Anybody covering baseball should pick up Jim Collins’ The Last Best League, a book that covers the top wooden-bat league in the nation. The top college baseball players in the country gather in Cape Cod each summer to see how they compare to other top prospects. Collins follows a team through a summer season. You’ll get a chance to see another side of professional and college baseball in this wonderfully written book.
This book also teaches much about setting, something sports journalists need to capture for gamers, features, and profiles. Setting should be more than mere background in a story, something Collins proves. Setting should help define the people we focus on in features about runners, ball players and swimmers. Head out to practice and describe athletes in their settings, both on and off the field.
Show plants blooming, hear wind whistling through an open field, and describe the salty air on a sultry night. A writer who spends time describing the tactile elements of a scene will retain readers in far greater numbers.
Here’s how Collins describes Chatham, a village on Cape Cod, Mass.:
“The days were lengthening, extending the sunlight past eight o’clock. Salt marshes greened up. Cranberry bushes and black locust trees bloomed. Some of the players had their first fun in town.”
And Collins describes the winds that frequently rake the towns and fields on the Cape through sound:
“Wind always blew here – the only question was whether high or low. When the wind was low, as it was that day, it snapped the American flag near the press box, whistled over the top of the plateau, and swirled across the diamond toward left field. The wind jerked fly balls, suddenly shifted them, gave outfielders fits.”I love scenes where he focuses on a moment, like a photographer who frames a close-up shot:
“Chad Orvella’s hands were sweating so much that they squished in his leather batting gloves; he couldn’t swing without slipping. He walked back to the dugout with his bat under one arm, took off his batting gloves and wrung them like a sponge. D’Antona’s gray ‘Wake Forest’ T-shirt darkened with sweat halfway into his first round of swings. The players wished Schiffner would allow them to take B.P. in shorts and no shirts, the way teams did in Orleans and Bourne.”This scene is palpable. The hands squished, the feet slipped, the glove was “wrung like a sponge,” and the T-shirt was soaked with sweat. The scene is palpable. Readers can feel the moment. Readers are immersed.
Collins shows so much more in this book as well. In particular, sports reporters can learn more about the business of college and professional baseball and about game strategy. This book is worth a read. Check it out.