Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere
Vintage Books, Paperback, 9780307949752, 318pp.
Publication Date: March 11, 2014
An unforgettable chronicle of a year of minor-league baseball in a small Iowa town that follows not only the travails of the players of the Clinton LumberKings but alsothe lives of their dedicated fans and of the town itself.
Award-winning essayist Lucas Mann delivers a powerful debut in his telling of the story of the 2010 season of the Clinton LumberKings. Along the Mississippi River, in a Depression-era stadium, young prospects from all over the world compete for a chance to move up through the baseball ranks to the major leagues. Their coaches, some of whom have spent nearly half a century in the game, watch from the dugout. In the bleachers, local fans call out from the same seats they ve occupied year after year. And in the distance, smoke rises from the largest remaining factory in a town that once had more millionaires per capita than any other in America.
Mann turns his eye on the players, the coaches, the fans, the radio announcer, the town, and finally on himself, a young man raised on baseball, driven to know what still draws him to the stadium. His voice is as fresh and funny as it is poignant, illuminating both the small triumphs and the harsh realities of minor-league ball. Part sports story, part cultural exploration, part memoir, "Class A" is a moving and unique study of why we play, why we watch, and why we remember.
“Mann . . . creates instead a fresh rendering of the game that makes baseball seem vital and new. This is a story you haven’t heard before. . . . Mann’s baseball writing is a revelation. At age 24, in 2010, Mann is not much older than the players he’s covering, but his baseball acumen is high from having played the game in high school and college. . . . Having spent several months with the players, Mann gets behind their seeming incoherence to real thoughts and emotions. . . . His descriptions of locker-room antics and crudities are priceless. . . . Mann is young, easily flustered and often star-struck, but he’s no fool. He is an astute observer and brutally honest when he wants to be.” —Seattle Times
“A Grand Slam . . . . Lucas writes about the Clinton fans and the players . . . with affection, passion and poignancy, in this deft portrayal of a slice of America. He knocks it out of the ballpark with ease.” —Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers
“Lucas Mann’s Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere is turning out to be the sleeper favorite in the new baseball book season.” —Ron Kaplan’s Baseball Bookshelf
“The reason that this is such an affecting baseball book, one that would be fast-tracked into the canon of gritty-yet-sensitive American sportswriting if such a thing still existed, is that, really, it’s barely about baseball at all. . . . Mann, currently in his 20s, is a warrior-poet from another age. . . . Seeing what he can do, I feel something like a bewildered scout, watching a not-quite-developed prospect get around on another fastball and send it into the empty parking lot, jotting down in my notebook, ‘Mann—who is this kid?’” —The Daily Beast
“Mann . . . combines hyper-detailed journalism with a lyrical flow of prose into a book debut that transcends all of the hackneyed clichés of sports writing. Mann imbues his chronicle with the tale of a town as removed from major-league prosperity as the players whose uniforms bear the burg’s name. Meantime, his beloved late brother hovers over Mann like Marley’s ghost, while memories of going to Yankee Stadium with his father rival anything Roger Angell has written on the same topic. Mann’s narrative is a tapestry of subplots composed of the kind of unsparing detail that manages somehow to be simultaneously inspiring, despairing and hopeful. Chronicling both life’s harshest realities and the stuff dreams are made of, Mann has created some kind of classic out of the smoke and mirrors of a moribund town and the visions of young men who don’t know it’s time to wake up.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“This is a beautifully created and lyrical look at a year in the life of minor-league baseball team and the factory town in Iowa. The story of the 2010 Clinton LumberKings belongs on your sports bookshelf. It will remain on mine. NOTABLE” —Harvey Frommer, Sportsology
“Class A is a joyful book that captures the minor-league baseball spirit in a funny and poignant fashion. Yet this is far more than a baseball book. . . . Mann obviously understands and appreciates the game of baseball. He references great baseball literature for young readers, as well as the writings of John Updike and other classic works. Many are frightened of sports-themed nonfiction, but that should not deter anyone from delving into Class A. The real people of this wonderful book are more than sports figures, and learning about their lives is certainly a rewarding reading experience.” —TeenReads.com
“Is there room for another book about America’s favorite pastime? Lucas Mann's Class A earns a position in a lineup that already includes Bang the Drum Slowly, The Natural, The Boys of Summer, Moneyball and The Art of Fielding because, remarkably, it offers a fresh, unexpected angle on this well-trodden game. Chances are you'll be hearing lots of cheers proclaiming Mann’s genre-bending book a Grand slam! and In a class by itself! . . . Mann offers a different sort of analysis, at once lyrical, intellectual and personal. His meditations on ‘a game that allows ample time for reflection and appreciation’ lift Class A above the fray of more ordinary baseball books. . . . Class A captures the longing, the uncertainty and the drive for recognition, both on and off the ball field.” —Heller McAlpin, NPR
“Mann wryly notes that the [baseball game] was watched by more people than will ever watch Mann do anything. But he is being overly modest. For if there’s one surefire big-league prospect among the has-beens, might-bes, and never-will-bes who populate this memoir, it’s Mann himself who, in his first trip to the plate, knocks it out of the park. If Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding was the Field of Dreams of baseball books, replete with lyricism and Roger Angellesque poetry, then Class A could be considered literature’s answer to Bull Durham—raucous and scruffy, yet heartfelt and true. Mann clearly knows his sports. His references to John Updike’s classic essay about Ted Williams and Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes, for example, are apt, and his trenchant, witty observations about the uneasy relationship between ballplayers and the denizens of the town where they play suggest the influences of both Joan Didion and David Foster Wallace. But it’s Mann’s knowledge of and affection for people that truly resonates. And what elevates Class A beyond being just an entertaining and poignant work of narrative nonfiction is the book’s most winning character—Mann himself. As a writer and observer, he is patient, sympathetic to a fault, optimistic in spite of himself, and, despite his gifts, impressively unassuming. . . . The fate of most writers may ultimately be not all that different from that of most ballplayers. Decades from now, the vast majority of the names currently seen on the spines of books will probably seem as unfamiliar as those found in a pack of random 2013 baseball cards. But I’d be willing to wager that Lucas Mann is one of the names that will endure.” —Adam Langer, The Boston Globe
