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The Pioneer League is a rookie league, designed for ...
The Pioneer League is a rookie league, designed for first-year professionals, fresh from college—or even younger. It is the first step many take toward the major-league career that will open to very few. Most are destined to last only a brief moment, but that moment is full of promise and was particularly so for the Ogden Raptors, a new team for a city that had a proud baseball heritage but had been without a team in recent years. Minor Players, Major Dreams is a wonderful insider’s view of the low minors and the young men chasing dreams as big as the skies they play under in Utah, Idaho, Montana, and Alberta.
In the spring of 1994, avid rec-league baseballer Mandel, 25, ditched his job as an assistant city comptroller in Philadelphia and took to the road with the players and coaches of the Ogden (Utah) Raptors, an independent class-A rookie-league outfit playing in the Pioneer League. Clad in a team uniform, and with pen in hand (all team personnel were aware that he was chronicling their season), Mandel took to the diamond, albeit seldom in game situations, in an effort to get inside the heads of players, coaches, and managers. For some, like Shane Jones, a protean slugger at the college level who was not drafted by a pro team, the Raptors offered the first step toward possible stardom. For others, like manager Willy Ambos, it was likely the last act of their baseball career. Mandel records his subjects' lives as they win some and lose some, spend endless hours on the bus, talk baseball, and engage in youthful hijinks. Occasionally, one gets the sense that the educated, older, more sophisticated Mandel feels out of place, and with good reason. His stint with the Raptors is part wish-fulfillment and part journalistic enterprise, and not the singleminded pursuit of a lifelong dream. Accepting gladly his status as bench-warmer, Mandel observes, "Sometimes I felt more like a pet than a teammate." However, as pet (or as Boswell to a bunch of ball-playing Johnsons), Mandel was at least assured of not being cut from the team, a luxury that his fellow Raptors did not enjoy—and a fact that sometimes seems to elude him.
While his descriptions and characterizations are evocative, even poignant, the author appears tentative about how to approach his subject, producing a narrative that veers uncertainly from documentary to nostalgic celebration.