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The Last Best League: One Summer, One Season, One Dream [Hardcover]

Jim Collins
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Feb. 25 2004
Every summer, in ten small towns across Cape Cod, young college baseball players showcase their talents in hopes of making it to the "show." A vicious filter, the league has produced one out of every six major league players, from Nomar Garciaparra and Todd Helton to Jeff Bagwell and Barry Zito.In this brilliantly crafted narrative, Jim Collins chronicles a season in the life of the Chatham A's, perhaps the most celebrated team in the Cape Cod Baseball League. Set against a seemingly bucolic backdrop--a well-heeled resort town on the bend of the outer Cape--the story charts the changing fortunes of a handful of players, all of whom battle slumps and self-doubt in an effort to impress major league scouts and make the playoffs. Several players go home with career-threatening injuries; one blue-chip prospect fulfills great expectations while another is dubbed "the biggest disappointment on the Cape." A pitcher hides an arm injury while negotiating a minor league contract; another leaves early to tend to his dying father. And nearly all look to the following year's major league draft as a barometer of their worth. Far more than a baseball book, The Last Best League is an engrossing story about dreams fulfilled and dreams destroyed, about Cape Cod and the rites of summer, about coming of age in America.

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From Publishers Weekly

The Cape Cod Baseball League, which began in the 19th century as local entertainment for summer residents, has evolved into the jewel of American amateur baseball. Sanctioned by the NCAA, the league invites the best college players to come to breezy seaside communities to work on their game during what amounts to their off-seasonâ€"late June through mid-Augustâ€"without sacrificing their amateur status. And come they do, to one of the 10 teams sponsored by small towns and New England businesses, staffed by volunteers, the players hosted by local families and given day jobs as clerks, seafood haulers and day-camp counselors. Collins, a former editor of Yankee magazine and once a Dartmouth second baseman with dreams of the big leagues, brings a local historian's eye and the heart of a fan to a chronicle of one Cape Cod League team, the Chatham A's, during the 2002 season. He has produced a book that will be a treat to casual fans who might not know the process by which college players are courted by agentsâ€"graded as to character, body type and bat speed, and then tagged with a price. Collins wisely focuses his story on a handful of the most promising Chatham players, most memorably Wake Forest's slugging third baseman Jamie D'Antona, an extremely likable nutcase, for whom readers will find themselves rooting hard. There is also the undersized Blake Hanan, the brainy Princeton righty Tom Pauly and the sphinxlike load of a pitcher, Tim Stauffer. Their crusty manager, John Schiffner, adds a little spice and tobacco juice to the mix. Along the way, readers will gain an appreciation for summer on Cape Cod and the place of baseball, as it once was, in the heart of local communities.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The Cape Cod Baseball League is not well known except to New Englanders and professional baseball scouts (one of every six major-league players competes in it). The summer league, which attracts many of the best collegiate and amateur players from around the country, provides young players an opportunity to play in a competitive environment while functioning as adults in a community. The players typically room with local families, hold jobs with local businesses, and become part of the fabric of local life. Despite the small-town atmosphere, there can be a great deal at stake. Collins, former editor of Yankee magazine and a former college player with major-league dreams, understands the league, the game, and the odd dynamic that exists when teammates are vying for a ticket on the first leg of the journey to the major leagues. His profiles of the players, coaches, and local citizens who come together in the Cape Cod League offers a captivating, timeless brew of scuffed baseballs, white sand, and pristine dreams. Wes Lukowsky
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars boring beyond belief June 6 2006
By Brian Maitland TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
I love baseball and read a lot of books on the subject so don't tap me as a hater of baseball lit, but this book is beyond dull. I was so looking forward to learning about the Cape Cod League but where's the drama and hooks that draw you in?

I don't know why it didn't grab me. It just didn't. I think basically it was the writing because the subject is still fascinating.

