SEATTLE – Mariners closer Brandon Morrow is often sprawled on a clubhouse sofa, or the dugout bench using what appears to be a giant Blackberry or iPhone.
But Morrow isn’t sending out text messages as he fiddles with the device’s controls. The young pitcher holds an electronic book reader and he’s absorbing one of the 2,300 or so digital pages of “The Pillars of the Earth,” an epic 1989 novel by Ken Follett.
In the same clubhouse, another Mariners pitcher is also an avid reader. But Jarrod Washburn is flipping pages instead of fiddling with buttons.
“I like buying the books so I can put them in my library at home,” Washburn said, peering over Morrow’s shoulder at his digital reader. “I don’t know why, but I like the idea of buying the book, and they have to be hardcover. I don’t like buying softcover.”
The two aren’t certain whether their reading habits are shaped along generational lines or not. Morrow is 24 and grew up in an era of electronic gadgetry. Washburn is 10 years his senior and was raised in rural Wisconsin.
Reading has long been up there with card playing, movie watching and tobacco chewing as a way for baseball players to pass the long hours between cities and before games. And players are usually well ahead of the general public in latching on to new products that simplify their busy lifestyle. After all, money isn’t an issue.
Sometimes, it’s a lighter suitcase that stores clothes more compactly, allowing them a deeper wardrobe on trips. Or a smaller, higher resolution laptop that can play their movies and music and download photos without getting in the way of their dinner tray on a plane.
Or, in this case, something that simplifies the easiest of pursuits, reading. Morrow’s e-reader retails for around $300. He figures it’s something that could eventually catch on with fellow players, though it hasn’t just yet.
“I don’t really know anyone else who has one,” he said.
Old habits die hard. Unlike a new suitcase or laptop, reading a digital screen instead of flipping pages of a book can seem foreign.
Several readers are on the market, but Morrow’s is a Sony PRS-500, which weighs less than nine ounces and opens like a small book. Its big selling point is a digital screen that has no backlighting and gives the “pages” a matted look just like Morrow would get from reading any paperback.
“That’s one great thing about it,” Morrow said. “It’s just like reading a book page and you don’t get that glare. If you did, you’d get a headache from staring at it all day.”
But there’s one huge difference between using his reader, given to Morrow as a birthday gift nearly three years ago, and simply reading a novel. The reader can store several books at a time, each downloaded via computer from an online bookstore site for about $3 to $12 and then transferred to the handheld device. When Morrow is done reading, there’s no need to hurry back to his locker to put the book away. He can simply stuff the half-inch-thick device in his back pocket and hustle off to the nearest pitcher’s meeting. Or slip it into his sports jacket as he’s stepping off an airplane.
“For the travel, it’s great,” he said. “It’s just so convenient. I took it with me to Venezuela when I went to play winter ball. I think it’s what kept me sane.”
Morrow and Washburn clearly share a passion for reading. When Washburn hears that Morrow is reading “The Pillars of the Earth,” his eyes light up.
“Best book ever written,” Washburn told him. “Best one that I’ve ever read, hands down. It’s about 1,100 pages. I think it took me four days.
“It’s about medieval times, something I’m not at all interested in. Someone just told me to read this book, and that it’d be an experience I’d never forget.”
Morrow nods in agreement.
“It’s about religion,” Morrow said. “I’d say that’s the main theme.”
“It’s about building cathedrals,” Washburn said. “Back in the days when they didn’t have the equipment to do those kinds of things.”
Among the titles Morrow has read digitally include George Orwell’s “1984;” “The Kite Runner,” by Khaled Hosseini; “Wicked,” by Gregory Maguire; and “The Golden Compass: Books 1 through 3,” by Philip Pullman.
Morrow said he can always go out and buy the hardcover versions later. And carrying around multiple books on a trip can become cumbersome.
His next goal is to upgrade: He wants to buy an Amazon Kindle 2. The Kindle can download book titles straight to the reader itself.
“That would be awesome, because you can get a new book wherever you are,” he said. “With what we do, we’re always someplace different.”