Where Nobody Knows Your Name

baseball jacketWhere Nobody Knows Your Name: Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball by John Feinstein

Sportswriter John Feinstein spent the 2012 season with players, managers, and umpires of baseball’s International League. Life in Triple A is vividly described, and is shown in stark contrast to the major leagues, but the athletes Feinstein meets show a real love of the game of baseball. Several players are featured, with their history of teams, accomplishments, and injuries, but you don’t get a player’s whole story all at once, and some of them blend together. Some former major league stars are featured, such as Mark Prior, Dontrelle Willis, and Scott Podsednik. Some are rehabbing from injuries, while other players have trouble adjusting to the grind that is the minor leagues. Few days off, travel by bus instead of chartered planes, and salaries that are not bad, but only a small fraction of what they’re used to. Players are more rivals than teammates, but news of a call up to the major leagues is still greeted with cheers. Cubs Hall of Fame player Ryne Sandberg has worked his way up the managing ranks of the minor leagues, and finally gets to manage the Philadelphia Phillies. His story is quite memorable, as is that of young umpire Mark Lollo, who is either going to get called up to the major leagues soon, or his contract won’t be renewed. Managing at the Triple A level can be especially challenging because of last-minute call ups of starting pitchers and catchers. Some players travel up and down the leagues so many times in a season that it seems like they’re always playing catch up in an airport trying to get to their next game, while other players wonder if they’ll ever get to bat in the major leagues. A satisfying read for sports fans.



The Art of Fielding

art of fieldingThe Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

This is flat-out a great book.  It took the author ten years to write in his spare time. When the manuscript was put up for auction the price was bid up to $650,000 dollars. There even was a book published about the making and marketing of this book, entitled: Vanity Fair’s How a Book is Born: The Making of the Art of Fielding.

The plot centers around the struggles of the main characters on a baseball team at Westish College called the Harpooners.  Henry Skrimshander is a preternaturally gifted shortstop who is recruited out of  High School by Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners’ catcher.  Although Henry is brilliant on the baseball field, he is shy and introverted and has a hard time adjusting to college life. Also in the mix is Guert Affenlight, the College President, whose staid life is upended by an unexpected romance with one the students. The student in question happens to be Owen Dunne, a gay intellectual, who also happens to play on the team. Pella Affenlight is Guert’s daughter from a previous relationship who shows up on Daddy’s doorstep after a marriage that goes sour.

According to Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times:  Mr. Harbach has the rare abilities to write with earnest, deeply felt emotion without veering into sentimentality, and to create quirky, vulnerable, and fully realized characters who instantly take up residence in our hearts and minds.  He also manages to rework the well-worn, much allegorized subject of baseball and make us see it afresh, taking tired tropes about the game (as a metaphor for life’s dreams, disappointments, and hopes of redemption) and interjecting them with new energy.

I enjoyed this book for its small college setting, and for the baseball stuff, but mainly for the affecting characters.  I did not want this novel to end.