When baseball's spring training begins, the dreams and hopes of players, managers,
owners and even umpires will once again come down to what happens at the ballpark.
Whether playing in Florida's Grapefruit League or Arizona's Cactus League, each
major league team thinks it has a chance to win it all; every rookie phenom or aging
veteran is playing for keeps--a place in the bigs instead of being sent down to the
minors. In Where Nobody Knows Your Name, journeyman sportswriter John Feinstein (A Good Walk Spoiled; A Season on the Brink) takes us through the 2012 Triple A season with eight men who, in the words of Durham Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo, "don't
want to be here." Only a real baseball aficionado will recognize all eight, but even a passing fan can acknowledge and admire their love of the game and perseverance. As Feinstein describes them, they "are extremely good at what they do--but notas good as they want to be." They are "the guys who love the game, even though they often fail while playing it." Who doesn't know how that goes?
If reading a season's worth of Triple A sports reporting sounds like following the tavern tour schedule of a Michigan cover band, Feinstein makes it more like being backstage with Dylan. Typical of his "eight men out" is 36-year-old Scott Posednik, who had bounced among eight major league clubs before winding up with the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs and then the Reno Aces, hoping for one more shot. Unlike most players on the back side of their careers, he did get called up in 2012, playing out the year with the Boston Red Sox and batting a solid .302. But professional sports can be cruel: the Sox didn't take him back in 2013 since, as Feinstein notes, they wanted "to go young."
"It's a business," says longtime utility infielder Pete Orr. "Some days it's a great business to be in. Other days aren't as great." Feinstein's other heroes have similar stories. Even after 10 years as a minor league umpire, Mark Lollo got to work only eight games in the big leagues in 2011, then retired after missing a close call at the plate on the last play of the 2012 minor league season. Baseball's tough, and never tougher than at the Triple A level... the almost-good-enough league "where nobody knows your name."
Review published in Shelf Awarness, Feb. 21, 2014