Tag Archives: A Good Walk Spoiled

Where Nobody Knows Your Name

Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball by John Feinstein (Anchor, $16.95, 384 pages)

where nobody knows your name

AAA: Where baseball and purgatory collide…

John Feinstein, known for his many appearances on ESPN’s The Sports Reporters, has authored 24 books.  He is most noted for his debut A Season on the Brink: Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers and his books on golf (most notably, A Good Walk Spoiled).  His latest, Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball, is simply excellent.

Many have attempted to write about baseball, but as much as the sport lends itself to great writing, truly capturing the essence of the game is a far from easy thing to accomplish.  Roger Angell and Thomas Boswell are probably the best of the lot, and there are others that have done quite well.  Feinstein’s latest is not only a must for baseball fans, it’s well worth the time of any sports fan.

Triple A baseball is the top level of the minor leagues.  The goal for most players is to make it to AA ball because then the organization you play for thinks you have a chance to play in the big leagues.  Most of the players in AA are young up and comers.  Once a player is elevated to that level, they set their sights on the major leagues – or what is commonly referred to as “the show.”  The next level, AAA, becomes a place for additional seasoning of top prospects or a holding ground for more experienced players (who may be called up at any time).  Some players who are shuttled back and forth are labeled “4A” players; too good for AAA but not good enough for major league play.

The players at the AAA level have dreamed the dream from their early childhood on.  They’ve worked extremely hard, have often endured setbacks, and are just an eyelash away from the ultimate prize: playing in big league stadium parks.

In Where Nobody Knows Your Name, Feinstein follows the plight of several AAA characters throughout the 2012 season.  He successfully hits on all the little things — the letter inviting a player to either a big league or minor league camp for spring training; the deadlines when players learn of their fate; the tragedy of players who have been to the “bigs” but get sent back to the minors; and the dreaded or hoped for calls to the manager’s office (almost always signifying bad news, but sometimes good).  The young ballplayers are quite human, but they are often treated like objects.

While many players and managers are profiled, the major characters in this book are Scott Elarton, Ron Johnson, Jon Lindsey, Mark Lollo, Charlie Montoyo, Scott Podesdnik, Chris Schwinden, and Brett Tomko.  Along the way Feinstein tells of the endless travel, the ridiculous promotions, front office personnel, announcers, and the players’ families. He also touches on the umpires and groundskeepers, who have their own dreams of being promoted to the bigs.

As for the primary characters, Elarton went 17-7 with the Astros in 2000, but finished with a record under .500 in his 10-year major league career.  Johnson was a career minor league manager.  Lindsey was drafted by the Rockies in 1995.  Although he was a big hitter in the minors, he managed just one brief stint in the majors.  Lindsey was called up by the Dodgers at the age of 33, going one for 12 in 11 big league games.  Lollo dreamed of umpiring in the major leagues.

McLouth, an outfielder, showed promise early on in his career with the Pirates, was traded to Atlanta where he gradually lost his hitting touch, and had begun to fight his way back.  Montoyo was another career minor league manager.  Though not a power hitter, Podsednik, also an outfielder, hit a big home run in the 2005 World Series for the victorious White Sox.  A player with speed, Podsednik’s career was shortened by a rash of injuries.

Schwinden was a pitcher who fought for eight years to get to the majors.  Tomko, who won exactly 100 major league games – but had not thrown a pitch since the 2009 season, fights to throw another pitch in the bigs at the age of 39.  Elarton, Schwinden, and Tomko never make it back to the majors.  The same is true for Johnson, Lollo, and Montoyo.

Podsednik was called up by the Red Sox in 2012 and hit .302 but was released at the end of the year.  He was 36 and never played in the big leagues again.  McLouth was called up by Baltimore and played in the post-season.  His final big league season was 2014, during which he appeared in 79 games for Washington.

All of these individuals have a story, and Feinstein tells them in a masterful fashion.  What resonates is a love of the game felt by each of these individuals.  Each is grateful for what they have, while finding it hard to let go of the game that defined their existence.

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None of the characters in this account decide to voluntarily walk away from baseball.  They each fight to the end, knowing the odds of success fall between slim and none.  Why?  Feinstein answers that for readers when he concludes the book with a quote from Jim Bouton’s memoir Ball Four:  “You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

A copy of this book was provided to the reviewer.

Dave Moyer is an educator and the author of a story about baseball, love, and Bob Dylan: Life and Life Only: A Novel.

 

 

 

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Glorious Golf

Moment of Glory: The Year Underdogs Ruled Golf by John Feinstein (Little, Brown; Hachette Audio, Unabdridged on 11 CDs)

Warning:  If you’ve hated the sport of golf – or tried your best to ignore it – and wish to continue as a golf hater, avoid reading (or listening to) this book!

John Feinstein, author of the mega-selling A Good Walk Spoiled: Days and Nights on the PGA Tour, has written a humanizing account of the game of golf in what proved to be a unique year, 2003.   This was the year that Tiger Woods – who had won half of the 12 majors from 2000 to 2002 – failed to win a single major tournament.   The void was filled by four unknowns, four golfers who had never before won a major.   Here are the names of the four players whose names were not Tiger Woods:  Mike Weir (the Masters), Jim Furyk (the U. S. Open), Ben Curtis (the British Open) and Shaun Micheel (the PGA Championship).

