Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A First Class Book About Minor League Baseball in Clinton, Iowa: "Class A - Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere" by Lucas Mann

I loved this book - not merely because I love baseball, but because I also love good writing.  Iowa seems to grow a lot of corn that stands tall - and writers who also stand tall.  Lucas Mann is such a writer, having received an MFA in non-fiction writing from the University of Iowa, and then stayed there to teach as a Provost's Writer-in-Residence.

Mann is a self-proclaimed neurotic, and his transparency and self-deprecation in "Class A - Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere" sets just the right tone in describing the town of Clinton, Iowa and its Class A Seattle Mariners' affiliate baseball team, the Clinton LumberKings.  With a deft writing style, he captures the ethos of the town, once the lumber shipping capital of the world, and now home to the mixed blessing that is the huge Archer Daniels Midland plant that occupies fully 25% of the real estate in this riverfront town.  With affectionate detachment, he became a participant observer, hanging out for a season both with the players and coaches of the LumberKings, and with the loyal fans for whom rooting for Clinton's minor league team is a way or life and a religion.

I found myself caring about the fate of many of the players - Danny Carroll, Erasmo Rodriguez, Hank Contreras, Nick Franklin, et al.  These were some of the men who made up the roster of the 2010 edition of the Clinton LumberKings that Mann followed and chronicled.  So intriguing are Mann's descriptions, that at several points along the road in reading this account of life in Clinton, I set the book aside and went on-line to see what these players are doing now.  I needed to know how they had progressed after putting in their time in Clinton.

The book is also populated with Clinton denizens, loyal fans who call themselves the Roadkill Crew.  They used to follow the team to all of their away games, but many have died, some, like Joyce, work in the casino or in the ADM plant and can't devote as much of their time to the team as they once did.

Beneath the level of the individual games and players and fans and citizens of Clinton, Mann delves into a protracted philosophical disquisition on the nature of fandom.  He looks at himself and others and asks what it truly means to be a fan on an emotional, psychological and sociological level.

This book will prove to be a delight to thinking fans of baseball and of the heartland.



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