Every so often, I come across an interesting read, and it turns out to be so good, it warrants a review. In this case, it’s Class A, a memoir written by Lucas Mann, who documented his one year with the Single-A Clinton LumberKings of the Midwest League.
A little insight first. I’ve only been to two minor league games in my life, both in 2006. The first was a Short-A contest between the Brooklyn Cyclones and the State College Spikes. The second was a Low-A contest between the Fort Wayne Wizards (Now the TinCaps) and the Southwest Michigan Devil Rays (Now the Great Lakes Loons). Incidentally, the TinCaps play in the same league as the Clinton LumberKings.
Also, The LumberKings are affiliated with the Seattle Mariners, and are usually the first or second stop for a recently drafted player.
Now for the review: In Mann’s book, we learn about how baseball brings together a town whose best years are long gone. We learn about the small-town sociology, how in Clinton, the only real business is ADM Polymer, a corn processing plant. We learn that even though ADM is the biggest business, the locals aren’t fond of it.
But it isn’t just about Clinton the town, it is about the team, as well as its most loyal supporters. Mann points out that he was welcomed with open arms into a group of people who had been there for years, who had seen the LumberKings win a championship in 1991, as the Clinton Giants. He talks about how the group of fans, known as the Baseball Family, establish a relationship with the players, almost at a Bull Durham-esque level.
Mann also offers insight into a minor league clubhouse from an outsider’s perspective. In his book, he highlights the lives of the regular farmhands, players like Danny Carroll, a former third round pick and an outfielder who is still in A ball for Rome, the Atlanta Braves affiliate, and Henry Contreras, a catcher who retired in 2011 after never advancing past the A level.
He also profiles those higher level prospects, like Erasmo Ramirez, a starter who ended up in the Mariners bullpen by 2012, and Nick Franklin, a former first round pick and second baseman/shortstop who made his major league debut this past season.
In reading Mann’s book, I am reminded of another minor league memoir that I once read, Matt McCarthy’s Odd Man Out. McCarthy’s had a certain degree of candidness to it, as he was a pitcher on the Provo Angels when he kept his diary. Lucas Mann in this is more of the intern, the big fan, the privileged one who gets an all-access pass. While McCarthy’s book seemed to focus more on the negative when it came to baseball, which is odd, especially since he was playing in a town that prided itself on its high moral code, Mann’s offered more of a positive outlook on things. He felt it when players were cut or promoted. He felt no animosity towards the players he was with. To a cynic, this could be a sugarcoat, a glossing over the fact that there is still a cultural divide in the minor leagues, but in all honesty, Mann’s book is a refresher, a call back to the days when baseball was baseball, when players were human, when fans had a certain measure of grace.
So is the book good? Certainly. It’s an outside perspective on baseball, a miniature lesson in sociology, and a bonding exercise all in one. It’s an excellent debut memoir, hopefully the best in a stack of minor league memoirs.