Book Review: Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere

Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere is not a book for fans seeking inspiration about the road to “The Show.”
Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere is not a book for fans seeking inspiration about the road to “The Show.” (Photo from Barnes and Noble)

Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere is not a book for fans seeking inspiration about the road to “The Show.” Readers that are brave enough to look beyond the depressing scenery overshadowed by an ominous corn processing plant will be treated to a better understanding of the stereotypical life that exists in a small town with a minor league baseball team.

Author Lucas Mann traveled to Clinton, Iowa in 2010 and he embedded himself in the clubhouse of the Clinton LumberKings–a Midwest League Class A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. Mann effectively portrays the city as a stop along the way for baseball prodigies like 19-year-old Nick Franklin while juxtaposing it as a baseball purgatory for struggling players.

Readers develop an interest and then an attachment to the minor league players whose experiences are chronicled in the book. Mann portrays these stories to readers the same way that he learned about them–as conversations over hamburgers at McDonald’s, in car rides home to crowded apartments and in noisy locker rooms.

His story telling makes readers realize that the players, who are idolized by a core group of fans referred to as “The Baseball Family,” are really just young men who happen to be playing baseball in Clinton competing for a promotion.

The narrative perspective allows readers to truly empathize with the athletes. Erasmo Ramirez, a hard throwing pitcher who left his home in Nicaragua, constantly tries to improve his numbers while finding comfort in the company of other Latino baseball players. The conversations with Ramirez will have make readers feel determined and they are left understanding how brave some players need to be to pursue a career in baseball.

They will feel also feel the excitement of Franklin’s journey toward a home record and his inevitable promotion. Mann never lets the readers feel too high as he also shares the stories of the players helplessly relegated to the bench awaiting demotion. 
The narrative culminates in an exciting postseason run for the LumberKings which will leave readers wondering how players have the focus to follow their passion as they compete in Clinton on a seemingly endless road to the majors.

Book Review: A Great Day in Cooperstown

Jim Reisler's A Great Day in Cooperstown will be the first of many baseball books I will review this offseason. (Photo from Amazon.com)
Jim Reisler’s A Great Day in Cooperstown will be the first of many baseball books that Nats Gallery Blog will review this offseason. (Photo from Amazon.com)

I cast my ballot on Election Day at the public library in Aurora Hills and went searching for the first of many baseball books to get me through the winter until baseball season resumes on Opening Day. Jim Reisler’s A Great Day In Cooperstown was a great book to start with because of its focus on the origins of baseball and the establishment of baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Reisler begins his 2006 book by describing Cooperstown, NY in 1939. Main Street was brimming with excitement. Major League Baseball All-Stars and legends fanned out across the town. Over 10,000 visitors packed the town to celebrate baseball’s centennial.

Fans flocked to the players for autographs and many players held court, telling their stories to anybody who was interested. Others cued up at the post office to purchase special issue postcards bearing a commemorative stamp and post office.

The book focuses a lot of attention on why the fanfare was centered in Cooperstown and Reisler debunks the myth that baseball’s rules were invented there Abner Doubleday during the spring of 1839. Reisler explains how the myth gained traction and became widely accepted in the lead up to the celebration of baseball’s centennial

Readers are introduced to each of inductees as they learn about a different aspect of the type of work that went into planning the celebration which included–speeches, the opening of the museum and a series of games played at a newly renovated Doubleday Field.

Resiler also describes the work of two little known figures–Alexander Cleland, a social worker from Glasgow, and Stephen Clark, a Cooperstown philanthropist–who were responsible for acquiring the memorabilia including the “funny old uniforms” and who worked with league officials to establish voting protocols for Hall of Fame ballots.

Washington Nationals fans may be particularly interested in the chapter about Walter Johnson. The chapter includes his brief remarks from his induction speech, the story about how he was discovered by the Washington Senators while playing for a semi-professional team in Idaho and the story about how he managed to throw three shutouts in four days.

The book concludes with a romantic description of the festivities that followed the induction speeches including a detailed recap of the game the Hall of Famers played in alongside the modern All-Stars at Doubleday Field.

I have not yet had the opportunity to visit the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, but I would highly recommend this book as an essential read for anybody traveling to Cooperstown for Hall of Fame Weekend 2017.

Book Review: Baseball in Blue and Gray

 

I learned more about the orgins of our national pastime when I stopped at Fort Pulaski--the site of the only photograph of baseball during the Civil War.
I learned more about the orgins of our national pastime when I stopped at Fort Pulaski–the site of the only photograph of baseball during the Civil War.

I came across George B. Kirsch’s Baseball in Blue and Gray under unusual circumstances this summer when my girlfriend and I visited Fort Pulaski as part of our summer road trip.

We walked around the National Park Service visitor center when we arrived at the fort, located on Cockspur Island, and we watched a film produced by the National Park Service about the history of the site. The 20 minute film was informative, but my attention was grabbed sometime during the last few minutes of the film when the narrator mentioned that the only known photograph of a baseball game being played during the Civil War was taken at Fort Pulaski in 1862 or 1863.

I left the film energized and headed to the closest park ranger to ask for more information about the history of baseball at the fort and she directed me to a Kirsch’s book in the gift shop, as she spoke about how soldiers from New York played baseball there during the nineteenth century.

I breezed through the six chapters in the book while I was on vacation because its contents challenged my understanding of the origins of baseball and it described how the popularity of the game was affected by the Civil War.

