Lucas Mann. Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere. New York: Pantheon Books, 2013. 336 pp. Cloth, $26.95.
In Class A, the author offers an ethnographic perspective, an unusually detailed focus on a team in the low minors, barely one level above rookie ball. He essentially lived with the team for one season and parts of another, trayeling between the two seasons to visit the book's protagonists in Venezuelan winter ball, at spring training, and in their homes.
Because of this immersion in the internal culture and external environment of the team, Class A has much to recommend it. Any book that looks beyond baseball players' on-field accomplishments to examine their challenges and triumphs off the field is a valuable contribution to baseball writing. For players in the low minors, these successes and failures greatly influence their future professional success. Being able to see player development more holistically enhances appreciation for players' accomplishments. More importantly, it makes for a more informed approach to observing the game as a whole. In fact, Class A helps readers to see all the people associated with Minor League Baseball more fully--as people, not merely defined by their roles as players, employees, or supporters of a team.
This contribution is significant. Too few baseball books bother to look broadly at the complicated and nuanced interrelationships among the many groups of stakeholders within the microcosm of a baseball team. Class A goes a step further, looking beyond individuals to the socioeconomic, political, and historical contexts that influence them.
Even fewer baseball books add depth the way Class A does, allowing the people described within to emerge as complicated, compelling individuals--no matter that this depth appears to have been discovered accidentally. Regarding one central set of stakeholders, the author candidly admits, "These fans were supposed to be an annotation for me. Quick quotes, bits of atmosphere" (57). It is to the author's credit, however, that as he immersed himself more deeply in his research, he succeeded in moving beyond his initial expectations and biases. Thus he discovered, in his observations of the team's fans, that "to be here every day reveals peculiar and diverse subsets of devotion, beyond buzzwords" (69).
Indeed, one of the best chapters of Class A focuses entirely on a single fan. The chapter sketches, in fine and interconnected lines that spread out subsequently throughout the book, the inner world of a particularly devoted fan of the team. The author offers insight, for example, into the significance of physical artifacts for this fan and, by extension, the many others like her who find meaning in "holding a part of the game until you, still holding it tight, have made it resonate" (106).
Some readers might be uncomfortable with the author's prominence in the narrative, which may leave readers with a feeling that this book, ostensibly about baseball, is more about the author than about the players and fans he describes. At times, this feeling results from the style in which the book is written--though, to be fair, the author appears aware of this tendency: "It is stupid, probably, pretentious, definitely, to be thinking of Tennyson while looking at Kalian Sams's back" (159). Other times, it might appear that the author attempts to make the situations described in Class A less about the team and more a series of self-referential anecdotes or painfully detailed and intimately personal emotional reactions to each event. Readers may feel uncomfortable if they are more accustomed to baseball books in which players are the protagonists and the only time the author's voice is strongly felt is in a player's autobiography. Class A is very much about Lucas Mann. More to the point, the book is about his reaction to the team and to the community that depends on that team. While some readers might see that as a weakness, it will be, to others, one of the great strengths of this book. Class A is a reminder that the meaning of baseball is individual and is found precisely in the way in which it affects each observer and participant personally.
Good baseball books help readers see how following the game of baseball allows and even demands making the game one's own, how baseball encourages reflecting on and embracing one's own past. This is true even of player biographies and autobiographies. When written well, they do not merely log the events and accomplishments of a player's career. They offer personal, intimate interpretations of the game, making such books, like the game itself, a mirror that permits and encourages observers and participants alike to look within.
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|Title Annotation:||BOOK REVIEWS|
|Author:||Ressler, William Harris|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2014|
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