“Yes, there are Friday night games under the lights in minor-league baseball, too. New York native Mann spent the 2010 season following the Clinton LumberKings. His sharp and entertaining observations cover not only the players, but the fans in the club’s small Iowa factory town who’s most prosperous days may be in the rearview mirror. The author even goes so far as to get himself into the costume of Louie the LumberKing for a game—for a mascot’s-eye view.” —New York Post
“Mann could have fallen for the easy, Bull Durham–style clichés of the minor-league game—hard-bitten catcher teaching the ropes to brilliant but raw rookie pitcher; the baseball Annie with a heart of gold—but instead offers an affecting and authentic portrait of the hard times of most minor leaguers set in a shrinking town with hard times of its own. Mann focuses on two LumberKing players, infielder Nick Franklin and pitcher Erasmo Ramirez, with the most potential for catching on with the Big Club (Ramirez, in fact, appeared in 16 games last year with Seattle) and also on those bubble players whose latest bad swing or errant pitch could be their last and the fans who work even harder than the players to preserve the legacy of their beloved LumberKings. Then there’s struggling Clinton itself, rendered in sympathetic but unsparing detail. A surprising book, in the best sense.” —Booklist
“In the tradition of football’s Friday Night Lights, a young writer spends a year (and more) following the fortunes of a baseball team: the Class A Clinton, Iowa, LumberKings. In this impressive debut, University of Iowa writer-in-residence Mann has a busy agenda. He writes frequently about his own doubts, insecurities (he was not much older than his subjects) and failures (in sports, in barrooms). . . . The author provides . . . plenty of piquant moments of success, failure, consequence and inconsequence. . . . Mann’s style is easy, fluid, self-deprecating and always engaging. A grand slam.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“If you love baseball and care about men who struggle and yearn, you will love this gritty portrait of minor league players as they perform in a battered, polluted Iowa town that has suffered its own hope and disappointment. Lucas Mann writes with fluid introspection and disturbing honesty.”
—David Shipler, author of The Working Poor
“This is a hard-hitting examination of minor league baseball and some of the major issues of life in small-town America, in this instance, Clinton, IA. . . . In this compelling book Mann seeks to humanize not only the players but also the fans who comprise the family of this small-town field of dreams. Overshadowing much of the story is the decline of Clinton, a once proud, mighty union town. At bottom, this work examines honestly, seriously, and at time comically dreams dashed, dreams deferred, and perhaps dreams yet to be realized. Like a mixture of Bull Durham, American Gothic, a Coen brothers film, and a Springsteen song. Highly recommended for any serious lover of baseball, small-town America, contemporary popular culture, or just plain good nonfiction.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“Lucas Mann’s startlingly good Class A revitalizes not just the small-town sports story but the genre of creative nonfiction itself. It’s the most original nonfiction debut I’ve read in years, much smarter than the usual ‘you-are-there’ narrative and far more vivid, witty, and emotionally rich than a book this self-aware has any right to be. Mann’s orchestration of character and moment—his insight into the nature of hope and delusion—is wonderful to behold.” —Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family and Sweet Heaven When I Die
“Like a millennial Joan Didion or Gay Talese, just as talented, just as pure, Lucas Mann comes blazing out of nowhere and makes good on this book’s grand promise of ‘everywhere’: his beautiful losers, monkey-rodeo impresario, superstars-in-training, steely-eyed Venezuelan Caseys-at-the-Bat, and—perhaps most profoundly—his own winsome self, make this tour through the Mississippi Valley minors the most intensely contemporary and truly amusing nonfiction that I have read in quite some time.” —John Beckman, author of The Winter Zoo
“Beautifully written. The best, most human, account of the minor league experience I've read. Mann's story resides beyond the chilly statistics of the game, in a lush world draped with blood, sweat, fear and longing. Where residents of a town in steep decline and a team replete with doomed prospects somehow manage to find that one product baseball manufactures more expertly than any other industry—hope.” —Mitchell Nathanson, author of A People’s History of Baseball
“Lucas Mann’s debut is a beautiful, gripping account of his immersion in the world of a Class A minor league team, the LumberKings of Clinton, Iowa. This is a book about baseball, players-in-waiting, fans and community, but it is also a pitch perfect evocation of what the author calls ‘the middle of everywhere’–that place where so many people live and work, finding grace and meaning in often challenging circumstances. Put Class A on your bookshelf alongside Friday Night Lights.” —Honor Moore, author of The Bishop’s Daughter
“Class A is unapologetically intimate—a deeply compassionate, blessedly unrelenting, and sometimes uncomfortably insightful portrait of a town and a team that might have too much invested in one another. Lucas Mann beautifully blends reportage and lyricism to create a story of vibrant consequence.” —John D’Agata, author of About a Mountain
“The key to Lucas Mann’s superb Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere is that every life, properly understood, is compelling. My college writing teacher told me that the only subject worth writing about is failure. Lucas Mann seems to know this to the bottom of his toes. His book is an impressively unblinking meditation on private and public failure.” —David Shields, author of Reality Hunger and Black Planet