October 20th, 2005

Calvinball

Reading Matter

I finished The Last Best League, by Jim Collins, a while back. It's non-fiction about the Cape Cod Baseball League, an amateur summer league where the best college baseball players in the country can strut their stuff for major league scouts, and incidentally, learn how to hit with wooden bats. The writing can be a bit uneven. I'm not sure I needed to know what each and every ball field on the Cape smells like, and there are some odd descriptions, such as this passage about pitcher Tim Stauffer:

An observer could tell at a glance—from the uniform, the big ears, the thick eyebrows—that Stauffer didn't come from some posh suburb in Florida or southern California, the sunny places that seem to spawn most college ballplayers these days.

Sunshine shrinks a person's ears? There are other scenes that also struck me oddly, and some that made me wonder how the omniscient author even knew about them.

Still, there's lots interesting stuff here, particularly when he focuses on his three primary characters, Stauffer, pitcher Thomas Pauly, and third baseman Jamie D'Antona. Stauffer is the pitcher with ice water in his veins, one of the best college pitchers in the country, who really has nothing to prove. His only task is not to screw up. Pauly, on the other hand, has no reputation, and is only on the team as a favor to his coach and because someone else bailed to play professionally. He starts out the season figuring he's got no shot, so why bother trying. Then there's D'Antona, the natural, a star college hitter who is considered a can't miss prospect, a kid who isn't afraid of hard work, even manual labor, with a good attitude. His only weakness is that he often lacks focus. In the end, Stauffer doesn't screw up, D'Antona finds some focus, and Pauly discovers that maybe he is good enough to be an elite player after all.

The book covers the 2002 CCBL season, after which all three of the players were drafted by major league teams. I checked up on them to see how they were all doing. Stauffer has already made it to the majors with the Padres, playing the first half of this season with the big club. I even listened to at least one of his games versus the Dodgers. Unfortunately, his numbers weren't that good, so they shipped him back to AAA for some more seasoning. He'll get another shot come spring training. Pauly was the best pitcher on one of the Reds' A level teams, but still has a long ways to go. D'Antona, the can't miss prospect, had a mediocre year for Arizona's AA team. Unless there's some mitigating factor, he may not even get as far as AAA. He's no longer considered a prime prospect. Too bad, because he seems like a nice kid.

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I also finished another Nero Wolfe, The Silent Speaker. Fun, as usual.