Readers will be surprised to learn that baseball was likely formed as a variation to another sport called town ball in 1831, rather than having been created by Abner Doubleday. The book explains how there were three different sets of rules for baseball in the three areas where it was most popular. Kirsch describes some of the nuances of the game. Pitches were thrown underhanded to batters under the New York rules. The rules in Massachusetts dictated that games were played to 25 runs. In Philadelphia, all batters batted in the two or 11 inning games.

Kirsch explains how the New York rules evolved during the Antebellum period and the sport began to increase in popularity and become increasingly associated in reporting alongside symbols of patriotism like politicians and American flags as it developed.

Readers may also find it surprising to learn about how the sport flourished during the Civil War at both Union and Confederate camps. Kirsch also describes the types of intercity tournaments that took place during the second half of the war among civilians that led to the sport’s increased popularity.

The final chapter of the book is designated to the war’s legacy especially as it relates to the nationalism. Washington Nationals fans will appreciate a story about how the owner of the Nationals invited President Andrew Johnson to be an honorary member of the club in 1866 when the Mutuals of New York traveled to Washington.

The Nationals and other teams from New York would also help grow the game by playing games beyond the Alleghenies.

(Photo used from Amazon.com)
(Photo used from Amazon.com)

Baseball in Blue and Gray was published in 2003 and is available on Amazon.com at bargain prices. Pick up a copy to learn more about how baseball became our national pastime.

Book Review: 100 Things Nationals Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die

100 Things Nationals Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die will have you reminiscing about the good ol' days and laughing about the crazy times in franchise history.
100 Things Nationals Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die will have you reminiscing about the good ol’ days and laughing about the crazy times in franchise history.

Washington Nationals fans should definitely pick up a copy of 100 Things Nationals Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die to read on one of those rare days off between now and October.  

Jake Russell, a sports aide for The Washington Post, authored the book which threads together concise, yet detailed, two-page stories about players, historical figures, and bizarre moments in franchise history.

Some of the stories about players including Livan Hernandez (Livo), Chad Cordero (The Chief) and Ryan Zimmerman (Mr. Walkoff) will have you reminiscing about the good ol’ days. Other stories about players like Nyjer Morgan (Tony Plush) and Jose Guillen (The Combustible Jose Guillen) might leave you laughing and shaking your head about the crazy times in franchise history.

Nyjer Morgan started a benches clearing brawl after Chris Volstad threw a pitch thrown behind him in 2009. (gif from SB Nation)
Nyjer Morgan started a benches clearing brawl after Chris Volstad threw a pitch behind him in 2009. (gif from SB Nation)

Russell’s book will also be appealing to fans interested in the the history of baseball in Washington, DC. Chapters about Mickey Vernon, Walter Johnson, Clark Griffith and Ted Williams leave readers with a sense of the history of baseball in the city.

The unbelievable “incidents” are also great reads. Some of the craziest moments recalled are when Michael Morse pantomimed a home run swing (Michael Morse’s Phantom Grand Slam), the game when Zimmerman and Adam Dunn sported misspelled jerseys (Natinals) and, more seriously, the incident when Wilson Ramos was kidnapped (The Kidnapped Catcher).

As far as things Nationals fans should do, taking road trips is a common theme in the book. Getting to Nationals Park for Opening Day and July 4 are also things that fans should definitely “do before they die.” Seeing a concert at Nationals Park is also truly an exciting experience.

Attending a game on Opening Day and July 4 are two things Nationals fans should do before they die.
Attending a game on Opening Day and July 4 are two things Nationals fans should do before they die.

The book jumps around the timeline which some fans may find exciting–or frustrating. One moment you will be in 2014 reading about how Bryce Harper was benched for “lack of hustle” (Bryce’s Benching) and the next moment you will be reading about how, Moe Berg, a Senator’s reserve catcher, was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services to spy on the Japanese in 1943 (The Senators’ Spy).

You can purchase your copy of 100 Things Nationals Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die on Russell’s website. The website also has information about upcoming book signings. He will be signing copies of his book at Nationals Park on Tuesday, May 10 before the Nationals take on the Detroit Tigers.

Review of “The Grind”: Perfect for One of Those Rare Days Off

Barry Svrluga's newest book is perfect for one of those rare days off during the grind.
Barry Svrluga’s newest book is perfect for one of those rare days off during the grind.

Barry Svrluga, The Washington Post’s national baseball correspondent, stopped by the Washington Nationals’ team store on a few occasions in late July to talk with fans and sign copies of his newest book–The Grind: Inside Baseball’s Endless Season.

Readers will find themselves emotionally consumed by the 162-game season as Svrluga presents it through several distinct individual perspectives.  Each chapter, therefore, has its own recognizable mood.

Readers will feel the exhaustion of veterans Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth as they workout with strength and conditioning coaches starting in January to prepare for spring training.

Baseball marriages are revealed to be not “all roses and butterflies” thanks to Svrluga’s deep dive into the relationship between Ian Desmond, his wife Chelsey and his children.

Many casual fans think starting pitchers are lazy because of their “time off” in between starts.  This notion is discredited as Doug Fister’s routine is described in vivid detail from the moment he exits a game against the Colorado Rockies to his next start against the Baltimore Orioles.  Readers will develop a greater appreciation for a starter’s schedule and will understand when Steve McCatty, the Nationals pitching coach, says, “four days off is not four days off.”

Perhaps the most colorful insight in the book is about Kris Kline, the Nationals assistant general manager and vice president of scouting, as he drives hundreds of miles to evaluate potential prospects at college games that most scouts skip.  Readers will feel especially satisfied to “hear” that player’s name called during the draft. 

Readers can finish the 170-page book in an evening, so it is perfect for one of those rare days off during the grind. 

Endure the grind and order Svrluga’s book here.