Sunday, April 5, 2020

Review of "Summer Baseball Nation"

When I was offered an advance copy of this book, I thought that from the description it would be about the Cape Cod summer league, a very popular summer league that uses only wood bats and is stocked with college players.  That league and one of its better teams is part of the book, but there is so much more to it that it's a very fun and enjoyable read.  Here is my review of "Summer Baseball Nation"



Title/Author:
“Summer Baseball Nation: Nine Days in the Wood Bat Leagues” by Will Geoghegan

Tags:
Baseball, amateur

Publish date:
April 1, 2020

Length:
240 pages

Rating:
5 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
While the word “baseball” will conjure up images of Major League players and ballparks with tens of thousands of fans in attendance, there are summer baseball games in which the players are not paid millions of dollars, tickets are fairly inexpensive, the teams are very popular in the local town – and those players are college players whose seasons ended but are playing to keep their skills sharp.  These summer leagues are described in this wonderful book by Will Geoghegan in which he spends nine days during the summer of 2016 watching some of these teams.

What makes this book a pleasure to read is that while reading it, it’s easy to imagine one’s self sitting in the bleachers at one of these games in places like Hampton, Virginia, Kenosha, Wisconsin, or Cotuit, Massachusetts. The teams in those three towns, as well as Fairbanks, Alaska are the main focal points of the book.  When writing about these teams, their players or the towns, Geoghegan shares the experience with enough detail that readers just might be picturing themselves as sitting in the bleachers at Hampton’s War Memorial Stadium cheering on the Peninsula Pilots or following the ups and downs of the 2016 season for the Cotuit Kettleers.

If a reader is picking up this book looking for statistics like WAR and OPS+ on these college players, or maybe about the cutthroat world of trying to improve either a signing bonus or draft position for these players, then the reader will have to look elsewhere.  The business of baseball in this book is about the general managers and other employees of these teams who do everything from advertising to manning concession booths, all for the love of the game.  A few basic statistics are mentioned for better players but those are very minor pieces of their stories.

The stories that make this book so great are the ones that just are not present in professional baseball – the Midnight Sun game, an annual tradition for the Alaska Goldpanners.  An unusual home run derby hosted by Kenosha in which the long balls land in Lake Michigan.  A rebirth of baseball in Hampton more long after the last minor league left town and the town’s love affair with the collegiate players.  Reading this makes one realize that there is so much more to the game than just the big money and big statistics.  This book is baseball at the grass roots and it is so much fun to read that it comes highly recommended for any baseball fan.   

I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
                                                                       
Book Format Read:
E-book (PDF)                                                                                                                                   

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Friday, April 3, 2020

Review of "Game Used"

As a lifetime Minnesota Twins fan, this book was one that I wanted to read as soon as I knew that Dick Bremer was going to write a memoir.  The stories are excellent, the baseball memories are great and the whole range of emotions will hit the reader while reading this.  Here is my review of "Game Used"


Title/Author:
“Game Used: My Life in Stitches with the Minnesota Twins” by Dick Bremer

Tags:
Baseball, professional, memoir, broadcasting, Twins

Publish date:
March 17, 2020

Length:
304 pages

Rating: to
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
Dick Bremer has been the primary voice of Minnesota Twins telecasts since 1983. In those 37 seasons, he has been able to collect a lot of memorable stories about the team, broadcast partners, adventures on the road and even some about his personal life.  He shares 108 of them in this memoir – 108 to match the number of stitches on a baseball.

The book is a walk through Bremer's life, from his childhood when he was raised in rural western Minnesota by adoptive parents, to their move to Missouri and back to the Midwest.  The reader will also learn about Bremer's early adventures into broadcasting when he was getting his early experience in college and smaller games.  Through them all, he shares his stories with equal parts of humor and fondness at the memories.

Anybody who is a fan of not only the Twins, but of Minnesota sports will recognize Bremer's deep baritone voice as he has done not only the Twins games, but has also broadcast games for the Minnesota North Stars (hockey) and University of Minnesota (football and basketball) as well as provide coverage for many other sports as well.  But it is clear to the reader that Bremer's first love is baseball, especially with his stories about watching Twins games before he became their broadcaster.

The humor Bremer is noted for in the broadcast booth is clearly evident in his broadcasting and baseball stories as well.  One of the funniest stories in the book is when he feared that when trying to pull a prank on his long-time booth partner Bert Blyleven, he lost Blyleven's wedding ring.  Another great story involves Blyleven as Bremer tried to explain that the cheeks of a walleye are the best tasting part of the fish.  He invited former Twins player Kent Hrbek, who had retired for several years when this took place, to join them.  When Bremer had the food that he had earlier prepared brought to the booth, Hrbek thought they were all for him and he gobbled them up leaving none for Bremer to share with Blyleven.  While this may not sound so funny, to read it in the book (especially to imagine Bremer's voice while reading) is hilarious.

