Tag Archives: Los Angeles Dodgers

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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Try Fear & Have Fun

Try FearI’m usually not a fan of crime novels.   Maybe it’s because I spent a decade visiting criminal courtrooms, about 35 of them in all, and got a feel for life in the justice field.   It’s a field that is tough, gritty, not TV-glamorous, filled with personality conflicts and with people who are amazingly talented (prosecutors, defense attorneys, public defenders, law enforcement officers).   This is not the world I find in most crime novels which tend to divide between 50’s retro-breezy crime tales (like Denis Johnson’s Nobody Move) and stories in which you can predict every bend in the road to come.

Attend a real-life criminal trial sometime and try to predict what’s coming…   Good luck.

Then there’s author James Scott Bell who seems to get it.   In Bell’s world, “…(a witness) sits on a wooden bench outside the courtroom.   She looked like the rest of the multi-cultured family members scattered around the hall.   Tense.   Uncertain.   Half suspecting the wheels of justice to be more like the Jaws of Life – cutting, crushing, grinding.”   Bell should know as he worked for a major law firm in Los Angeles before working out of “an independent office.”   It’s the latter set of experiences he seems to call upon in taking us along on a fun and fast journey through the world of criminal justice in the City of the Angels.

Bell writes of L.A. as someone who has clearly loved it his entire life.   What seems to distress his characters the most is that the old L.A. appears to be gone; only Dodger Stadium seems to survive.   In one scene, the main character wants a good steak and so meets his date at Morton’s on Figueroa.   Perino’s?   The Brown Derby?   All gone.

Bell even turns negatives about the city into positives.   In his L.A., the smog creates strange but beautiful orange-hued dusks and purple night skies.

I should briefly set the stage for this story, the third in a series.   Criminal defense attorney Ty Buchanan, down on his luck and living like an orphan in a trailer, is asked to defend a young man accused of killing his own brother.   Once the story starts, it speeds along faster than a ride in a Ferrari down Sunset Boulevard.   You won’t be able to see what’s around the next turn, and during the pivotal criminal trial things don’t move forward logically (this is not Law and Order).

Making this story even more enjoyable is that Ty is a unique main character…   His conversations call to mind Bruce Willis in Moonlighting.   He’s funny but self-deprecating and seeks to help others to make up for some troubles in his past.   It seems that when Ty was working for one of L.A.’s finest law firms he managed to get himself accused of murder.   So long big law firm.

There’s also a love story here:  in fact, two very different women have entered Ty’s life.   One works for him (as a volunteer) and the other (a woman of some prosperity) seeks to work with him.   It’s doubtful that Ty will love either the way that he loves his city – it’s no accident that L.A.’s City Hall is pictured on the cover – but on the final page of this story he makes a unique commitment to one of them.

Do I think I can predict what will happen in the next chapter of Ty Buchanan’s life?   Absolutely not.   Do I want to read the next crime novel in the Ty Buchanan series?   Absolutely!

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Centerfield: A Review of Under the March Sun – The Story of Spring Training

March SunUnder the March Sun starts off well, before the author trips over his biases.   The first six chapters of what is basically a twenty-chapter book (prologue, eighteen chapters, and epilogue) provide a fine history of the creation of Major League Baseball’s (MLB) spring training camps.   The overview is at its strongest when detailing the efforts of a select few to integrate spring training in the southern, formerly Confederate, states.   Jackie Robinson is certainly given recognition for his role as a trailblazer, with a nod also being given to Curt Flood, among others.

In the first few chapters, the author appears to be fairly impartial, which leads the reader to trust the factuality of his reporting.   Sadly, the impartiality is lost in Chapter Seven entitled, “Red Sox Nation Flies South.”   Here, the author regales us with facts large and small concerning the greatness of Boston Red Sox fans.   He makes statements like this, “Citizens of Red Sox Nation give as freely of their purses as they do of their hearts…  There is little they won’t do for their team.”

Fountain also writes about improvements to Fenway Par, located in Boston rather than in Fort Meyers, begging the question of what exactly this has to do with spring training?   This out-of-place tribute to one team’s fans remains confusing until the reader notes on the book jacket that the author lives in Duxbury, Massachusetts – and then the bias becomes clear.   It would have been honest for the author to admit his strong bias in favor of a single team and its fan base in the otherwise unnecessary prologue but it didn’t happen.

The bottom line is, you are absolutely likely to love this book if you’re one of those fans who, in the author’s words, “wear some form of Red Sox cap…  bearing the distinctive red Boston B.”   If you happen to be a fan of the Giants, the A’s, the Dodgers or any MLB team not based in Boston, this book is unlikely to become an essential addition to your library.

By Charles Fountain, Oxford, $24.95, 271 pages.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

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