Book Review: Summer Baseball Nation
If you want to capture the true spirit of baseball, you could go to a Major League game. Or perhaps you could go and watch a local Little League game or a Babe Ruth game. I think the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle and that would be in the minor leagues, somewhere that is not professional but top-quality amateur level. But which of those leagues? The answer is the leagues where they play with wooden bats.
“The college baseball season doesn’t end when the school year is finished. Many of the top NCAA Division I, II, and III baseball players continue to play in one of the game’s most unique environments, the summer wooden bat leagues. They swap aluminum bats for wood and pla from June through August in more than forty states. The poetry of America’s pastime persists as soon-to-be stars such as Gordon Beckham, Buster Posey, and Aaron Judge crash in spare bedrooms and play for free on city and college ball fields.”
That’s from the dust jacket copy of Summer Baseball Nation: Nines Days in the Wood Bat Leagues by Will Geoghegan. The author visits leagues in Cape Cod, Newport, Fairbanks, Santa Barbara, Kenosha, Washington DC, and Hampton.
I like to read books that resonate at certain times and places in my life. When I lived in Asia and was exploring the Pacific Rim, I read voraciously about each destination, both nonfiction and fiction. When I did some reporting on Gold Butte in Nevada, I had a copy of Desert Solitaire to read. This spring while turkey hunting, I read Jim Casada’s The Literature of Turkey Hunting: An Annotated Bibliography and the Random Scribblings of a Sporting Bibliophile.
So at this moment, it was the perfect time to read this book as the wooden bat leagues are in full swing. The chapter I was particularly interested in was about the Kenosha Kingfish. The chapter opens with a home run derby where the players smash balls into Lake Michigan and kayakers and guys on jet skis go after the splashed-down long balls. But it also delves into the ups and downs of the Northwoods League and how it transformed from a struggling baseball scene into one of the best summer baseball leagues in the country.
Also mentioned in the chapter was the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters which play at historic Witter Field. This has a special place in my heart because in the early days of designing the Playmaker Journal single-player scoresheet concept, I struggled with what to leave in and what to take out. I went to a Rafters game with some rough-draft scoresheet templates to test out. Although I didn’t have any creative breakthroughs during that game, I did collect enough insights and notes to keep me on the right path.
If you love baseball literature or are lucky enough to live in or near a town that has a wooden bat summer league, then you should get a copy of this book. Reading Summer Baseball Nation gave me a deeper appreciation for small-town baseball. So many minor league games were cancelled last year so this season I will have to make it up and catch some games at Witter Field.