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Like lots of minor league baseball teams, Iowa's LumberKings have sent players to the majors and they have fans who rarely miss a game. Unlike most minor league teams, the LumberKings also have a chronicler, because Lucas Mann spent the 2010 season with the "A" level team. In a book titled Class A Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere, he tells their story.
Highlights from Bill's Interview with Lucas Mann
BL: Of all the minor league baseball teams in all the world, why did you choose to spend a season with the LumberKings in Clinton, Iowa?
LM: I was out in Iowa, getting my MFA in writing at the University of Iowa. And it really just started with me looking for something to maybe report on. Something that would potentially be a viable, creative thesis topic. I’d always loved baseball, and I knew the Midwest League was there, so I started poking around. And it was such an evocative place. It’s right on the Mississippi, and the stadium basically looks like it did in the ‘30s when it was first built. And I just sorta knew that if they let me, this has to be the place.
BL: It's not quite fair to say there's nothing but the LumberKings in Clinton, but it's close, I guess.
LM: What I found in Clinton was an amazing amount of really great people that I got to know in this community that was there of a lot of people who had stayed and have made these family lives there for generations. But in terms of draws to the outside, there’s the Mississippi riverfront that’s been fixed up, there’s a casino on the edge of town, and there’s the LumberKings.
BL: Class A Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere is as much about the most loyal fans of the LumberKings as anything else, and it's perhaps an exaggeration to say that there are people who live for the team, but maybe not much of an exaggeration, as you write about these people. Tell us a little about their most dedicated followers and what the players made of them.
LM: Sure, one woman who ends up in the book a lot - and I even say in the book, she sort of forced her way into the narrative just by her presence and her volume - is a woman named Joyce who I became close friends with and was one of the more fascinating people I’ve ever met. She’s a single woman in her 50s, and she works blackjack dealer at the casino. She’s lived in Clinton almost all of her life.
She collects signatures on batting practice home run balls that she goes after and gets in the afternoon. And then she takes the balls and gets players to sign them. And her house has I think now over 1,000 encased-in-plastic, signed baseballs that she can sort of find the player that you tell her to find, after a little while. She's got these index cards set up. Ultimately, I found sort of an amazing amount of agency in what she did. She was a part of a larger group of fans that were really dedicated that I sat with every day that called themselves the baseball family. They make themselves a part of it. They are the only continuous thing in a minor league baseball world. Players change, coaches change, major league affiliates change, and then fans like Joyce and the baseball family are there as the constant in the world.
Bill's thoughts on Class A Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere
Few of them have been attracted to that project because it will put them in "proximity to failure," and connect them to people who "don't know that things get worse."
Lucas Mann's Class A Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere chronicles a season with the Clinton, Iowa LumberKings. Clinton is a declining town in which "a lot of things are gone," and the stench provided by an enormous Archer Daniels Midland plant creates an atmosphere a local congressman describes as "toasty and comforting," though the Department of Natural Resources has found that "the particulate matter in Clinton's air was bordering on unallowable." The LumberKings, a low minor league affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, bump around the Midwest in a bus and inspire a motley group of obsessive fans with which Mann, to his credit, connects.
Class A Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere is not a fine and worthy book because the team or its fans are especially noteworthy. It's a fine and worthy book because Lucas Mann is an observant and thoughtful writer who makes a virtue of the fact that he never really fits in with the members of the team or the fans who attend the games. He's an observer who views the fleeting joy and inevitable disappointment inherent in his subject through the lens of his own personal losses, which are considerable. Mann is honest and articulate, and sometimes his prose is wickedly fine.
This segment aired on July 27, 2013.
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