I got this book last August at ABC Books who had (and still has) a stack of them under the dwindling (now empty) martial arts section. It’s by a local author, but he had not to my knowledge stopped up at ABC Books to sign his book. Which is just as well, as I’d have to stop by to buy a signed copy even though I’ve already bought and read a copy. I’m just that way.
I started to read this book before the 2023 Winter Reading Challenge in bits and chapters here and there, and after completing the challenge, I’ve taken to reading books that I started before it instead of picking up new books. For now.
So. The book is subtitled “Stories that skim the surface of fast pitch softball in Springfield, Missouri.” So I hoped for, well, stories. But it’s not so much that as a kind of history of fast pitch softball leagues from the 1950s through the 1990s. Miles starts out as a fan watching with his uncles at the local parks, becomes a pitcher for a decade or so, and then a manager for the last of his times. And although the book starts a bit with stories of watching the games and idolizing the players, as it gets into later chapters, it turns more into a revisiting of rosters (and their shuffling) as well as the results of the leagues and tournaments.
Unfortunately, this makes most of the chapters kind of repetitive as they detail the players changing teams, the teams changing sponsors, and sometimes doing well and sometimes not. The book details a AAA league, which is a very competitive league, so they teams often play in regional and national tournaments and poaching from other teams. The number of teams dwindles from 200 or so in the middle part of the century to under 10 in the 1990s and maybe none now.
And the number of actual stories diminishes over time. Many of them are only a paragraph or two, which mentions the dangers of driving a mid-century car several hundred miles full of grown men and a case full of beer, but mostly it’s rosters and results. Unfortunately.
A bit more flavor like this story from Wirecutter, could have improved this book:
There was a baseball complex just catty corner from the ammo plant and the ammo plant just happened to have a fastpitch softball team, so during the season a bunch of us would pack up our coolers and go to the game if it was on a weekend.
They were a blast. Our team sucked majorly and yeah, it was for lack of trying. They were there strictly for the fun. We’d sit right behind the dugout and sneak the team beer after the cooler they smuggled in emptied out. Motherfuckers would be half in the bag by the time the game was over.
Jose, the best player on the team, would saunter up to the plate with a stagger in his gait, tug at his hat, tap the plate with his bat, then sneer at the pitcher. The pitcher would fire a pitch at Jose, and Jose would somehow knock it out to deep left field. Jose would then reach into his pocket, pull out a cigarette and light it, wave to all of his adoring fans, then get tagged out before he took a step. And we would go wild. After all, it was a great hit even if he was just showboating for both his wife and girlfriend.
We’ve all heard of players being thrown out of a game, but on more than a couple occasions, our entire team would get ejected usually for petty bullshit like drinking on the field during play or trying to grab a female ump’s ass.
Doesn’t sound like a AAA team, but the story definitely has flavor.
The book is most likely targeted to people who played and who will be happy to see their names in this book. Me, I was interested in seeing the mention of the parks and a bit of dogging of the Park Board for banning a player or making different decisions in the parks’ interest if not the fast pitch softball teams’. As I have mentioned, my beautiful wife is on the Park Board, so I let her have it a bit for the decades-old transgressions.
Also, as the book extended into the 1990s, I found again (like the history from Buff Lamb: Lion of the Ozarks) that this “history” creeped a bit into things I remember. I would have started coming to the Springfield area with my then-girlfriend in 1997, and I moved here almost fourteen years ago (!), so I know the names of the parks, the names of some of the sponsors (even the historical sponsors based on my other local history readings). Like Seeburg Mufflers (a team sponsor in later years). I used to see the Seeburg Muffler car outside its Springfield location at Campbell and Sunset:
They sold that location either to Bass Pro or to a restaurant that wanted to serve the Bass Pro tourists a couple of years ago.
So I’ve been in the Springfield area long enough to recognize some anachronisms here. Well, I guess it fits, since I’m an anachronism myself.
At any rate, a bit of a disappointment of a book, but I recommend you all go to ABC Books to buy a copy to make more room for martial arts books. Also, if you have any martial arts books to sell, you can get good prices at ABC Books. Actually, I don’t know what kinds of prices ABC Books uses to buy books. Selling books is not my thing, as you probably know by now.