Springfield, Illinois became my adopted hometown in 1974. During those four decades, our city has hosted a number of minor-league teams. The Triple-A franchise of the St. Louis Cardinals left our community for Louisville, Kentucky, and was replaced by another Cardinals farm team, this time of the Class A Midwest League. That squad departed Springfield after several years, and now the community has an independent minor-league team called the Springfield Sliders.
Having grown up attending baseball games at Wrigley Field, Comiskey Park and Milwaukee County Stadium, I had never gone to a minor-league game until I stepped foot inside Robin Roberts Stadium in Springfield. I recall with fondness this unique and enjoyable experience. In a ballpark that seated only 5,000 fans, watching the game is far different than in a 40,000-seat stadium: the fans are close to the field and the action, and you can hear the players’ voices as they speak to each other, their coaches and the umpires. Being in this intimate atmosphere where tickets are less than the price of a movie is just one of the pleasures.
"CLASS A is a joyful book that captures the minor-league baseball spirit in a funny and poignant fashion.... The real people of this wonderful book are more than sports figures, and learning about their lives is certainly a rewarding reading experience."
CLASS A is a joyful book that captures the minor-league baseball spirit in a funny and poignant fashion. Yet this is far more than a baseball book. In providing readers with the account of the LumberKings, the Class A minor league franchise of the Seattle Mariners, Lucas Mann chronicles the community of Clinton, Iowa, struggling to survive in the first decade of the 21st century.
Mann spent a season with the LumberKings, and thus his book is in the tradition of such works as FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS and THE SWEET SEASON. He immerses himself not only in the team but in the community as well. The LumberKings are as much a part of the community as the factories that have employed citizens for generations. The tradition of the town, once a thriving small industrial city, is a great part of CLASS A. But those days have passed, and the community, just as many others across the nation, must face a new economic reality.
While the community is an important element of the story, CLASS A is still about minor-league baseball, its players and managers. The managers understand the delicate nature of their task. Some players are on their way to the major leagues and potential stardom, while others are simply playing out the season (or perhaps even the week) as their career has come to an end. Managers and coaches face similar issues. John Tamargo is the manager, leading a life that keeps him away from his wife for six months out of the year. He is a baseball-lifer whose loved ones understand the rules under which he lives.
While fans focus on the glamour of professional sports, Mann reminds readers of its harsh realities. Erasmo Ramirez, a young pitcher, began his baseball career in Nicaragua at the age of 14. At 17, he began pitching professionally in Venezuela. Now he is in Clinton, Iowa with other Latin players experiencing a culture, climate and professional shock in addition to hoping to advance to the Seattle Mariners. It is a difficult task for someone so young.
Mann obviously understands and appreciates the game of baseball. He references great baseball literature for young readers, as well as the writings of John Updike and other classic works. Many are frightened of sports-themed nonfiction, but that should not deter anyone from delving into CLASS A. The real people of this wonderful book are more than sports figures, and learning about their lives is certainly a rewarding reading experience.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on May 17, 2013