Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Last Best League, by Jim Collins

The Last Best League: One Summer, One Season, One Dream, by Jim Collins

While I like baseball, I admit I'd never heard of the Cape Cod Baseball League before reading this book. I found it fascinating: a detailed look at what is often the last phase of amateur baseball prior to a professional career. The juxtaposition of an amateur league run largely by volunteers and low-paid managers that attracts the attention of top MLB scouts and whose players routinely receive six or seven figure signing bonuses was interesting. The players—mainly 20 and 21 year old college students—know that playing well on this stage can mean serious money if they do well, or kill any dream of playing professionally if they don't. The coaches are there for the love of the game, knowing they'll never see the kind of money many of their young wards will. The Last Best League captures the emotion of this situation well, following one team through the summer season of 2002.

One of my favorite aspects of baseball is that there is no clock; no matter how far behind one team gets, it is theoretically possible to close the gap in a single inning. Collins takes this truth and uses it as a metaphor to capture the beauty of baseball through the years. "The game had the awesome ability to stop time. There is no clock in baseball. The players out there on the field were twenty years old, just as they were last year, five years ago, ten. Nothing had changed—that was the illusion. Forget that the big electronic scoreboard in left field was new. ... Forget that this little old-fashioned club had spent $60,000 in the off-season on field improvement... That was real grass out there, those were wooden bats. The generations blurred. Mike MacDougal, Mike Lowell, Jeff Bagwell, Thurman Munson, Johnny Schiffner watched from the dugout. These were the same kids out there, chasing the same dream, giving the same gift." While baseball is often seen as being reluctant to embrace modern technology, this reluctance helps give the sport a timeless quality. Collins gives us a compelling glimpse into this aspect of our national pastime through the eyes of young men with dreams of playing at the highest level.

First Sentence:
For John Schiffner the summer of 2002 began at four o'clock on the eighth of June.

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