I gave up halfway through as the author just never got me to care about these players he profiled. If you put a Boswell, Angell or even a guy like Mike Sowell on this topic, you'd have an instant classic. Sorry, Jim Collins, but this did zip for me.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great book about the Cape Cod League July 13 2004
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I worked for several years in baseball operations for two Major League Baseball franchises, and to this day, one of my greatest experiences was spending three weeks scouting at the Cape Cod League. Jim Collins does an excellent job of portraying the league, its management, scouts, fans, coaches and players. He brings several angles to the book, showing that not all players get along, that there are "classes" of players, and that 20-year old boys will act like, well, boys. For the casual baseball fan, this is an excellent look at something other than the Major Leagues. For the die-hard fan, it is a must read.
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Format:Hardcover
My sons and I gave this book to my husband for Father's Day. But I couldn't put it down once I started reading it! I spent my college summers on Cape Cod and we are avid fans of the Cape Cod Baseball League (with a special place in our heart for the Chatham A's.) Last week I had the joy of reading this while sitting on a Cape Cod beach.
The writing is exceptional, the enthusiasm of the fans authentically represented, ... and the dreams, emotions and antics of 20 year olds during a summer on Cape Cod... well you will have to read it for yourself.
Jim Collins does a fabulous job bringing it all together -- the beauty of the Cape, the showcase of these outstanding college ball players, the presence of the scouts, the local volunteer power and commitment behind the league, and the best of baseball before many future stars become celebrities. We have always felt that the Cape Cod Baseball League is the "best" of baseball, but Mr. Collins adds so much more as to why it truly is the "last best league."
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Grand Slam! July 2 2004
Format:Hardcover
Jim Collins masterfully chronicles a season in the Cape Cod League -- a summer baseball league for collegiate players with professional aspirations. Collins follows one campaign of the Chatham A's, one of the most popular teams in this league. Along the way we are introduced to a series of memorable characters, such as John Schiffner, the intense manager of the A's who moonlights as a high school teacher and coach the rest of the year, Jamie D'Anotona, a talented, immature, and complex collegiate star, trying to find his way both in baseball and the world, and Blake Hanan, a likable middle infielder who has focused his life on becoming a professional baseball player.
Hanan's experience is probably a descriptor of the entire league, for Cape Cod is where dreams and reality intersect. Many in the league will go on to the professional game, some even signing for huge bonuses with major league clubs, while others, such as Hanan, will find their hopes for the professional game dashed through a summer of intense competition.
As we learn more about each of these individuals, Collins paints an idyllic picture of small towns who bond with their hometown teams, of the crack of the wood bat as opposed to the ping of aluminum heard in the college game, and the purity of a game that is played for joy rather than for money and endorsements.
Enjoy The Last Best League! It is a true reading pleasure for any fan of the game!
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5.0 out of 5 stars All that's great about baseball June 27 2004
Format:Hardcover
I received this book as a gift and it was a very pleasant surprise. Somewhere between Little League and the Major League lies the Cape Cod League. Since I was a kid reading Baseball America, I have been intrigued with the lure of this quiet amateur summer league nestled in the heart of New England. Where basketball has the reknowned Nike summer camps, baseball has this unheralded league that attracts the nation's best college players for three months of a surreal existence of working by day and playing by night (evoking memories of a young Archibald Graham from "Field of Dreams"). This book does something special: preserve the spirit of the young men that head to these sleepy vacation towns every summer with dreams of playing the big leagues as well as the community that awaits them, prepared to provide an education they could never get in college. It's hard to read this book without getting lost in this world that seems a million miles from the majors. You see these future professional athletes at an awkward stage of their careers where they struggle to balance aspiration and the end of adolescence. The cast of characters spans an amazing array of talent, drive, and desire. This book invites you spend a summer with them, watching them grow up and learn about themselves in a unique environment. As a former player whose career never made it past high school, I was constantly reminded of why baseball is so special to those of us who really appreciate the full scope of the game. It goes beyond ball and strikes. It's the comraderie, the strategy, the mental games, and the team dynamic. The egos, the tempers, and the arrogance. The romance of the game is embodied within this book and anyone who appreciates the power of baseball will love "The Last Best League".
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