Kalian Sams

Thoughts on the book Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere

Full disclosure: I found out this year that I am related to Charles E. Langford, one of the Clinton, Iowa “lumber kings”. He was the brother of my great, great grandfather. My family is not one where we all lived within an hour of Clinton all of our lives, though (I live in Davenport). In fact, Charles didn’t stay in Clinton himself. We were surprised to learn an ancestor lived this close. Charles’ home is across the river from Clinton in Fulton, IL. It’s still in pretty good shape (photo at the link above). My dad does genealogy and has an excellent blog about the Langfords.

Reading Class A raised my awareness about how I like to collect and catalog things. I do not collect to the extent that the fan Joyce in the book does, but I still have that tendency. I wasn’t always like this. At first, the games were just a fun diversion. One day, I found a scorecard from a game a few years prior where Dontrelle Willis pitched for the visiting team. I wondered who else I may have seen that might now be famous, and decided I better pay closer attention. I mainly take photos now of the players. I try to get some of the pictures signed by them.

A big part of my motivation for collecting the photos and names of these players is civic pride, pure and simple. I can show people major leaguers I got to see play here. Joe Mauer played in Davenport, not Iowa City or Dubuque. I pay attention now to details about the players that are here. The current River Bandits team has 3 players with contracts over $4 million. And they are playing here. I still run into many people who think that the Midwest League is lousy baseball. I combat these arguments with this list of names and figures.

These professional sports teams are a point of pride in an area that usually lacks it. Few things bring together the disjointed Quad Cities like these sports teams. I want reasons for my kids to be able to be proud of where they were raised. Whether they stay here or not is less important to me than them believing that they were raised in an area they can be proud of. These teams are a minor part of this, but they are a part.

Class A also raised my awareness about my inclination for nostalgia. I do have memories going to old John O’Donnell Stadium as a kid, eating a hot dog as we sat in the bleachers. I remember my brother climbing a fence to get a foul ball. I remember the field being flooded in 1993. I do recall they won a championship in 1990, but I didn’t witness it, and it didn’t mean a ton to me at that time. The one in 2011 meant a lot more.

Memories do not drive my fiercest nostalgia, though. Maybe “nostalgia” is not quite the right word in this case. The way to make people want to keep something more is to threaten to take it away from them. Our minor league baseball team was sold in 2003, but the target city did not get public support to build a stadium, so they stayed, and Davenport then did finally renovate the stadium. I have also become attached to our professional hockey team. They are a threat to fold nearly every single offseason, despite playing in a really nice, modern building that needs no renovations.

Most people are casual fans (like I used to be) and will just shrug if you threaten to move one of these low-level minor league teams. But some will deepen their commitment and redouble their support for the team.

The threat that someday the Lumberkings might relocate from Clinton was always hanging over the fans in Class A. One of the saddest scenes in the book was when Tom, a dying fan, was asking his family if the team will still be there after he’s gone, if the stadium will still be there, and if the brick with his name on it will still be in front of it.

Sadly, this threat of teams leaving town is not unique to minor league teams in declining Midwest cities. It’s not even unique to baseball. Owners hold the threat of relocation over their fans in order to get them (and taxpayers) to cough up millions of dollars to build a new stadium. Remember when the White Sox all but left Chicago? What about when the Bears threatened to move to Indiana? Seattle is still fuming over the departure of the Supersonics. Old-timers still lament that the Giants and Dodgers left New York. To partially rectify the situation, 52 years after losing those two teams, the Mets built Citi Field with the help of $900 million in municipal bonds. The exterior of Citi Field is designed to look like old Ebbets Field, which was demolished in 1960. That is some serious nostalgia.

Class A does invoke another Iowa baseball story, Field of Dreams. It uses the line “If you build it, they will come” to describe the factory and redevelopment efforts going on in South Clinton. However, as I read the book, I was much more reminded of Terence Mann’s monologue from the movie, especially this part of it:

“The one constant through all the years Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.”

He could have been speaking specifically about Clinton.

My favorite scene in Field of Dreams though is at the end, when a dad and his son play a simple game of catch, and it somehow seems magical. It is so easy to attribute this magic to the field and the game itself. But the magic doesn’t come from there, though. It comes from the people. The act of playing catch is just a manifestation of their—OK I’ll say it – love.

If I could, I’d tell fans like Tom that, no, I can’t guarantee the stadium will always be there, or that the team will never relocate. But I can guarantee that the thing that caused people to build the stadium and locate the team there in the first place will be there for a long, long time.

This is a concept much easier to understand than it is to accept.

Here are a few photos I took of some of the 2010 Lumberkings players featured in Class A:

Nick Franklin

Nick Franklin

Erasmo Ramirez

Erasmo Ramirez

Henry Contreras

Henry Contreras

Daniel Carroll

Daniel Carroll

Kalian Sams

Kalian Sams

Matt Cerione

Matt Cerione

Steve Baron

Steve Baron

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