Brian Carriveau's It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America is a look at a side of baseball most of us don't see unless we live in the towns where it is played or play the game ourselves. Carriveau's father-in-law introduced him to the Home Talent League, a 42-team association of town-based adult amateur baseball teams operating in southern Wisconsin and mostly clustered around Madison. Most people, if they think of town ball at all, think it's largely a Minnesota-based thing. The best-known books about this form of amateur baseball focus on the Minnesota sport. I hope that this book can give an equal prominence to the Wisconsin game.
This book follows quite a few of the 42 teams during the 2008 season. It's structured in 18 chapters representing half-innings. I'm not sure that the "inning" structure works but it allows Carriveau to present the entire season chronologically and to cover a lot of different towns and players. Focusing on just one team wouldn't do for a league this large. Every town has a different personality and culture. I found the chapters on the Stoughton-Utica rivalry to be interesting. Stoughton was severely damaged during a 2005 tornado. The town rebuilt and all the while baseball (and their yearly Syttende Mai tournament) went on. Utica is an unincorporated area known for a festival, a bar, and their ballclub. Getting a look at these areas was just as interesting as getting a look at their baseball.
There's the usual stuff you get in baseball books about small towns but there's also plenty of evidence that it isn't all idyllic. An entire chapter is devoted to Black Earth's attempt to get a player who technically is out of area for them and wasn't released by the team with territorial rights to him. It caused strife between family and friends of decades. Also, throughout the text, there's mention of the effects of drunk driving on some players; they seem to not acknowledge that there's a problem. Finally, we see that the pressures that affect amateur sports participation in the big city are also present in small towns. The teams, already affected by rules that prevent college students (a large number of active players) from playing when school is in session, lose players to work and family commitments.
It's Just a Game is a worthwhile look into the world of Wisconsin adult amateur baseball that fans of the game and people interested in Wisconsin culture should enjoy.
(A review copy was provided by the author. Thanks!)