Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life In the Minor Leagues of Baseball

( 13 )

Overview

From the acclaimed #1 bestselling author . . . a riveting journey through the world of minor-league baseball

“No one grows up playing baseball pretending that they’re pitching or hitting in Triple-A.” —Chris Schwinden, Triple-A pitcher

“If you don’t like it here, do a better job.” —Ron Johnson, Triple-A manager

John Feinstein gave readers an unprecedented view of the PGA Tour in A Good Walk Spoiled. He opened the door to an NCAA basketball locker room in his ...

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Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life In the Minor Leagues of Baseball

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Overview

From the acclaimed #1 bestselling author . . . a riveting journey through the world of minor-league baseball

“No one grows up playing baseball pretending that they’re pitching or hitting in Triple-A.” —Chris Schwinden, Triple-A pitcher

“If you don’t like it here, do a better job.” —Ron Johnson, Triple-A manager

John Feinstein gave readers an unprecedented view of the PGA Tour in A Good Walk Spoiled. He opened the door to an NCAA basketball locker room in his explosive bestseller A Season on the Brink. Now, turning his eye to our national pastime, sports journalist John Feinstein explores the colorful and mysterious world of minor-league baseball—a gateway through which all major-league players pass in their careers . . . hoping never to return.
     Baseball’s minor leagues are a paradox. For some players, the minors are a glorious launching pad toward years of fame and fortune; for others, a crash-landing pad when injury or poor play forces a big leaguer back to a life of obscure ballparks and cramped buses instead of Fenway Park and plush charter planes. Focusing exclusively on the Triple-A level, one step beneath Major League Baseball, Feinstein introduces readers to nine unique men: three pitchers, three position players, two managers, and an umpire. Through their compelling stories, Feinstein pulls back the veil on a league that is chock-full of gifted baseball players, managers, and umpires who are all one moment away from getting called up—or back—to the majors.
     The stories are hard to believe: a first-round draft pick and pitching ace who rocketed to major-league success before finding himself suddenly out of the game, hatching a presumptuous plan to get one more shot at the mound; a home run–hitting former World Series hero who lived the dream, then bounced among six teams before facing the prospects of an unceremonious end to his career; a big-league All-Star who, in the span of five months, went from being completely out of baseball to becoming a star in the ALDS, then signing a $10 million contract; and a well-liked designated hitter who toiled for eighteen seasons in the minors—a record he never wanted to set—before facing his final, highly emotional chance for a call-up to the big leagues.
     From Raleigh to Pawtucket, from Lehigh Valley to Indianapolis and beyond, Where Nobody Knows Your Name gives readers an intimate look at a baseball world not normally seen by the fans. John Feinstein gets to the heart of the human stories in a uniquely compelling way, crafting a masterful book that stands alongside his very best works.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

In his nonfiction books and teen novels, Washington Post and Sporting News columnist John Feinstein (A Good Walk Spoiled; A Season on the Brink) has again and again proven his ability to offer readers a human view of sports. Baseball's minor leagues, where many strive, but few succeed, seems tailor made for such a personal approach. Where Nobody Knows Your Name focuses on eight occupants of Triple-A, the highest rung before the majors, but also the arena where former stars make their last hurrah. Feinstein's subjects are not all players: Two are managers and one is an umpire; but the plights and promise of all these strivers strikes us as gripping.

