Thursday, February 9, 2012

Now available: The Greatest Show on Dirt

It’s been 20 years since I worked for the Durham Bulls. Somehow those three years I spent at old Durham Athletic Park feel closer to me than many of the jobs I’ve held since. If I had it all to do over, I might have stuck around until I was done with college and seen where things led. Maybe that’s time, romanticizing away the long hours and low pay that came with the territory.

It wasn’t the time or the paycheck that finally chased me out, though. It was the transition, as the team moved from Miles Wolff’s stewardship to the Capital Broadcasting Corporation. Several top hands, including the GM and at least one top assistant, departed in 1992. To the best of my knowledge they moved on without detailing their reasons, but it was fairly clear there was a new, meddling, sheriff in town, and they preferred to seek opportunity elsewhere.

I, being somewhat impudent, felt a statement was required. So I drafted up a letter to the new, corporate-installed GM, marched into his office, and demanded he read it as I sat there on the other side of his desk. I quit in a blaze of glory, telling him and CBC off for chasing away the rightful front office of America’s minor league team.

What a punkass.

Somehow, the team marched on without me. I hooked on with Baseball America, and within a year or so was frequenting the press box of the new Bulls stadium, which I wanted to dislike on the grounds that it lacked the character of the old one. (Translation: It wasn’t run down and the toilets didn’t overflow when flushed.) The DBAP was/is a beautiful place to watch a game, even if it’s not the old DAP. If you shield your eyes and block out the Bull and the high wall in left field, you might momentarily find yourself in any modern park in America, but there’s still enough Durham in it to keep you grounded.

I first started kicking a baseball novel around when I was coaching Little League in Seattle in the late ‘90s. There would be four friends, who went down separate paths after high school but remained bound together by their hometown and love of the game. I wrote a chapter or two, then left it for nearly a decade, simmering somewhere on a floppy disk. In the summer of 2006, these characters leapt back into my consciousness, only this time they had a new home: the old DAP. The seeds of The Greatest Show on Dirt took root and in time grew into a full draft, which bears surprisingly little resemblance to the final version that has been released at long last.

I read a lot of baseball books and hone in particularly on baseball novels. The common failing in the vast majority of baseball fiction is a loose relationship with reality. We see a lot of super players that can do no wrong, a good number of them shooting through the minor league like meteorites despite having been unheralded nobodies just months earlier. We see baseball worlds that bear no meaningful resemblance to the world we inhabit, which might be okay if the books were targeted at grade schoolers, but most aren’t. We see a lot of stock characters.

I hope you won’t see any of that in The Greatest Show on Dirt. I tried to keep it real, with a main character who loves the game from a different angle than we usually see in baseball books and movies. Lane Hamilton gets up every morning and goes to work in a ballpark. He doesn’t wear a uniform, doesn’t pitch, doesn’t bat, and wouldn’t catch a second glance from any scout. But without people like Lane, we wouldn’t get to watch the guys who loft the home runs over billboards laden with advertisements or bend ungodly curveballs that buckle young men’s knees.

Lane’s workday begins long before the players and coaches arrive. He tends to the field, sells ads for the program, and types up notes for the newspaper guys. There are thousands of Lane Hamiltons working in the minor leagues, toiling behind the scenes so the rest of us can show up at 7:00 and see a game. The Greatest Show on Dirt is their story—well, minus the corporate influence that has infiltrated most leagues since the mom-and-pop days of Lane’s era.

I’ll try to refrain from turning this site into a “rah-rah, buy my book” site. The mission here is reviewing baseball books, and it wouldn’t be appropriate to review my own so I’ll stick to an occasional update and leave it at that. The Greatest Show on Dirt is now available in both paper ($12.95) and Kindle ($2.99) formats via Amazon.com. If you’re so inclined, you know what to do. And if you like it enough to tell a friend or three, hey, that’s cool, too.

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