YORKTON - When I saw ‘Summer Baseball Nation: Nine Days in the Wood Bat Leagues’ by Will Geoghegan, I was immediately interested.
Wood bat leagues are typically places for college players to play in the summer getting used to wood bats like they will use in the pros – colleges use aluminum bats typically.
So the book I suspected was going to be relatable since Yorkton was home to the Western Canadian Baseball League Cardinals for more than a decade, and the WCBL is itself a wood bat league, drawing players for rosters mostly from American colleges.
Sadly, the Cardinals, and their Highway #10 rival Melville Millionaires have both ceased operations as they were awash in red ink – nights of summer baseball under the lights swatting mosquitos and listening to a baseball jumping off a wooden stick simply not resonating with enough people to balance the books.
The league, which has been on hiatus due to COVID, still has Saskatchewan franchises in Regina, Weyburn, Swift Current and Moose Jaw, but alas, as a baseball fan they are gone locally.
I will say that Geoghegan’s book did bring back a lot of Cardinal memories, from mosquitos, to being near drowned with Peter Baran in a torrential storm, to the arrival of lights, to watching the likes of local star Chad Elmy, to a young kid just learning who would become a Major League all-star in shortstop Andrelton Simmons.
The leagues in the book produce a lot more stars than the WCBL, as noted in the book’s teaser.
“The poetry of America’s pastime persists as soon-to-be stars such as Gordon Beckham, Buster Posey, and Aaron Judge crash in spare bedrooms and play for free on city and college ball fields,” notes the publisher’s page at www.nebraskapress.unl.edu
But, the dreams are the same for players across all the summer college leagues.
Geoghegan noted, “there are a lot of leagues around,” and while the level of talent varies significantly “it’s the same brand of baseball, with the same connections to the communities.”
And, you might see the next Judge or Simmons while watching a summer of ball.
“There’s something cool about that, seeing somebody before they make it big,” said Geoghegan.
It’s big stars before anyone knows it, as the book notes; “after the last swings of batting practice for the Kettleers, the Harwich grounds crew springs into action and gets the field ready. Players do most of the heavy lifting. Major Leaguers with Cape League summers on their résumés have all hosed down mounds and raked infield dirt. It’s a product of the Cape League’s early years, when players worked summer jobs. At one time it was a requirement for the league’s NCAA certification that players be offered the chance to work. Buck Showalter served lunch in Hyannis. Mo Vaughn painted houses in Wareham. Jeff Bagwell washed dishes at Friendly’s in Chatham. Most players don’t take on those kinds of jobs now, but team clinics and field maintenance keep them busy.”
Geoghegan said in touching on a lot of players from the summer he attended games he was hopeful “to hit on a couple of guys who’ll hit it big.” Readers will only find out if he managed that as the players progress in their careers.
The book tries to give some of the flavour of some of the summer leagues as the author traversed the country from Alaska to Washington DC, and from the Cape Cod League to California and back to Kenosha, WS.
“It was really fun. The process was fun. The trips were great,” said Geoghegan in a recent interview with Yorkton This Week.
So, again from the publisher’s website; “Summer Baseball Nation chronicles a season in America’s summer collegiate baseball leagues. From the Cape to Alaska and a lot of places in between. Will Geoghegan tells the stories of a summer: eighteen of the best college players in the country playing Wiffle ball on Cape Cod, the Midnight Sun Game in Alaska (watch for more on this notable game in a sister column in The Marketplace Friday and online Saturday at SaskToday.ca), a California legend picking up another win, home runs flying into Lake Michigan, and the namesake of an old Minor League club packing the same charming ballpark. At every stop, players chase dreams while players and fans alike savor the moment.”
The missing element, at least for this reader, was more about how the community’s viewed teams – a little less on the players who might, or might not become stars, and more from the fan in the bleachers eating a hot dog and keeping score whether they are future stars or not.
“I probably should have,” agreed Geoghegan when asked about it.
But, still ‘Summer Baseball Nation: Nine Days in the Wood Bat Leagues’ resonates well as a former Cardinal fan, and it likely will for any fan of a WMBL franchise.
And, so far Geoghegan said he has been satisfied with the response to the book, adding as his first he’s pretty happy to just have it out.
“When the box of books arrived, it was a pretty cool moment,” he said.