For most of his life, Josh Wilker has been on the sidelines. Spending his days in a cubicle in the far reaches of Chicago, and his nights in front of Red Sox games, he has been content to let others take center stage. From childhood onward, he sought comfort from anxiety and depression in the archival pages of sports almanacs and stat sheets: a place where forgotten players lingered, and time seemed to stop–a welcome relief from worldly problems. He found joy in the trivia of long-lost athletes, like the former NFL player Walter “Sneeze” Achiu.
But when his first child was born in 2011, Wilker found his anxieties put to the test: how do you remain on the sidelines when a tender, fragile baby needs everything from you? How do you go from third-string forward on the winless 1988 Johnson State College Badgers to a strong, responsible father? Bit by bit, Wilker learns to overcome his demons, protect his son, and eventually take a few wobbly steps with him.
In homage to his favorite pastimes, Wilker has written Benchwarmer as just that: an A-to-Z reference on failing at sports. In entries from Asterisk to Barry Bonds to “the Yips” to Zero, Wilker mingles his own story among those of famous collapses, errors, and also-rans. A candid, bighearted, funny presence, Wilker writes about sports the way Michael Chabon writes about comics, or Rob Sheffield writes about music: as if the universe was contained in every blocked shot or dropped fly ball. In Wilker’s hands, it is.