The baseball memories Bremer shares are excellent as well.  Twins fans will love to read about the championship seasons of 1987 and 1991 with a special fondness for the unexpected rally for the 1987 team when they returned to Minnesota after winning the American League pennant in Detroit.  The struggles of the team in the early '80s and mid '90s are also shared, in sharp contrast to the good memories of the teams in the 2000's that won several divisions but just couldn't go farther in the postseason.  Issues affecting the team off the field, such as two different threats to move the team, contraction talk in 2001 by the Commissioner and finally the opening of Target Field and some of the better memories of games there complete Bremer's thoughts on the team and his career.

If the reader is a Twins fan, as this reviewer has been his entire life, then this book is one that must be added to the bookshelves  It is an excellent reflection of not only Twins baseball, but the man who has been the voice of the team for almost four decades.
                                                                  
Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

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Sunday, March 29, 2020

Review of "Sporting Blood"

On a day when I post two reviews (something I very rarely do) it is only fitting that the two books reviewed are about my two favorite sports to read about, baseball and boxing.  This collection of tales of several boxers covering many eras and weight classes is an excellent book and one that is very hard to put down - I covered it in less than a day.  Here is my review of "Sporting Blood"

Title/Author:
“Sporting Blood: Tales from the Dark Side of Boxing” by Carlos Acevedo

Tags:
Boxing, professional, history, essays

Publish date:
March 31, 2020

Length:
256 pages

Rating:
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Review:
Anyone who follows the sport of boxing knows that for every success story, there are many others that have a darker side.  Even for those fighters that have enjoyed tremendous success during their careers, many of them had other tales of woe.  These can range from financial problems, drug abuse, crime, even an untimely death.  This book by boxing writer Carlos Acevedo tells some of these stories on many different boxers from different weight classes and eras.

The variety of the stories and the boxers portrayed is the biggest strength of this book. Not only are legendary fighters portrayed such as Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson, but there are some very interesting tales about other fighters who may not be as familiar to readers such as Ad Wolgast, Carmelo Negron and Eddie Machen. There are several sad stories on fighters whose career either ended too soon after a defeat (Davey Moore), fighters who seemed to always be on a path to destroying themselves (Tyson, Aaron Pryor, Tony Ayala Jr.) and even one who became known to even non-boxing fans, Jake LaMotta.  While his story of sinking to very low depths and rising about them is familiar to movie goers who saw “Raging Bull”, Acevedo’s account of LaMotta does much more justice than the movie does in only a few pages.

That is pretty much the theme across the entire book as Acevedo writes essays about these pugilists that are complex yet very easy to read and comprehend.  Some of his prose is pure bliss to read.  Here are just a sample of some excellent quotes from the book:

-       -      When talking about the legendary third fight between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, the brutality of that match led Acevedo to state that “The ‘Thrilla in Manilla’ was a CliffNotes for sadism.”

-      -       He states that boxing “lends itself far too often to an intellectual clam chowder (common ingredients: social Darwinism, atavism, gladiatorial analogies, talk of warriors and so on)”

-       -      Describing promoter Don King when he dropped Davey Moore from his band of boxers: “Even Don King, a man who would rush into a burning oil tanker to rescue a crumpled dollar bill, cut him loose”

This is just a small sample of the excellent writing and research that was put into this great collection of stories on a wide selection of boxers. Any reader who has any interest in the “sweet science” will want to pick up this book – but be warned, once one starts, this is very hard to put down.

I wish to thank Hamlicar Publications for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
                                                                        
Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)                                                                                                                               

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Review of "Change Up"

With a choice of either watching repeats of past games in various sports or reading books, I decided on the latter and as a result, I am posting reviews more often.  That's a good thing as I am discovering not only new books but also some that I may have missed earlier when they were published.  That is the case for this one written by Toronto Blue Jays broadcaster Buck Martinez in 2016.  Here is my review of "Change Up."


Title/Author:
“Change Up: how to Make the Great Game of Baseball Even Better” by Buck Martinez

Tags:
Baseball, professional, memoir, Royals, Brewers, Blue Jays

Publish date:
March 29, 2016

Length:
304 pages

Rating:
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
John “Buck” Martinez could be considered a “baseball lifer”, considering he has been around the game in some manner for six decades.  He writes not only about his career as a player, broadcaster and (briefly) manager but also shares his thoughts on the status of the modern game and its strengths and weaknesses.

The book does have a few flaws – some of the sentences could have used a grammatical make over and Martinez does jump from topic to topic at times.  He does keep the chapters on his playing career together but the other portions do seem to skip around.  It makes the book at times a bit of a challenge to read, but does not detract from the points he makes and the unbridled joy he has for the game.