Kirkus Reviews
2014-01-12
One of the doyens of the sportswriting world takes on the national pastime with a frenetic road trip to minor league clubhouses and fields where true baseball is played. Longtime sports journalist (Washington Post, Golf Digest, etc.) Feinstein (Foul Trouble, 2013, etc.) chronicles his tours of the farm clubs for a season to uncover real life in the old ballgame. It's where erstwhile pitchers get injured too much and agile outfielders can't bat much better than .200. All the participants—players, coaches, managers, broadcasters, umpires and groundskeepers—want to get sent up from the minors to the major league. Some may have been there before; all dream of being called up once or once more. There, the pay is much better—the lowest paycheck is about five times the highest in the minors—and life is good, as well, with decent hotel stays, better clubhouses and travel by charter planes instead of lengthy bus rides. That's nice, though clearly, the attraction is simply proof of superior ability to play the game. "The most poignant stories in sports are never about the multimillionaires who make their games look easy," writes the author, "but about the guys who love their games, even though they often fail while playing them." For most journeyman athletes, far more likely than making the jump to the big leagues is being sent down or released (baseball for "fired"). Feinstein focuses on the careers of two managers, two outfielders, two pitchers, a designated hitter and an umpire through the 2012 season in the International League, but his roster is crowded with many others who wear many different uniforms during the summer. Ultimately, the narrative loses some focus as the wandering athletes, in loving servitude to the game, come and go and come again in these pages. A kaleidoscopic insiders' story of baseball as played by the Durham Bulls, Buffalo Bisons, Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Norfolk Tides and others like them.
Library Journal
04/15/2014
With firsthand interviews and an omniscient presence, Feinstein (Washington Post columnist; Season on the Brink) chronicles a diverse range of personalities experiencing the grind of a minor league season and sharing an ambition to reach the majors. The author believes poignant sporting narratives are not made by recounting the lives of immortal players or legendary events, but rather by portraying "the guys who love their games, even though they often fail while playing them." And it is these unheralded individuals Feinstein depicts. For highly touted prospects, the minors are a temporary initiation to the rigors of professional baseball before reaching the majors. Yet, for most, these leagues are an inescapable reality of brief call-ups and a constant revolving door between organizations. VERDICT Feinstein accomplishes more than revealing an aspect of baseball that many fans overlook or relegate to a subsidiary of the major leagues. He presents relatable characters whose dedication and sacrifice create empathy. While primarily recommended to baseball fans for its survey of a misunderstood aspect of the sport, all readers may gain inspiration from the perseverance of underdogs pursuing a lifelong passion.—Stephen Arougheti, Arizona State Univ., Phoenix
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385535939
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/25/2014
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 15,272
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.80 (d)

Meet the Author

John Feinstein is a columnist for The Washington Post, Golf World and Golf Digest. He also hosts a daily radio show on the CBS Sports Radio Network, is a contributor to the Golf Channel, and is an essayist for CBS Sports Television.

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Read an Excerpt

1

Scott Elarton

Starting Over

There is no aspect of baseball that has changed more in recent years than spring training. Or, more specifically, spring training facilities.

Once, the winter homes of most baseball teams were old, dank, and cramped—minor-league facilities that served for six weeks each year as the headquarters for an entire baseball organization. The ballparks were older too, havens for fans who wanted to get close to players, but often creaking from age with outfield fences that looked as if they had been constructed shortly after Abner Doubleday invented the game.

Even in Vero Beach, where in 1947 the Brooklyn Dodgers set up what was then the model for a spring training facility—Holman Stadium and the facilities around it became known as Dodgertown—there was the feeling of being in a time warp. The dugouts never even had roofs. They were just open-air cutouts along the baselines where players either sunbathed or baked—depending on one’s point of view—during games.

Through the years, almost all the older facilities have disappeared. Dodgertown sits empty now during the spring, used on occasion by local high school teams while the Dodgers train in a brand-new multimillion-dollar headquarters built for them in Arizona. Because spring training has become a big business, local governments in both Florida and Arizona have lined up to build modern baseball palaces for teams, complete with every possible amenity players could ask for—from massive weight-training areas to sparkling training fields to sun-drenched stadiums that look like miniature versions of the big-league parks the teams play in once the season begins.

There is no better example of the modern spring training facility than Bright House Field, which has been the spring home of the Philadelphia Phillies since 2004, when it was built for $28 million to replace Jack Russell Memorial Stadium, which had been the Phillies winter home since 1955. Jack Russell, as it was known in the Clearwater area, was the classic old spring training spot: the stadium was made of wood, and the paint was peeling in every corner of the old place when the Phillies moved out.

The old spring training clubhouses—in baseball no one talks about locker rooms, they are clubhouses—were cramped and crowded with players practically on top of one another, especially at the start of camp, when between fifty and sixty players might be in a room designed to hold no more than thirty to thirty-five lockers.

Jack Russell was one of those dingy old clubhouses. The Phillies’ clubhouse at Bright House Field could not be more different. It is spread out and spacious with room—easily—for fifty lockers. There are several rooms off the main area that are strictly off-limits to anyone but Phillies personnel, meaning players can rest or eat their post-workout or postgame meals in complete privacy without tripping over unwanted media members or anyone else who might have access to the main clubhouse area.

Even though he had been out of baseball for most of four years, Scott Elarton felt completely comfortable walking into the Phillies’ clubhouse in February 2012. Many of the players had no idea who he was because professional athletes’ memories rarely extend back more than about fifteen minutes. In baseball world 2012, Cal Ripken Jr.—who retired in 2001—was an old-timer who played in a lot of games, Willie Mays is a distant memory, and Babe Ruth is the name of a league for teenage players.

