Last week I happened across an entirely unexpected book, a just-published account of the Clinton LumberKings' 2010 season. If the subject seems odd, the timing seems odder. It takes three years to write a book about the Midwest League?
Ah, but it's not that sort of a book. It's literature and I don't use that word sarcastically and the cover's elegant and so I bought it. Of course I was in the middle of three other books already, so I haven't done more than read a few paragraphs. But it's certainly promising, if you're into this sort of thing. Here's a snippet of an interview with author Lucas Mann:
Q. You got very close to a group of devoted fans, and you were only 24 at the time. Do you think your youth helped in gaining the trust of fans and players?
A. A lot of the book is about reconciling my own outsider status, the balance between becoming part of a community while still being unable to avoid the fact that I was received with a certain deserved wariness. I do think that a combination of my age and my total lack of credentials gave me a unique entry point. It probably won't shock you to hear that saying, "I'm getting my M.F.A. at the University of Iowa," doesn't buy a lot of cachet in a baseball clubhouse.
Q. The minor league is a place where successful players inevitably leave teams behind, often just when the teams need them most. Did you find that the sense of individuals fighting to get to the next level subverted the traditional incentives of winning and improving as a team?
A. It creates an entirely unique sensibility in the clubhouse and in the stands. Everybody knows the stakes - fans want to see players win in their local uniforms, while players only find true validation when they're allowed to leave. But then it becomes about people trying to make meaning out of each season in whatever way they can. Fans balance rooting for the team with rooting for the careers of the players they've come to care about. Players try to recreate that heartening high school or college feeling of winning through teamwork, while also striving to stay extra-noticeable as individuals. I've never seen such a charged, multi-faceted sports world.
I've always wondered about the experience of following a low-level professional team, with hardly any time at all to get to know the players, and hardly any hope at all for authentic pennant-race drama. This book seems like a good place for some answers.