Monday, May 27, 2013

Class A

Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere is, not very surprisingly, a fairly depressing book. But what else would one expect from a memoir set in a little Iowa town in which most of the "characters" simply want out of town as soon as possible. Not only do the A-level ball players hope to leave quickly, but also the team's radio announcer can't wait to move on and up, and many of the team's most rabid fans seem to have little in their lives other than their “worship” of a few mediocre ballplayers who will be around town one or two seasons at most. The town is dying, the team is awful, and even the players don't really seem to like each other much.

Lucas Mann, the book's author pulls no punches in his portrayal of professional baseball at its lowest level. He presents baseball as the business it is, even to stressing that most of the players on Clinton's LumberKings team are seen by the organization as just place-fillers. No one in the organization thinks they have a prayer of ever making it to the major leagues, but hey, it takes a whole lot of warm bodies to play a regular season baseball schedule and there are lots of young men willing to play the game until someone finally forces them to stop. So, for every kid that actually makes it all the way to the top, there are hundreds who spend six or eight years doing the only thing they were ever really much good at doing. Sadly, we (most guys) would have done the same thing if given the chance.

Lucas Mann
Saddest of all, however, is Mann's frank portrayal of a group of super-rabid Clinton LumberKings fans. If Mann's story is accurate, these folks don't seem to have much of a life outside their little baseball stadium. That they invest so much emotional energy into guys who are only passing through (and who forget the fans the second they leave Clinton, Iowa) is hard to watch - but there is at least a little of the same behavior in all sports fans (the best lesson from the book).

"Class A" puts the focus a bit too much on the author and would have been more effective had Mann stayed in the background and told more about the players and their relationships to each other and their families. Although he offers a good bit of that kind of detail, it is almost overshadowed by Mann's hero worship – which is hard to figure considering that Mann is about the same age as these players and has as much baseball experience as many of them.

Bottom Line: not a bad book about minor league baseball but it could have been so much more.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

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