Elarton had won fifty-six games as a major-league pitcher in spite of numerous injuries, including seventeen for a bad Houston Astros team in 2000. But he hadn’t been in a major-league baseball clubhouse since 2008 and even though he stood out at six feet seven, a lot of players had no idea who he was.

“It’s not like anybody looked at me and thought I was some hotshot prospect,” he said with a laugh. “I probably look every bit of thirty-six.”

Seven months earlier, even Rubén Amaro Jr., the Phillies’ general manager, hadn’t recognized Elarton. That was in August, when Elarton had called to him while standing on the field during batting practice prior to a game between the Phillies and the Colorado Rockies. Elarton was watching BP with his seven-year-old son when he noticed Amaro standing a few yards away and, on a complete whim, decided to try to talk to him.

“I had taken my son to the game because I was friends with several guys on the Phillies: Raúl Ibañez, Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee,” Elarton said. “They set us up with tickets. The town we live in is about an hour from Denver, so we drove over. They’d also arranged for us to have field passes, which I knew would be cool for Jake. We went onto the field, and we were standing with all the other people with field passes behind this barrier they set up so that you don’t get too close to the players or bother them while they’re hitting.

“I’d seen that barrier a couple thousand times in ballparks—but always from the other side. I had never even thought about what it might be like to be on the field like that in street clothes and not be a player. I felt completely humiliated. I just hated being there.

“Then I saw Rubén standing nearby. I’d never met him, but I certainly knew him. So I called his name. He looked over at me, and I could tell right away that he had no idea who I was. But he’s a polite guy, so he walked over to where we were standing.”

Elarton was right; Amaro hadn’t recognized him. “I knew who Scott Elarton was,” Amaro said. “He’d pitched too long for me not to know who he was. But he had lost some weight since I’d last seen him pitch, and it had been a few years. But when he said, ‘Rubén, I’m Scott Elarton,’ it came right back to me.”

Elarton had lost weight—a lot of weight. After he had stopped playing in 2008, he had ballooned from 260 pounds to just under 300 pounds after having surgery on his foot. “I didn’t exercise at all for a while after the surgery,” he said. “I wasn’t doing anything at all to stay in shape. On the day I got on the scale and weighed 299, I knew I had to stop. I didn’t want to see 300. So I started working out. I started throwing batting practice to the high school team in my hometown. By the time we went to Denver that day, I was probably down to 225.”

After Elarton had introduced himself and introduced his son, he said something to Amaro that surprised him—even as he spoke. To this day, he isn’t quite certain why the words came out of his mouth.

“Rubén, do you think there’s any chance I could make a comeback in baseball?” he said. “Do you think I could pitch again?”

Amaro was, to say the least, surprised by Elarton’s question. Perhaps the only person more surprised was Elarton. “I’m still not honestly sure what possessed me,” he said, shaking his head. “The thought never crossed my mind until the question came out of my mouth. Maybe it was standing behind the barrier that way. Something clicked in my brain that said, ‘I don’t like the view from here.’ Or the feeling I had standing there.”

To Elarton’s further surprise, Amaro didn’t answer him with a response along the lines of “Are you insane?” or even a polite blow-off. Instead, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “If you’d like, I’ll send someone to watch you throw once the season’s over.”

Elarton couldn’t ask for more than that. “Great,” he said. “How should I get in touch with you?”

Amaro gave him his card, and they shook hands again, leaving Elarton standing there wondering what in the world he had just gotten himself into.

As it turned out, Amaro was as good as his word—better than that, in fact.

Elarton had gone home to Lamar, the town of just under eight thousand where he had grown up, and had begun throwing on a regular basis with Josh Bard, a former major-league catcher who lived nearby. He wasn’t counting on a call from Amaro—or even 100 percent certain he wanted one—but he wanted to be ready just in case. He could feel the adrenaline each time he threw to Bard, and as the season wound down, he began to believe—“maybe just a little bit”—that he wasn’t entirely crazy.

Shortly after the World Series ended, Amaro called. He was going to be in Denver for a banquet in which Shane Victorino, then with the Phillies, was scheduled to receive an award. If Elarton was still interested and could make the drive to Denver, he would watch him throw the morning after the banquet.

Elarton and Bard made the drive early on a November morning, and Amaro met them at a local school. Amaro stood and watched as Elarton began to throw. After about five minutes he asked him to stop.

