Overall, Will Geoghegan’s story of the summer leagues is engaging, even if it loses a lot of steam toward the end. Full of familiar names and colorful characters, it’s a worthwhile read for any baseball fan looking for some non-MLB fare.
Across the country, as college baseball season winds down and the hopes of spring slowly morph into the dog days of summer, another type of season begins. Places like Cape Cod, Fairbanks, and Kenosha begin to hum with the sights and sounds of new beginnings and old traditions. The summer baseball leagues across America play host to some of the country’s most promising future stars. They’ll sign temporary contracts, live out of suitcases, and crash in extra bedrooms with host families, all in the name of honing their skills for the collegiate season or catching the eye of a wandering scout. Stars like Buster Posey, Keston Huira, and even Hall of Famers like Tom Seaver have worn the uniforms of these storied franchises, all looking for the same thing: a chance.
When I began reading Summer Baseball Nation, I knew very little—if anything, really—about the collegiate summer leagues across the country. Teams like the Cotuit Kettleers or the Alaska Goldpanners, the Peninsula Pilots or the Santa Barbara Foresters, weren’t teams on my radar. But after reading Geoghegan’s book, they are now. He takes the reader on a journey through nine of these hotbeds for summer leagues—from the legendary Cape Cod league all the way to the Arctic Circle, down through California, and back again. Along the way, players, teams, towns, and front office staff are spotlighted and followed as each league progresses through its season, providing interesting background. Geoghegan also dedicates space to describing the towns that host these teams, and the close ties that franchises have to the communities around them, adding a strong element of charm to each story.
The book itself has ten chapters. Nine of them are dedicated to particular destinations, with the tenth summarizing the seasons Geoghegan chronicles. The book starts off very strong—particularly the first two chapters—with vivid descriptions of wiffle ball in Cape Cod and of the infamous “Midnight Sun” game of Fairbanks, Alaska. The blending of game action, player stories, and place descriptions is well executed, and led me to say out loud: “Man, this book is really good!” The season covered in the book is that of 2016, so cameos from familiar names like Huira, Joey Bart, and Kris Bubic provide some nice Easter eggs in 2020, as well as context to show the level of talent populating these leagues. In the early going, the book paints a colorful picture of the games, the places they’re played, and the characters playing them.
In the latter portion of the book, the chapters slip away from fantastic prose and description, and instead lean heavily on accounts of play-by-play action. Like a talented reliever getting left in the game too long, this is the point where the book begins to lose steam. The net of players that Geoghegan profiles eventually becomes so wide that game action is reduced to almost mundane summaries of individual performances and stat lines. This is disappointing, as I would have loved to see what he could do with less quantity to track, and more space for the excellent descriptive language shown in the first couple of chapters.
Overall, though, I came away from this book with a new appreciation for the summer leagues, which I can tell was Geoghegan’s mission from the jump. When it’s not bogged down in the day-to-day, Summer Baseball Nation makes a compelling case for the leagues, and why we should all be fans of them.
Disclaimer: Will Geoghegan offered me a copy of the book to read. I wrote an honest review without consulting or informing him ahead of time, to maintain the integrity of the review process. I look forward to eventually having him on the Podcast to discuss it further!