My first reaction whenever an East-coaster wants to tell the world about the Midwest is to be guarded. From past experience, at best, we do not get a...moreMy first reaction whenever an East-coaster wants to tell the world about the Midwest is to be guarded. From past experience, at best, we do not get a fair shake. At worst, we are often left feeling like we have been burned with acid. See: Bloom, Stephen G.
There are a ton of similarities between Class A and the movie Sugar, a fictional movie which didn’t really give Iowa a fair shake. The makers of Sugar literally went out of the way to portray Iowa as rural and white. When Sugar has to catch a bus, he gets driven out to a gas station off a highway next to corn. In reality, there is a bus station downtown, 2 blocks from the stadium next to the European-designed art museum. Across the street and under the bridge from the stadium is an oriental grocery store. About 2 blocks further is a Mexican grocery store. Not to mention the black-owned bistro that does business nowadays inside the baseball stadium itself. However, to find any diversity actually worth putting on film, the filmmakers made Sugar trek all the way to the shadow of Yankee Stadium.
So, I braced myself for at least this kind of treatment from Class A, but it didn’t materialize. Which means the book was a breath of fresh air in this regard.
As I progressed through the book, I slowly let my guard down and focused on the content and style. Here are some things I did not like about the book. There were a few times where facts were repeated, and not in a way that added much to the story. Also, he seemed to discuss his writing process a lot. And yes, invoking Tennyson to describe a scene where monkeys are riding dogs is pretentious, even if you acknowledge that. I also didn’t like some of the sudden shifts from one story to another, mid-chapter. A couple times I had to re-read a paragraph to make sure I caught the abrupt transition. The flash-forwards to when he was visiting other countries the next year to learn more about the system didn’t add much for me. Maybe some of these things are more a problem of editing than of writing. At other times, the writing was powerful, and even inspired.
There seemed to be a joy for baseball missing from this book. Many of the games in the book were described as boring. I have to admit, I have attended some boring Midwest League games, but a lot fewer than what Mann seemed to experience in this season. Is the Midwest League just too low of a level for Mann? Is Mann too close to his playing days to get excited about these games? Or did the fact he was trying to document everything make take away from his focus on the game? I just have to wonder.
What I did like about the book was that it had a ton of substance. Mann became friends with many of the players, fans, and staff of the Lumberkings. These intimate stories did pack a punch, usually to the gut. I really liked the ending of the book, especially the final chapter about traveling the gravel roads of Iowa. This was my favorite chapter of the whole book! Mann left it on a note for us to ponder or connect some dots. I would have liked to see more of this throughout the book.
I’d recommend this story to fans of baseball, and especially minor league baseball. (less)