the sort of book you’ll end up reading cover to cover a half dozen times.

The pictures are phenomenal – especially a lot of full-page, full-color previously unpublished photos from the Roger Maris-Mickey Mantle era. Though he has a lot of oral history in the book, all of the disparate quotes are connected by a great narrative. Frommer is particularly good is describing that wonderful 1961 season.

This is the Christmas present that will get you through the rough spots, and help you keep your eyes on the prize: Opening Day in April.

And it will make you wonder: Do they really have to tear it down?

THE 2012 CAMPAIGN BEGINS: Don’t forget that former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has a reading and signing sponsored by Inkwood Books this Friday. Instead of getting up early to stand in line with the mouthbreathers for the Biggest-Pain-in-the-Ass-Shopping-Day-of-the-Year, head out to Hyde Park for Huckabee’s talk and signing.

He’s flogging Do the Right Thing (Sentinel, $25.95), his account of the failed campaign. It’s a remarkably readable story – not exactly Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, but far from a boring romp with a policy wonk.

It’s also the first volley in his new try for the presidency, so the book is part manifesto. Despite this, it manages to remain entertaining. Huckabee comes off as someone with a little more zest for life than your usual presidential candidate. Face it, he was one of the most interesting parts of the GOP primary season, and not just because his name is Huckabee.

“President Huckabee.” Can we say that with a straight face?

Back to the signing: It’s only for one hour – from 9-10 a.m. on Friday at Hyde Park Village. Inkwood tells us the autographing is limited to books purchased from the store.

Of course, if Huckabee really wants to endear himself to voters, his next book will be a weight-loss guide. He lost 110 pounds a few years back and if he could help me do the same, he’d have my vote.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT: Attention, poetry readers! Yeah – you there, behind the potted plant. I’m talking to you.

Maybe there aren’t a lot of poetry readers who are secure enough to stand up and spout verse. Quick! Name a poet! Wait … those people don’t count. Name a living poet.

Oprah fans might name Maya Angelou, but serious poetry readers will probably come up with the name of Seamus Heaney. The Irish poet who won the 1995 Nobel Prize for Literature. The dude who made Beowulf hip again with his 1999 translation.

Stepping Stones (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $32) is one of the most unusual autobiographies I’ve ever read. Heaney tells his story in a series of conversations with Dennis O’Driscoll.

Whether you like poetry – Heaney’s or anyone else’s – is kind of beside the point. Stepping Stones is the story of a great life. Born in Northern Ireland as one of nine children, Heaney grew up in the shadow of the Second World War and came of age in the 1950s.

As much as a great telling of a life story, Stepping Stones is also a meditation on creativity. You might think: I have no interest in poetry; I would not enjoy this book.

You would be wrong.

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