“I remember thinking, ‘Am I really that bad?’ ” Elarton said. “I had kind of talked myself into believing I was throwing pretty well, and when Rubén told me to stop after five minutes, my heart sank. I thought I had wasted my time, his time, and Josh’s time.”

Not exactly.

“I don’t know what you’ve been doing, but you look completely different than I remember from the last time you were pitching,” Amaro said. “You look comfortable, your ball has movement—I really like what you’re doing. If it’s okay with you, I’d like to shoot some video while you keep throwing.”

It was more than okay with Elarton. Amaro had him throw about fifty pitches in all. Encouraged by what Amaro had said early on, Elarton thought Amaro would tell him that he’d be in touch. That would leave him with some hope.

Amaro didn’t do that. “I’d like to sign you,” he said. “If you give me your agent’s information, I’ll get in touch and we’ll work out a deal.”

Elarton was almost dazed. If nothing else, he had gotten himself out from behind the barrier.

Four months after that meeting, Elarton walked into the spacious clubhouse at Bright House Field and found a crisp, clean uniform with the number 59 on it hanging in a locker that had his name on it. A number of veteran players, guys he had pitched against in his first baseball incarnation, came by to say hello and welcome him.

“If you’ve been a player, a baseball clubhouse is a very comfortable place to be if you’re in uniform,” he said. “Even if you haven’t been around for a while, if you’re in uniform, then you feel like you belong. If you’re not in uniform, then you don’t. It really doesn’t matter who you are or who you’ve been, that’s the way it is.”

Players talk often about the fear of someday not having a uniform or a locker anymore. Elarton had taken that a step further when he had shown up in Denver as a “civilian,” as players call anyone not in uniform. Putting on a uniform again, even surrounded by so many unfamiliar faces, was comforting.

His negotiations with the Phillies after Amaro’s visit had gone smoothly except for one small glitch: performance incentives. Elarton didn’t want any. The Phillies were offering a fairly typical two-way contract: If he was on the major-league roster, he would be paid $600,000—which was $120,000 over the major-league minimum because it included bonuses for making the team. If he was in the minors, he would be paid a very high Triple-A rate: $15,000 a month.

“Take the incentives for making the major-league team out,” Elarton told Ron Shapiro, his longtime agent—once the agent for both Cal Ripken and Kirby Puckett, among others.

“You want them out?” Shapiro said, stunned for obvious reasons.

“Out,” Elarton answered. “I don’t want money getting in the way of me making it back to the majors. If it’s a close call and it’s me or another guy and they have to pay me extra if I make it up, they may call the other guy up. I don’t want to take a chance on that happening.”

Shapiro called Amaro back to tell him he had an unusual request. Amaro had never in his life had a player ask for less money potentially, but he laughed when he heard what Elarton was thinking.

“Tell Scott that, being honest, the amount of money we’re talking here will have no influence on whether he gets called up or not,” he said. “If he pitches well enough to earn the bonuses, he should get them. But if we need him in Philadelphia, this money isn’t going to get in the way. I promise.”

Elarton was still a tad doubtful when Shapiro told him what Amaro had said but finally agreed.

He arrived in Clearwater with a simple goal: pitch so well during spring training that it would be impossible for the Phillies to send him down.

“Realistically, there weren’t any spots open—especially for a starter,” he said. “All you had to do was look at the rotation and you knew there wasn’t any chance. They had stars and veterans. I hadn’t pitched, except for three starts in Charlotte in 2010, since 2008. Intellectually, I knew the deal. But as a competitor I was going there to show them I was still a major-league pitcher. If I didn’t think I was good enough, there wasn’t much point in my being there.”

The first three times Elarton got into games, he showed them. When he was on the mound facing real hitters, it all came back like riding a bike. His unorthodox delivery, all arms and legs coming at the batter from his six-foot-seven-inch frame, had hitters who hadn’t seen him before way off balance.

“First three times I pitched I didn’t have to pitch from the stretch once,” he said, smiling at the memory. “It almost felt like I was back in Houston and it was 2000 again.”

That was the year Elarton won seventeen games pitching for the Astros before injuries and a taste for the nightlife sent his promising career off the rails. Twelve years later, back in the March heat of Florida’s west coast, he was twenty-five again. He could tell by the looks he was getting from his teammates in the clubhouse that they were noticing.

