The start of a new baseball season doesn't just mean a full-to-bursting schedule of games taking place every evening. For those with literary inclinations, it also means a full-to-bursting slate of new national pastime-related books to peruse.
Here at the MiLB.com offices, it seems that nary a day has gone by without a new book arriving, along with the requisite polite request to please consider it for review. I do my best in this regard, having read and written about dozens of books both in Farm's Almanac and my "Ben's Bookshelf" column, but at this time of year I just can't keep up.
Therefore, 2014's inaugural edition of Farm's Almanac will simply provide you, the potential reader, with a succinct roundup of new and notable Minor League-themed baseball titles. Full reviews will (hopefully) follow; in the meantime, consider this an ongoing conversation. Please get in touch if you would like to share your opinions regarding your favorite Minor League Baseball books. I'll feature the responses in an upcoming Ben's Biz Blog post.
With introductory explanations out of the way, let us now proceed unencumbered to what you all presumably came here for: new books, and lots of 'em!
The Texas League Baseball Almanac, by David King and Tom Kayser
Baseball on the Prairie: How Seven Small-Town Teams Shaped Texas League History, by Kris Rutherford
These complementary Texas League titles come courtesy of History Press, and taken together, provide an overview of one of Minor League Baseball's longest-running and most historically rich leagues. The Texas League Almanac, co-written by league president Tom Kayser, provides a day-by-day account of notable occurrences that have taken place within what is currently an eight-team Double-A circuit. As such, it makes for a great bathroom book (if you'll excuse the terminology), as the factoids contained therein are concise, interesting and don't need to be read in any sort of order. If you were wondering what occurred today (April 11) in Texas League history, then flip open to page 21: In 1920 the San Antonio Aces, seeking a change in their luck, changed their name to the Bears. Sixteen years later, the barnstorming Tokyo Giants defeated the Tulsa Oilers, and in 1950 a still-existing attendance record was established when Dallas played against a team of Major League All-Stars in front of 53,378 fans at the Cotton Bowl.
The yin to The Texas League Almanac's yang, Baseball on the Prairie, offers a deep exploration of the league's early history. The emergence of widespread train service led to the establishment of professional baseball teams in previously isolated towns, and Rutherford explains how these rustic locations (Sherman, Denison, Paris, Corsicana, Cleburne, Greenville and Temple) nurtured some of the league's -- and, in some cases, Major League Baseball's -- greatest players. As an added bonus, the book provides a detailed account of the most lopsided contest in professional baseball history: Corsicana Oil Citys' 51-3 romp over the Texarkana Casketmakers.
Baseball Road Trips: The Midwest and Great Lakes, by Tim Mullin
Tim Mullin is living the dream, having quit a job in the world of law firm finance in order to write about the joys of baseball-centric road trips. His latest book focuses on the Midwest and Great Lakes region, with each of the nine chapters dedicated to detailing the Major, Minor and independent professional teams that can be found in a specific state (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin). In addition to thorough stadium write-ups, Mullin provides potential itineraries, car rental, airport and hotel information, restaurant and night-life options and suggested side trips. For example, when in Indianapolis visiting the Indians, why not seek out Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown's final resting place?
Minor Trips Newsletter, edited by Bob Carson
Though not a book, per se, Bob Carson's long-running Minor Trips newsletter should be of interest to any Minor League fan with peripatetic tendencies. An archaic -- and proud of it -- holdover from a pre-Internet age, Minor Trips is a biannual publication filled with traveling tips, reader-contributed reminisces, trivia, poetry, book reviews and much more. Each issue is imbued with a good-natured, generous spirit, and a true sense of community is apparent. Subscriptions are $15; contact Bob Carson firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
The Continental League: A Personal History, by Russell D. Buhite
Now a footnote in baseball history, the Continental League was a Branch Rickey-led effort to establish a third Major League. This effort was not successful, but its reverberations are still felt today today, as the Continental League represented a drastic new way of doing business and ultimately pressured MLB to expand to new markets in order to maintain its dominance. Minor League history buffs will be particularly interested in the section on the Western Carolina League, the precursor to today's South Atlantic League, which was originally established in order to develop future Continental League talent. Buhite is uniquely well-positioned to tell this story -- he was an "original Continental Leaguer" and describes his book as "part history and part memoir."
Nine Bucks a Pound, by James Bailey
In writing his first novel, the Minor League front-office themed "The Greatest Show on Dirt," Bailey drew heavily on his personal experiences as a one-time employee of the Durham Bulls. "Nine Bucks A Pound" represents more of a leap, then, as it moves from the front office to the playing field itself. The book's protagonist is one Del Tanner, a struggling Minnesota Twins farmhand who uses performance-enhancing drugs as a means to advance his once-promising career. This topic hasn't been broached much, if at all, in the world of baseball fiction, but Bailey, a long-time Baseball America contributor, seems well-positioned to do so. ESPN.com's Jayson Stark has already given Nine Bucks a Pound a rave review, lauding Bailey for writing a book that "actually tells the human side of this story."
Versus the Demons, by Michael Wellman
Finally, we have Versus the Demons, the debut novel from Iowa-based schoolteacher (and long-suffering Chicago Cubs blogger) Michael Wellman. The book tells the story of Shorty Irslund, born during the first night game in professional baseball history and, as such, cosmically destined for a life in baseball. Irslund's colorfully rendered bush league meanderings are woven into a story with larger concerns, as soon enough he finds his soul "caught in a hotbox between a famed temperance evangelist and a presidential candidate." Don't you hate it when that happens? For more information and to check out Wellman's other work visit michaelwellmanwriter.com