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Sunday, January 13, 2008

"Harvard Boys" -- A Review

Harvard Boys: A Father and Son's Adventures Playing Minor League Baseball. John Wolff and Rick Wolff. New York, Skyhorse Publishing, 2007.

As father and son, John and Rick Wolff both experienced the highs and lows of minor league baseball. Harvard Boys chronicles John's baseball career from Harvard to Arizona to Bristol to Massachusetts to Kalamazoo through one summer of baseball. John recalls his experiences in diary form while his father, Rick, adds insight from his own baseball experiences along the way.

The story is a fascinating look into the life of minor leaguers and prospects. It begins with spring training in the dry Arizona heat. John invites us into his day-to-day life on and off the field. A Harvard grad who instead wanted to live out his baseball dream, John struggled to prove himself throughout the summer to the White Sox organization. More than just providing game re-caps, the book also describes the competition, emotional obstacles, personal challenges and financial problems that toughen ballplayers in the minor league system.

The book is enjoyable because it is genuine. John watches superstar prospects accelerate much faster than he can. He struggles to prove to his coaches, and to himself that he belongs. At each turning point, John picks up the pieces and moves on to find a new pro ball opportunity.

His determination is refreshing and serves as a wonderful reminder at how great the differences can be between minor and major league ball. While our Washington Nationals are treated to spreads of healthy food and stays in the nicest hotels, John's always looking for a free meal and trying to find cheap sources of air conditioning and transportation.

Along the way, John's father Rick, who played minor league ball in the Tigers organization and worked for the Indians, offers encouragement, insight and memories as he responds to John's experiences. For as much as the game may change from year to year, readers begin to understand that many elements will always stay the same.

I really enjoyed Harvard Boys. I found myself quickly engaged and curious about how his summer would unfold -- even tossing the book aside in anger for a few days after a frustrating turn of events. Well written and insightful, I often found his stories to be humorous. The book is loaded with the superstar prospects that have quickly and quietly made their mark on baseball. Their cameo experiences are entertaining but not the focus. The story's biggest accomplishment is bringing fans into the dugout and onto the team bus for a summer. Overall, a nice father-son story full of the ups and downs of minor league baseball in America.

You can purchase the book at your local bookstore.

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