It is clear from Martinez’s words that he believes today’s players spend more time working on the flashier aspects of the game such as home runs and pitch speed and less time on not only fundamentals, but also time together as a team.  That is mentioned so often that I was picturing a younger reader wanting to write “#OKBoomer” to Martinez for his “old fashioned” views.  While nothing he states is incorrect, the reader may come away with the belief that the long time Toronto Blue Jays broadcaster doesn’t like the current status of the game.

That would be an incorrect assumption on the part of the reader. While it is clear that Martinez has the time-honored belief of pitching and defense is required for winning baseball, he acknowledges early that the analytics used by modern personnel are essential as well.  He shows his willingness to accept change when he writes about his career.  He was one of the players who learned the game in the baseball academy run by the Kansas City Royals in the 1970’s.  While there, he felt that he learned the game the proper way and it shows when he talks about his time in the major leagues with the Royals as probably his best time in the major leagues. 

While he was disappointed to leave the Royals, he does write with fondness while remembering his playing days two other clubs, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Blue Jays.  Martinez writes several pages about the importance of team chemistry (including mentioning it for the current Blue Jays team at the time of publication) and he credits his time in Milwaukee for providing the education in showing how important that is to the success of a team.  As for his time with the Blue Jays, he is grateful to the organization for not only finishing his career with a winning team, but also to allow him to work for the organization for many years, including a short stint as manager which wasn’t very successful and a job that he now admits he was not ready to take.

More than his career recollections, this book is best when Martinez talks about his vision of the game, what the game has and what it needs from its past.  The reader may not agree with all of Martinez’s points, but one cannot argue that he doesn’t love the game and a reader who shares that same enthusiasm should pick up this book.
                                                                       
Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)                                                                                                                               

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Friday, March 27, 2020

Review of "Don't Call Me Goon"

As the time for reading is much higher now with social distancing and shelter-in-place being common now, the reviews will pick up as well as books are becoming my go-to when I need a sports fix (frequently) with no live games available.  Today's book review is one on a hockey book - one that fans of fighting in the game or whose favorite player is an enforcer will enjoy.  Here is my review of "Don't Call Me Goon"

Title/Author:
“Don't Call Me Goon: Hockey's Greatest Enforcers, Gunslingers and Bad Boys” by Greg Oliver and Richard Kamchen

Tags:
Ice Hockey, professional, history, biography

Publish date:
September 1, 2013

Length:
288 pages

Rating: to
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
While fighting and bench clearing brawls may not be as prevalent in the National Hockey League (NHL) today as it was in previous decades, players who are considered "enforcers" because of their fighting ability are still just as important to a team and just as popular with the fans as ever.  This book by Greg Oliver and Richard Kamchen provides the reader with a look at some of the more famous players who have had that designation for their teams.

Dividing up the book into sections based on the eras in which these men played the game, Oliver and Kamchen covers the entire history of the league and the various men whose fisticuffs were as much a part of their game as their skating and puck handling.  In the early days, the "pioneers of mayhem" included Red Horner and Jean Pusie. Moving to the Original Six era of the league, tough guys like Reggie Fleming and John Ferguson are portrayed.  Once the league expanded, so did the opportunities for players with this type of game, highlighted by the two Stanley Cup championships won in the 1970's by the Philadelphia Flyers.  Their rough and physical style of play, led by tough players like Dave Schultz and Andre "Moose" Dupont, gave opponents nightmares and led to many opponents wanting to skip a game against the Flyers, one of the better anecdotes in the book.

After writing about several players from the modern era, the book turns toward grouping enforcers into other subgroups – some would score goals as well as fight, some were very good on defense and as mentioned before, many were fan favorites.  Those types of players are profiled in the book as well.  Each player highlighted in the book is given a short biography of a few pages and some description of the types of scraps he would usually encounter on the ice.

The book finishes with a description of the reduction in fighting in today's professional hockey, a trend that doesn't sit well with many of the players highlighted in the book. There is also a discussion on concussions and the increased awareness of CTE in the game and also a final chapter about the "requiem for a gunslinger."  While the book is certainly not an exhaustive look at the life of a hockey enforcer, it tells about many entertaining players who filled that role.  Any hockey fan who is a fan of some of these players or the type of hockey that was played in the era of the aforementioned Flyers teams will enjoy this book. 
                                                                  
Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Review of "Pennant Race"

For baseball fans like me, tomorrow will be somber as it was supposed to be opening day for the 2020 season.  But for now, we will have to be satisfied with replays of games and books.  For a good read on baseball in a different era, Jim Brosnan wrote two books about the game in the late 50's and early 60's.  This is the second of those books and it was a fun read.  Here is my review of "Pennant Race"


Title/Author:
“Pennant Race: The Classic Game by Game Account of a Championship Season 1961” by Jim Brosnan

Tags:
Baseball, professional, history, Reds, diary, classic

Publish date:
March 15, 2016 (e-book.  Original Publication Date: 1962)

Length:
272 pages

Rating: to
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
Sometimes it's best to read a book that is strictly about baseball and nothing but baseball.  For those times, this classic book by Jim Brosnan is just right.  Brosnan was a relief pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds in 1961 and this is his diary of events through the regular season, one in which the Reds won the National League pennant.  