Feinstein’s account begins with a detailed explanation of the first fall of Woods, who arbitrarily decided to fire Butch Harmon, his talented swing coach, in order to restructure his game.   Woods, golf’s reigning king, abdicated his throne for a year, permitting four commoners to enter the arena.   This is covered by Feinstein in an introduction which is the weakest part of the telling.   Feinstein has a maddening tendency in his intros to jump around from present to past, past to present and back again.   It all becomes confusing enough to make a reader want to think about abandoning the read.   But stick around because Feinstein calms down when he begins to tell the tale of four young golfers who came up the hard way.

None of the four subjects – Weir, Furyk, Curtis and Micheel – would have been placed on a list of projected winners of a major tournament in 2003.   In fact, as well detailed by Feinstein, each of the winners would shock the golf world that year.   Curtis, for example, had never visited England before beating everyone on the links course known as Royal St. George’s.   The newly married golfer from Columbus, Ohio had been listed as a 300-1 outsider before his major win.   His win was so unlikely, in fact, that when one of his best friends (and fellow golfers) was told that Curtis had won the British Open he literally fell to his knees in shock.

Micheel won the PGA Championship with an 18th hole penultimate blind shot (onto a 45-foot hill) that landed just two inches from the cup.   “On the most important day of his life, he made the shot of his life.”   But none of these four players broke through simply because they were lucky.   Each worked for years in college and/or junior circuits (Hooters, the Nike Tour, the Hogan Tour, PGA Qualifying School) before they became overnight successes.   Even if you, like this reader, know little about golf and nothing about these four men, you will finish feeling like you’ve spent quality time with each of them.

Each of the four players profiled is a likeable once-underdog, four individuals who suddenly came out of the shadow of the fist-pumping Woods.   But then John Feinstein has always loved such stories…  As he wrote in A Good Walk Spoiled:  “I’ve always (been) someone who thinks that the unknown fighting for his life is a better story than the millionaire fighting for his next million.”

This is an absolutely perfect book to read and/or listen to on the weekend of the playing of the U. S. Open at Pebble Beach.   Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This review is based on the audio book version of Moments of Glory, a copy of which was received from Hachette Audio (Hachette Book Group U.S.A.).   The unabridged audio version is well read by L. J. Ganser.   Unfortunately, Ganser’s voice sounds far too much like that of Casey Kasem of American Top 40 and his skills are sadly lacking whenever he attempts to dramatize women’s voices (quoting the wives of the four golfers profiled here).   It would have been nice to have had a woman reading the women’s parts.

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A Golf Giveaway

Thanks to Hachette Audio, we’re pleased to announce that he have three (3) audiobook copies of John Feinstein’s latest sports-related book to give away!   Moment of Glory: The Year Underdogs Ruled Golf is told on 11 CDs and has a list price value of $34.98.   Here is a synopsis of the book and a few comments:

After winning 6 of the 12 Majors from 2000 to 2002, Tiger Woods struggled in 2003.   Four unknown players would seize the day, rising to become champions in his wake.   Mike Weir – considered a good golfer but not a great one – triumphed in The Masters, becoming the first Canadian to win a Major.   Jim Furyk emerged victorious in the U.S. Open.   In the British Open, Ben Curtis became the only player since Francis Ouimet in 1913 to come from nowhere to prevail at the PGA Championship.   How does one moment of glory affect the unsung underdog for years to follow?

Feinstein chronicles the champions’ ups and downs, giving readers an inside look into how victory (and defeat) can change players’ lives.

“(Feinstein is) One of the best sportswriters alive.”   Larry King, USA Today

“Feinstein is the most successful sportswriter in America.  …He has the gift of re-creating events known to us all while infusing them with excitement, even suspense.”   Jay Nordlinger, The Wall Street Journal

“John Feinstein…  has done perhaps as much for golf writing as Arnold Palmer has for golf.”   Ron Rappaport, Washington Monthly

Keep in mind that John Feinstein is the author of the previous mega-selling nonfiction book about golf, A Good Walk Spoiled.   And here he writes about the fall of Tiger Woods before The Fall.   If you would like to try to win a copy of this unabridged audiobook, simply post a comment here or send as e-mail message to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will count as a first, initial, entry.   To enter a second time, just explain why you are or are not a fan of the sport of golf.

Yes, these are the simple rules.   In order to be eligible to enter this contest, you must live in either the United States or Canada and have a residential mailing address (audiobooks will not be shipped to post office boxes).   You have until midnight PST on Wednesday, June 30, 2010 to post your entry/entries.

The 3 winners will be contacted by e-mail and asked to supply their mailing/shipping address within 72 hours.   If any winner fails to respond within this timeframe, his/her audiobook will be given to the 4th name drawn by Munchy the cat, our contest administrator.

Good luck and good reading/listening/golfing!

 

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