By Joe Tash
To Alan Mindell, the phrase “life begins at 70” is much more than a pithy saying. Since entering his eighth decade, Mindell has published his first novel, won gold medals in the Senior Olympics, cheered as his thoroughbred horse won races and led group tours for the travel company he founded.
For his next venture, he plans to give motivational talks to seniors at local community centers.
“You don’t give up. Just keep going. Good things can happen, you never know,” said Mindell, a trim 72-year-old who moved to Solana Beach nearly a decade ago.
Mindell’s novel, a story about both love and baseball called “The Closer,” was published June 30 by Sunbury Press. Since publication, he said, it has been listed in several of Amazon.com’s bestseller lists, including reaching No. 1 paperback bestseller in new sports fiction.
A self-described existentialist — which he said is a person who searches for meaning in life — Mindell was influenced by writers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus during his days as a college student at UC Berkeley, where he also played on the school’s varsity baseball team.
“Perseverance is key to life and life begets life. The more active you are, the more life comes to you. If that’s not an existentialist thought, I don’t know what is,” Mindell said.
The lives of Mindell and his main character in “The Closer,” knuckleball pitcher Terry Landers, do have parallels. Mindell spent 15 years trying to publish a novel, while Terry Landers spent 15 years in the minor leagues before getting his chance in “the show.”
Early in the book, Terry is feeling sorry for himself after a bad outing. “As he neared the door to the bungalow, his smile turned to a frown. What else did he have besides this place and the clothes on his back to show for fifteen years in professional baseball? Not much. Wasn’t it time to face facts? His baseball career had been a failure and he was wasting his time staying with it any longer.”
As the story progresses, though, Terry’s luck changes, and he finds himself on a Major League team in a pennant race. He also befriends a woman and her three children, which transforms his personal life as well.
Mindell wrote an unpublished novel while in his 20s, but then stopped writing as he focused on his travel business. When he sold the company about 15 years ago, he picked up the pen again, and wrote three novels. He opted not to self-publish, instead seeking a traditional publisher.
“I felt my work was good enough to do that,” Mindell said.
As to the success he’s enjoyed in various endeavors since turning 70, Mindell said “It’s maybe a little magic.”
“I consider myself very lucky,” he said, and that publishing his first book was “a dream come true.”
He’s now focused on updating and editing another novel about horse racing, called “The B Team,” which he also hopes to publish.
Mindell said his prospects for publishing “The Closer” may have been boosted by the success of R.A. Dickey, a knuckleball pitcher who won baseball’s highest honor for pitchers, the Cy Young Award, while pitching for the New York Mets in 2012. This year, Dickey plays for the Toronto Bluejays.
A knuckleball has been described as a slow pitch with very little spin, which causes an erratic motion as it approaches the batter. In “The Closer,” Mindell writes that Terry Landers throws a certain type of knuckleball called a diver, “because it suddenly dove toward the ground. At its best, it would sink from above the strike zone to a spot below the knees. When batters did make contact, the standard result was a weak grounder.”
Mindell said he writes for at least an hour a day, using the old-fashioned method of a pencil and note pad. When he’s not writing, training for an upcoming race or leading a tour for his former company, he enjoys swing and zydeco dancing.
“Having a book out doesn’t hurt my appeal to the opposite sex,” he said.
Mindell said he doesn’t know how many copies of “The Closer” have sold so far, but he’s not writing for the money. Rather, he feels he has something to say, and writing provides an avenue for self-expression. However, he wouldn’t turn his back on material success.
“I’m hoping it becomes a screenplay, a movie. If so I will make money and become famous at 79 or whatever it is. Because life does begin at 70,” he said.