Picture
Even if you're a huge baseball fan, you've probably never heard of the Clinton Lumberkings, the single-A level farm team for the Seattle Mariners. But for a small group of players, the team is a crucible of triumph and defeat, either the gateway to big-league money and the better life that it would entail, or the end of the road for their would-be athletic careers. First-time author Lucas Mann spent an entire season with the Lumberkings and their fans, which he documented with keen sensitivity in CLASS A: BASEBALL IN THE MIDDLE OF EVERYWHERE, one of my favorite books of the year. Click 'read more' for the interview, and maybe later check out my longer review of the book at The Daily Beast.

1) What made you think that following a single-A team would be so fruitful? Did you set out to find 
anything in particular?


It’s really hard to remember what I set out to find.  There was basic a motivation; I know
that.  I wanted to find something to potentially write about.  And I wanted to put myself
in a world that might resonate emotionally.  When you’re doing an MFA in nonfiction,
one nice thing is that you have to find something to write about.  I didn’t want to do a
memoir project for my thesis, or at least not a conventional one, so I had to figure it out
on the fly.  I grew up as a baseball player and baseball lover, so I took a shot on showing
up at a minor league stadium.  I think it was a lucky break for me and the book that I was
growing up and experimenting as a writer while immersing myself in this baseball world,
so any expectations or specific desires for the project (finding a future superstar and
reporting on his every move before anyone else, etc) went out the window as I continued
to grapple with the kind of writer I wanted to be.  I spent most of my time with the team
and the fans trying to figure out if I had anything to say and if there was anything of note
happening in front of me, while at the same time being hooked enough to keep showing
up.  That pulsing uncertainty was terrifying at first, but slowly I realized that there is no
better backdrop for uncertainty than the low-level minors.  That’s when the fruitfulness of
the single-A world became clear for me.



2) How do you think the book would have differed if instead of a minor league baseball team, you had 
spent time with, say, a Canadian league football team, or a professional lacrosse team? In other words, 
how much of what you found was specific to the sport of baseball, and how much of it was just underappreciated young men struggling in an uncertain environment?


I’m sure some of the same themes would be there if I was writing about any lower-level
sports team, or for that matter any group of aspiring actors, a dance company, an MFA
program.  Seeing people strive for something is pretty fascinating to me no matter what
it is they’re striving for.  What wouldn’t be there without baseball is the personal aspect
of the narrative.  As much as I try to be a reporter in this book, I want my perspective and
my memories to mingle and fight with the reportage.  Baseball has meant something to
me for a long time.  I lapped up all the tropes attached to baseball history and literature
as a kid — the tradition, the morality tales, the lingo.  Writing into that personal history,
as well the enormous weight of the cultural history attached to baseball, gave me the
challenge of trying to find something new in there.  As a nonfiction writer, I think one of
the most fun parts of the gig is going after a subject that has been covered over and over
and making it strange and unexpected again, adding a fresh lens to a topic that readers
thought they knew completely.  I don’t know if I actually succeeded at that, but it made
the process of writing come alive for me because there was always that challenge of
rethinking.  That interaction with the tropes and expectations that come with the just
word “baseball,” doesn’t really exist when writing about any other sport.



3) You treat everyone in the book fairly and never gawk or make fun, but your investigation is so 
acutely honest and perceptive that it might surprise them if they read it. In fact in an odd way it seems 
almost like it would be an abundance of care or thought that you show for these people, rather than a 
lack of it, that might make seeing them again a little embarrassing for you. Did you worry about the 
reaction to the book of anyone on or around the team? Have you been contacted at all?


I was, and to a lesser extent still am, terrified about peoples’ reactions.  This is my first
book, and it’s a book that is packed full of other peoples’ lives that they generously
let me barge in on, as well as a whole lot of intense personal revelation.  When I was
writing, the idea of anybody else seeing my work was really abstract to me and now that
people are actually reading the thing, it feels a bit like being caught naked.  Or actually
caught naked watching other people undress.  My biggest hope has been that people
appreciate the care in the book, the affinity that I have for the people I’m writing about
and my appreciation for what they do, even if the book examines some harsh sociological
realities.  I’ve been incredibly gratified by the reaction of the people in the book that
I’ve spoken to so far.  A few weeks ago, I went back to Clinton to see a game and catch
up.  Fans like Tim and Joyce, huge characters in the narrative that have since become
my friends, read the book and liked it and were glad to have been a part of it.  They
were happy that I told their stories. That felt amazing.  I’ve also received really nice,
thoughtful, generous reactions from Brad, the public address announcer, and Dave, the
radio announcer.  On the baseball side of things, I sent copies of the book to the main
players and the manager. Their lives are, obviously, way more itinerant than the people I
got to know in Clinton. I haven’t heard anything back yet. I hope they like it, or at least
feel that it’s honest to a place and a time in their lives.



4) Why should people who love books also love baseball?


I’ve got a bit of a chip on my shoulder about this one, so let me apologize ahead of time. I
don’t have any interest in convincing book lovers to love baseball.  I get that the slowness
and the macho stuff and all the stats can be a tough sell to people that haven’t grown
up with the game. But I do think that people who love books should love a good book
about anything.  I don’t know why it’s so difficult for that really basic principle to extend
to books that deal with sports.  I was amazed when The Art of Fielding got all those
accolades a few years ago and it felt like so many of the positive responses felt the need
to qualify praise with this sense of, I know, can’t believe it either!  It’s not entirely about
baseball!  It has literary merit!  Well, yeah, obviously.  That’s like expressing shock that
Moby Dick can resonate for people who have never whaled.  I love writing that looks
hard at the interior workings of individuals, or small microcosms of culture, and finds
some humanity in that smallness that can translate out.  Baseball, whether we’re talking
about the lives of those who play the game or those who love the game, can translate
out as well as anything else.  To me, each team provides an ecosystem that holds all
these rich dueling forces — tradition, desire, competition, friendship, hope, failure, class
implications, race relations.  That human experience transcends beyond the confines of a
particular game.



5) From any stage of your athletic career, what was your personal moment of greatest athletic glory?


I peaked as a pitcher at twelve.  I really dominated the cusp of puberty.  Post puberty, not
so much. I have some ridiculously inflated memories of pitching to little crowds that had
developed on the sidewalk by the little league field to watch me strike people out.  I’m
pretty sure that really happened.  One nice thing about being a former jock of any level
is the ability to find athletic glory in any small place as an adult.  Last summer, I hit what
I deemed to be a towering home run in a rec league softball game in Iowa City.  I talked
about it for weeks.  I’m still talking about it.



8/11/2013 07:08:35 pm

Picture
Even if you're a huge baseball fan, you've probably never heard of the Clinton Lumberkings, the single-A level farm team for the Seattle Mariners. But for a small group of players, the team is a crucible of triumph and defeat, either the gateway to big-league money and the better life that it would entail, or the end of the road for their would-be athletic careers.

Reply

To me, each team provides an ecosystem that holds all
these rich dueling forces — tradition, desire, competition, friendship, hope, failure, class
implications, race relations. That human experience transcends beyond the confines of a
particular game.

Reply
10/1/2013 10:34:33 pm

You don't have to fear defeat if you believe it may reveal powers that you didn't know you possessed.

Reply
2/10/2014 06:01:59 pm

I admire the way you brought out the general essence of your topic. Thanks for this blog.

Reply
9/2/2015 09:29:42 pm

Startling blog indubitably! The advance is very unique and easy to make variation what’s in the blog.

Reply
9/22/2015 12:07:26 am

Great punch of information. I really loved your old posts as well.

Reply



Leave a Reply.