The Joy of the Pain

The debut novel of a Red Sox fan arrives just in time

Welcome to Warning Track Power, a weekly newsletter of baseball stories and analysis grounded in front office and scouting experiences and the personalities encountered along the way.

There were times when I wondered how the best dressed man in the room — generally in a suit that declared allegiance to Brooklyn over Madison Avenue — could deliver two hours of high-energy output behind the keyboards. What kind of dress shoes allowed him to jump in place hundreds of times on any given night? Surely, no rock musician has ever lost his job for opting into a pair of Chuck Taylors.

On stage with The Hold Steady, America’s best bar band, Franz Nicolay throttles up and down, depending on his role in any song. Sometimes he’s busy on the keyboard; other times his hands are full with an accordion. Then there are times that he takes on a more complementary role, fully embracing the opportunity to be a cheerleader and good teammate, urging on fans while supplying backing vocals and a piano riff that allows one hand to remain in the air.

Often sporting a tie and always in a hat befitting an old-world gentleman of a bygone era, Franz plays every song — let’s turn to one of the simplest sports clichés here — as if it could be his last.

Damn it, I should’ve known.

As a kid, he was “obsessed” with baseball. When his talent came up short, his energy compensated for it. A scrappy middle infielder, Franz modeled his game after Marty Barrett, the Red Sox second baseman throughout much of the ’80s whose OBP and SLG were never too far apart.

Musically, Franz’s chops speak for themselves. He doesn’t need to get his uniform dirty to earn or keep his spot on stage.

His presence and awareness make more sense now.

When he speaks of his favorite player from childhood, 1986 ALCS MVP Barrett, Franz chuckles about “the guy who could pull off the hidden ball trick every now and then.”

I realize then that Franz just might be the guy in the room who’s one step ahead.

His debut novel, Someone Should Pay For Your Pain, suggests so.

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The multi-instrumentalist explores the uneasy twilight of the career of a lifer in the music business. This work of fiction is informed by years of riding in the van and traveling across the country — and around the world — playing music. Franz has lived the research required to excel in this genre; perhaps this book is the cautionary tale his subconscious presents.

This is not a baseball novel, no. But baseball and music are first cousins, sometimes with incestuous inclinations. Ballplayers want to be rock stars, and rock stars want to be ballplayers. I can’t blame either party.

So you don’t have to squint too much for this novel about band members and shifting dynamics to become a baseball novel — the grind of the road, van life, otherwise inhumane living conditions. Is this minor league baseball? This is the love of the game.

As Franz’s narrator navigates the complexities of band’s spiritual unity in the moment of performing, he writes:

Neither simple words nor corporeal metaphor was the medium: the medium was the moment itself, nothing more. The moment could survive for a while, an ebullient bubble above the trees, borrowing time before an unpredictable pop. The moment could diffuse slowly, borne away in bodies one by one like melting shards of light. The only certainty was its dissolution, the joy-death of the universe.

You could spend the rest of your life trying to stay in that moment. Trying to keep that moment alive.

Can’t you hear Bob Costas’ voiceover prior to first pitch of the World Series?

I think the oversimplified version of those words is: Glory days, they’ll pass you by.

Guitars and bats, drums and catchers’ gear, faded jeans and numbered jerseys, Converse: flat-soled or with spikes. The dreams of the big stage are no different, the anonymous nightly struggles in substandard venues the same.


On cue, we shift our attention to this past Tuesday night at Target Field, where The Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn threw out the first pitch.

“We were in the studio last week, and he was practicing,” Franz says of Craig. “He didn't want to throw it in the dirt, although apparently he did.”

Baseball runs deep through The Hold Steady.

“Any time I had a day off, I would see if there was a minor league team [in town],” Franz says about life on tour. “I love going to see minor league baseball.”

The original drummer of the band, Judd Counsell, is the cousin of two-time World Series winner and current Brewers manager Craig Counsell.

Galen Polivka, bass player in THS, is a Brewers fan who grew up with the Counsells in Wisconsin.

Franz, too, has a Major League connection. When he was a high school freshman playing JV baseball, current Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer was a senior on the varsity.

Franz turns two in a different way now. The novelist-musician is as masterful on a qwerty keyboard as he is on one with 88 keys.

Someone Should Pay For Your Pain requires a slow hand. Every word counts. There’s an intentionality and discipline to Franz Nicolay’s prose that demands the reader’s focus. As we learn through sports and music, this book teaches — one gig at a time, one drink at a time — that the bounties of the craft are often in the pursuit.

Someone Should Pay For Your Pain becomes available on August 24. Pre-order it here at bookshop.org, or find it at your local bookstore.

Now For The Bad News, Franz

At the end of play on July 4, the Yankees sat in fourth place, 10 games behind the then-first place Red Sox.

This morning, the Yankees find themselves one game ahead of the Red Sox and in possession of the first Wild Card spot.

Bronx native Andrew Velazquez is the latest in a line of unexpected heroes to lead the Bombers to victory.

Velazquez was a seventh-round selection by the D-backs in the 2012 Draft. As a 19-year-old in the Midwest League in 2014, he set a minor league record by reaching base in 72 consecutive games.

He had a swagger back then, a blend of confidence and cockiness that an undersized kid would need if he wanted to succeed at higher levels.

He entered Wednesday’s game a career .157 hitter in the big leagues — with five RBIs. He chipped in with two run-scoring singles and one of the best defensive plays of the year to end the game. Click here to see the highlight package all at once.

I love how he seems to will his first base hit up the middle. Both knocks need to be placed perfectly to squeak though, but they’ll show up as line drives in the box score today. Feel it, Andrew!

You could spend the rest of your life trying to stay in that moment. Trying to keep that moment alive.

Thank you for reading Warning Track Power. Subscribe now to have WTP delivered to your inbox every Thursday. If you need me, I’ll be listening to The Hold Steady.