And then, not surprisingly, he came back to earth. It wasn’t as if he crashed; he descended more slowly than that, pitching reasonably well but not lights out the way it had been at the start of camp. As March came to a close, he knew the numbers he had been concerned about in February were clearly stacked against him. Nevertheless, with a week left before the team broke camp, he was still on the roster.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 9, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Rating:   5 of 5 stars (outstanding) Review: Triple-A baseba

    Rating:  
    5 of 5 stars (outstanding)




    Review:
    Triple-A baseball, one step below the major leagues, has its own unique culture and lifestyle.  John Feinstein’s book “Where Nobody Knows Your Name” describes this through the eyes and stories of nine men: three position players (Scott Posednik, Nate McClouth, John Lindsey), three pitchers (Scott Elarton, Brett Tomko, Chris Schwinden), two managers (Charlie Montoyo, Ron Johnson) and one umpire (Mark Lollo). Their experience ranges from a young man hoping for that shot at the majors (Schwinden, Lollo) to a former World Series hero trying to get back to the big time (Posednik, who hit a walk-off homer in game 2 of the 2005 World Series while playing for the Chicago White Sox). 




    All nine men featured share what they have liked best and least about Triple-A baseball.  For the managers, they agree that the best moments are telling players that they are being called up.  For a good emotional story, nothing beats that of the time an eleven-year veteran was crying when he was finally promoted during September call-ups. There are humorous stories about the ballparks and travel adventures.  There are human drama stories, especially for some of the older players such as Tomko who wonder at the end of the season if it is time to call it a career or try “one more time.” 




    These types of stories, ones that make famous athletes seem at least a little more like “ordinary people” is a strength of Feinstein’s writing.  He does that in most of his books on any sport, and this is another one of those books that is a winner because of that human element.  Between extensive interviews with each of the men featured (and hundreds of others as well) and the research into each man’s career and achievements, the reader will feel like he or she is sitting in the stands at Lehigh Valley, Norfolk or Durham.  That moment when the player receives his good news of needing to report to Tampa or Boston to join the big club will make the reader cheer. 




    If you are a baseball fan, like human interest stories or just want to see what it is like to be on the cusp of celebrity status, read this book.  Feinstein has made these types of books a joy to read and this is another outstanding book in a long line of them. 




    Did I skim?
    No.  




    Pace of the book:  
    Excellent.  The book took the reader through the 2012 Triple A baseball season through all of the stories chronologically and at a very good pace.  The stories in each were long enough to be meaningful but short enough that the reader could follow them easily.




    Do I recommend?  
    This is a great book for all baseball fans, no matter what level of the game they enjoy. Feinstein brings the experience of the game from the clubhouse to the manager’s office to the field onto these pages that anyone who loves this game will enjoy.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2014

    Feinstein being Feinstein! And anyone reading this will be glad

    Feinstein being Feinstein! And anyone reading this will be glad he is!
    A neat twisted story = you might think its about baseball but ends up being about the people in baseball. A terrific story telling us outsiders what it is like to be on the inside. As is often the case the people in celeb. status are not what we think they are.
    A good baseball read and a great human interest story! Feinstein is brillant at this stuff!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2014

    Easy Reading

    Great book for baseball fans who want to learn about the struggles of players and an umpire who want to return or go for the first time to the "big show". As with all Feinstein books wonderfully written.

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  • Posted May 16, 2014

    Highly recommend! Definitely check it out!

    My 13 year old son loved this book! He was completely absorbed in the story and information and only put the book down when he had to go to school or baseball practice!

    We had just come back from Vasalia, California, where we saw minor leagues play. It was perfect timing. If you love the game of baseball, you'll love this book for sure!

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  • Posted May 13, 2014

    Another HR for Feinstein

    If you at all like baseball or have gone to a minor league game, you will love this book. A true look at life in the minors by players going up and going down the ladder. Feinstein has written many great books and this is another one of his best efforts. You really see what it's like to go up and down the minor-league ladder and then finally reach the majors, only to be sent back to clear a roster spot. Excellent sports book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2014

    Like every Feinstein book I've read, this one was just as excell

    Like every Feinstein book I've read, this one was just as excellent. As a baseball fan, you know there's a glaring difference between Major League and Minor League Baseball, but seeing it directly through the experiences of  those living it (players, coaches, umpires) really gives readers a clear idea of the ups and downs, literally and figuratively.

    I recognized many of the players mentioned throughout the book, and so, I found it to be a really interesting to see where they ended up once they were no longer big league commodities.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2014

    Dark

    No i didnt it could have been an imposter

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2014

    Book Binding was damaged - very disappointed.

    I bought the autographed edition and my book binding was torn - very disappointed - won't do that again!

    0 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted March 25, 2014

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