Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life In The Minor Leagues Of Baseball, by John Feinstein
Admittedly, my personal familiarity with minor league baseball is fairly slight. I once went to a game with a girl I was dating at the time, and I work in a city that has a minor league team that I have been unable to arrange the time to see with my friends in the area. The limited experience I have had with the minor league experience has been good—ticket prices are reasonable, baseball is enjoyable to watch at any level, and occasionally one gets the chance to see very good teams and very good players, even on the Single A short-league that is available in this area. This book, read by the author in a tone that is both world-weary as well as encouraging, is a picture of the slice of life in Triple A baseball, filled with players, managers, umpires, and even radio commentators and landscapers who all want to be working at the Major League level and believe they are just a step away, an injury away, and an opportunity away from the big leagues. Knowing that one is so close to the major leagues but so far in terms of money and prestige is quite frustrating and infuriating, and this nine-cd reading contains plenty of that frustration as Feinstein takes an in-depth look at fewer than a dozen people in the AAA International League, which makes up about half of the Triple A teams in existence, all of which are an affiliate of a team in the major leagues.
In terms of its contents, this book is a complicated picture that is in some ways very repetitive. The author switches his focus between different players, some of whom are pitchers, some of whom are position players, at least one of which is a designated hitter without a natural defensive position, one of whom is an umpire, and another of whom is a broadcaster for the Pawtucket Sox. The author discusses the biography of these players, spending more time on some than on others, discusses their home life, the success of the teams they are on, interviews them discussing off days and trying to figure out what is necessary for them to earn a chance to go to the big leagues, focusing on the 2013 baseball season. Some of the players have toiled in obscurity for their entire careers and are looking for their first shot at the major leagues, which some of them find. Others have been successful at the major league level, and have for reasons of injury or ineffectiveness been demoted to the minor leagues, looking for a way back up after rehabbing from injuries or showing a team that they still have what it takes to play in the major leagues. Some of the people here are successful in being called up, and being successful, at the major leagues, while others find their services are no longer required, and are faced with retirement and starting a new life after baseball. Even though most of the people in here are very obscure names, a few of them are familiar, and they are portrayed as vividly human beings trying to keep their attitudes up and do the best they can to achieve their ambitions and demonstrate their worth to themselves, their families, and their peers.
Even though I am not a particularly athletic person myself , there is a lot about this book that I could identify with. The people discussed here were not obvious and lasting superstars. They were immensely talented, intensely driven, but people who did not quite have the name recognition or appeal to guarantee themselves a spot at the highest level. They were people who had bad injury luck, or had overcome an absence of skills through hard work to develop themselves, but struggled to find a place to stay within the major leagues. Some of them had been banished by scandal, or by team collapses that led to everyone being fired in their wake, to perceived lack of commitment, to image problems, to the frailty of the body in the face of continual pressure. These were people I could strongly identify with, people who were talented but hardly overwhelmingly so, people who desired to achieve beyond their current station, but who needed the opportunity to prove themselves in an intensely competitive world where there are few spots for people of their caliber. And so, despite getting older and feeling the sands of time slip away, despite heart attacks and torn rotator cuffs and long odysseys of being waived and signed by team after team, having to pack one’s back and move to a new place for just a little while without the time to settle in, these people soldier on, looking for redemption, looking for opportunity, looking for respect. It is a march I know well, and so although this book lacks the drama of a pennant race—for who cares about which team wins a minor league—this is a book about those underdogs who keep toiling in obscurity, looking for a chance to succeed at the highest levels , to be known and well-regarded and remembered. The game goes on well enough without these people, but many of them cannot let go of their desires to succeed at the game. It is a poignant tale that many of us are all too familiar with.
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