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The Art of Fielding follows four different characters as they play baseball, pop pain pills, and find love at Westish College—a fictional college in the real state of Wisconsin. Let's play ball!
First to bat is Henry Skrimshander. Henry is recruited by Mike Schwartz to play shortstop for the Westish Harpooners because Henry is the best shortstop ever. He attends Westish College, rooming with teammate Owen Dunne and continuing his impressive zero-error streak… until he makes an error. A throw goes wide, smacking Owen in the face and giving him a concussion. Henry feels guilty, which hurts his own game. His mounting fame—calls from agents, articles in the school paper, TMZ wondering if he's going out with Rihanna—causes him to continue to choke. He becomes worse and worse on the field, until one day he just quits.
Crushed by his own unachievable goals of perfection, Henry sulks in Pella Affenlight's apartment, doing the dishes and peeing in Gatorade bottles (we know: eww), until Pella's father, the president of Westish, gives Henry a plane ticket to go to Westish's championship game. Henry attends the big game, helps them win, and despite getting a big Major League Baseball contract, decides to stay at Westish and play the low-pressure college ball he loves.
Our second main character is Mike Schwartz. After recruiting Henry, Mike becomes jealous that Henry is seeing all this success while Mike is getting rejected by one law school after another. However, Pella Affenlight isn't rejecting him, and the two start up a relationship as she rebounds from her impending divorce. Baseball is hard on Mike's joints and back, and he takes a lot of pain pills to cope, until his doctor stops prescribing them. Then Mike just gets over everything overnight. It's a baseball miracle, like Field of Dreams. Even though Pella sleeps with Henry, Mike forgives her, and the two are together at the end (Pella and Mike, that is). Mike decides he doesn't want to go to law school after all, but instead wants to coach at Westish, his college home.
Thirdly, we have Pella Affenlight. After leaving her husband, David, Pella returns home to live with her father, Guert, who just happens to be Westish College's president. Pella likes going on dates and washing dishes, so she dates Mike and… washes his dishes. When Mike puts his baseball team before her, she sleeps with his teammate, Henry, until she decides that Henry is just too depressed for her. So, she goes back to Mike. She gets a job washing dishes at the school and takes classes. Maybe someday she'll own her own restaurant and she can pay herself to wash her own dishes.
Fourthly, there is Pella's dad: Guert Affenlight. Guert has a crush on Owen (remember the poor guy Henry knocked out with his errant throw?). Even though he's never liked another person with a Y-chromosome before, Guert starts an affair with Owen. Still, he stresses out for about 200 pages about whether or not this means he's gay, so he starts smoking and, well, he dies. Pella decides that, because her dad was on a boat once, he would want to be buried at sea. So she, Mike, Henry, and Owen dig up Pella's dad's dead body—which apparently doesn't gross them out in any way—and they dump him in Lake Michigan. The end. Seriously—after that, Mike and Henry go play baseball as if they didn't just dump a corpse in a lake. Um, play ball?