ANN ARBOR - It was a chance conversation that started because a student was late.
University of Michigan professor of biomedical engineering Brian Love and clinical lecturer and anesthesiologist Michael Burns were waiting for a student to arrive as part of a collaborative research project the two had been working on together when they realized they didn't have much to talk about.
"I like to think of it as a mistake meeting, (which) led to a creative outlet," said Love. "We were waiting for our student to arrive and we had this awkward pause. So we started talking about other things unrelated to the project. I asked what he’s interested in on the side, and he said, 'I’m interested in sports.'"
"I'm an avid sports fan -- I follow just about everything," said Burns. "The internet is there, you can follow anything you want and with a lot of the analytics, there’s a lot of stats that didn’t exist before. Some are worthless and some are exciting. We met and we started talking. Most of my hobby conversations end up going down to sports anyway."
As it turns out, Love had just published his first book not long before -- a textbook that took more than a decade to complete. He was ready for a new project and had been writing chapters for a book about competitive advantage in sports.
"So he said, ‘How’d you like to be involved? I’m looking for someone to help with this.' And I said, ‘Yeah, absolutely,'" said Burns. "I have a lot on my plate, but I always want to do interesting projects, and if you turn these things down, then you’re not going to be able to drum them up when you have time. You carve out time when you can. And luckily, in my profession, I don’t sleep that much as is. I work on stuff at weird hours and it just works out and I wanted to do this."
They got to work and in about a year, "Corked: Tales of Advantage in Competitive Sports" was ready for publication.
They decided to publish with Ann Arbor District Library's Fifth Avenue Press.
"We could have gone to other publishers," said Love. "But the thought of sending it to Penguin or some other press operation, I don’t think we would have learned as much about the rest of the process."
Meeting at a local coffee shop, it was clear to me just how much the colleagues and now published co-authors share a mutual love for sports. They would tell stories about bizarre playing fields like Clark Field in Austin, Texas, which had a limestone cliff in its outfield with a goat path that posed an unusual challenge to players. Love and Burns laughed while recalling the first time they learned of the famed field, with Love calling it a "farce."
The book reads just as they talk among themselves. It's compelling, humorous and informative all at the same time.
It focuses on a variety of sports, casual and competitive, through 26 vignettes. Some vignettes will analyze a sport from a historical perspective, others from a technical one. But each story aims to get the reader to see sports in a different light and perhaps even watch them differently.
"Every chapter in that book, I learned something from," said Burns. "These are stories that need to be told. We would gather stories and find experts, verify and really dive deeper."
"From my perspective, I think of sport as a kind of continuum," said Love. "On one end are completely unregulated sports that have no money and no investment, people play wherever they can. Think Frisbee golf, ultimate Frisbee or pickle ball. It’s completely unorganized and nobody really cares who wins. And on the other end, you have these multi-million dollar sports with cartel-based relations. When you get to that level, suddenly everything becomes more standardized -- and the interesting things fall away."
Love and Burns hope the book will be a conversation starter for families, friends or in their case, colleagues. The fact that they found common ground in an unusual circumstance hasn't been lost on them, and they hope Corked can provide that same interaction for others that it did for them.
"A funny meeting led to a book," said Love. "It goes to show how Ann Arborites can get together and create awesome content."
Learn more about Corked and buy a copy at www.corkedthebook.com.
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