DXMachina (dxmachina) wrote,

Foul Ball

Woke up at 4:30, after a really bizarre dream that involved WFAN Mets beat reporter Ed Coleman (who as far as I know isn't gay) being shouted down by anti-gay activists when he tried to hand out promotional stuff at a strip mall in Newport, followed by me running into the guy who coached the Newport women's soccer team back when I was still coaching. I woke up just after he'd convinced me to chuck my job to take a position as a professional women's soccer coach. I really need to be careful about snacking before I go to bed...

Couldn't get back to sleep, so I made myself some coffee, and here I am.

I finished Bouton's Foul Ball : My Life and Hard Times Trying to Save an Old Ballpark, and really enjoyed it. It's not really a baseball book, but rather a book about small town politics. There is an ancient ballpark in Pittsfield, MA, called Wahconah Park. It was built in the 1919. In 2001, the tennant, an Astros A team, announced they were moving to a brand new park in another town. The PTB in Pittsfield (i.e., the mayor, the bank, the daily newspaper, and General Electric, the town's biggest employer) put forward a proposal to build a new stadium to attract another team. The new stadium would be built at taxpayers' expense on land then owned by the newspaper, so all the PTB folks stood to gain financially. Meanwhile, the old park would be demolished. The townsfolk mounted a grassroots campaign in opposition, and managed to defeat the proposal when it came up on a referendum.

At this point, Bouton and his partners stepped in with a proposal of their own to renovate Wahconah Park with their own funds, in exchange for a long term lease which they would use to operate an independent league team. (The independent leagues consist of minor league teams that aren't affiliated with any major league team. Since they aren't part of a farm system, the teams tend to have more experienced players, including some ex-major leaguers, thus leading some to argue that the brand of baseball is better than you'd normally get in the low minors.) The proposal falls upon the deaf ears of the PTB, who are still trying to figure out how to ram through the new stadium. The book is the journal Bouton kept of their campaign.

It's a tough go. The main opponents are the mayor, a lame duck who relishes his power, and the newspaper, which because of its massive conflict of interest is almost totally against them, misreporting the story to its own advantage. And behind them both is the shadow of one of the world's largest corporations, GE, which over the years had dumped PCBs on nearly every vacant piece of land in Pittsfield. There are rumors that the newspaper's land is similarly contaminated, and the reason everyone is so hot for the stadium is that it's a structure that can be built without having to dig a very deep foundation, because god knows what they might find. Meanwhile, a couple of independent league teams, smelling new stadium, make their own proposals, bringing league politics into the mix, as well.

Most folks would take the hint and just walk away, but Bouton and his friend, Chip, are outraged. It becomes a crusade against tyranny for them, somewhat to dismay of their wives.

Tonight in the car, on the way to dinner, Paula and I talked about the "crusade."
"Chip and I are those rare individuals who could pull off something like this," I said. "Who else could do such a thing?"
"Single people, mostly," said Paula.

It's a book that resonates with me quite a bit, because of how disfunctional the local government around here has become. In my town, the school committee has started paying for police (at taxpayer expense, natch) to attend their meetings to keep order among the board members. The next town over has similar problems in their town council. There is a meanness and a pettiness that just has to be seen to be believed.
Tags: books

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