The book is a good reflection of baseball players and their day-to-day work life during the season, especially for relief pitchers.  At the time, these pitchers were the ones who weren't quite good enough to be in the starting rotation, but nonetheless their clubs and managers wanted to have them ready to pitch. Since these were the days when starters would work as many innings as possible, that left a lot of idle time for the relievers to swap stories and jokes with each other and, depending on the ballpark, fans as well.

These stories are told by Brosnan with very dry humor which will make the reader chuckle frequently throughout the book.  Some of the stories will contain names very familiar to fans of baseball in the 1960's such as Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson. Some of the best lines in the book come when Brosnan shares words about the curmudgeonly manager of the Reds that season, Fred Hutchinson.  Whether it is when Hutchinson is making a pitching change to either bring Brosnan in or taking him out or if it is about one of his clubhouse talks, those pieces were very entertaining.

While Brosnan talks about life as a ballplayer in the bullpen and on the road, it is not full of the controversial or shocking (for the time) aspects that "Ball Four" would contain eight years later.  Instead, this book is more like a diary with stories and accounts of Reds games in a season that became one for the ages as Cincinnati was the surprise winner of the 1961 National League Pennant.  It is a bit of a let down that the World Series was not included in the book, but this is still a very good account of a season and a team that is a reflection of the sport before multi-million dollar contracts and constant media exposure.  It's a good book for a reader who just needs a baseball fix.

                                                                  
Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:
https://www.amazon.com/Pennant-Race-Classic-Account-Championship-ebook/dp/B013CCTJUE/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Review of "Golazo!"

This book was certainly one that was not on my radar, but one of the online book clubs I belong to had a member suggest this as a buddy read.  Why not, I thought - it would expand my reading on soccer beyond the United States and Europe.  While it took awhile, I do believe that any soccer/football fan would enjoy "Golazo!"  Here is my review. 


Title/Author:
“Golazo! The Beautiful Game from the Aztecs to the World Cup: The Complete History of How Soccer Shaped Latin America” by Andreas Campomar

Tags:
Soccer, Football (European/Latin America), history, politics, World Cup

Publish date:
May 6, 2014

Length:
492 pages

Rating:
4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:
The history of football (or soccer – this review will use the term “football”) in South American is not only rich with exciting players and teams on the pitch, but also colorful on how much it is intertwined with the politics of the continent’s nations.  This book by Andreas Campomar is a complete, detailed history of the “beautiful game” in that area of the world.

While the title does state that the book is about football in Latin American, once the ancient history about the game with the Aztecs is told, football and politics in three South American nations make up the bulk of the material:  Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. While this would not be completely surprising as these three nations have won nine World Cup championships among them, the book does lack material on most of the other nations, with a notable exception of Chile and Columbia, and practically ignores Central American football.  While this can be understood to a degree with the author being a native of Uruguay, this felt to make the book slightly incomplete despite its wealth of research and material.

There are times when the reading is slow and difficult as so many details are crammed into a passage, including many names of players that only appear once as that person’s last name. When this was happening, as it especially did when the discussion was about some of the best years for either Brazil or Argentina, I had to slow down and sometimes backtrack because I was getting lost.  Readers who are avid fans of these nations’ team or knowledgeable about the history may not have any trouble with these parts.  However, for a fan who either follows the sport in other parts or the world or is simply a casual fan who wishes to learn more about these legendary national teams, this might become a challenge.

However, working one’s way through this is certainly worth the time and effort as the football is rich with history. The most enjoyable section of the book for me was the description of how the Aztecs played the game.  If American fans feel today’s game lacks offense, then they wouldn’t want to know how difficult it was to score at that time.  Other excellent sections of the book include how Uruguay became a soccer powerhouse in the 1930’s and 1940’s, winning two of the first four World Cup tourneys and how Brazil’s rise to football power in the 1960's paralleled that of its government. 

Overall , this book is an excellent source of history on South American football and while at times is a dense and very detailed read, it is one that is recommended for readers who want to learn more about not only the game in the continent, but also about the politics of some of the bigger nations and how they closely related to the success or lack of success by the national football team.
                                                                       
Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)
                                                                                                                              
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