NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I.— Baseball has long been America’s pastime, with the crack of the wooden bat and smack of the ball hitting leather echoing in ballparks big and small around the country every summer.
For some, that connection between summer and baseball means seeing the stars of tomorrow playing each other on small community fields in Cape Cod, Rhode Island, California, Alaska and other far-flung burgs, as they compete in short-season leagues for young prospects, a topic which is explored by North Kingstown author and The Independent’s sports editor Will Geoghegan in his debut book “Summer Baseball Nation: Nine Days in the Wood Bat Leagues,” which is available online and in select retailers and hits shelves everywhere April 1.
For Geoghegan, the connection with summer collegiate baseball goes back to his childhood summers spent on the Cape.
“I guess the initial interest in summer baseball came from going to Cape (Cod Baseball) League games when I was growing up,” Geoghegan said. “I grew up in Kentucky, but my parents are both from Boston and we always vacationed on Cape Cod every summer so I went to a lot of Cape League games.”
From there, he became fascinated with the league, which is seen as the premier summer collegiate baseball league. Shortly after moving to the area in 2007, he created a blog that covered the league called Right Field Fog, which he maintains to this day.
His interest in summer baseball began to grow outside of the Cape League as well, especially when he began covering South Kingstown’s Ocean State Waves and the Newport Gulls of the New England Collegiate Baseball League as sports editor at The Independent.
“(Summer baseball) has really taken off a lot in the last 10-15 years around the country and it just seemed like a really cool brand of baseball everywhere that it was played, that’s what’s so unique about it, just for that connection to the community and big time athletes playing on high school field,” Geoghegan said.
The more he covered the game, the more he wanted to explore it further, fulfilling and expanding upon a long time dream of his.
“I was always just kind of taken by it and always wanted to maybe write a book about the Cape League growing up watching that, but sort of had the idea to look even beyond that and kind of look at the whole big summer ball picture,” Geoghegan said.
Rather than just covering the games however, Geoghegan wanted to go beyond the box score and get the stories about the people behind them.
“(‘Summer Baseball Nation’) gets into some of the stories about the journeys people have gone on in college baseball and for coaches and general managers how they got into it and the path they took and everyone sort of has their own story and their own unique path into summer ball,” Geoghegan said. “A lot of people really like being part of summer ball, so it’s cool just to be able to tell those stories too in addition to games and stats and things like that.”
After a couple years of planning, Geoghegan decided to go for it in the summer of 2016, saving up vacation time and reaching out to teams and leagues across the country to tell the story of a summer baseball nation over the course of nine separate days.
“All of the leagues I went to and most summer leagues in general, it’s a pretty solid brand of baseball,” Geoghegan said. “Fun to watch, these are all college guys so there’s sort of a baseline that’s pretty good. These guys are all throwing high 80s-low 90s and all pretty good hitters, so there’s good quality baseball everywhere.”
His travels took him to the Cape, around Rhode Island, Wisconsin, California and Washington D.C. He even made it to Fairbanks, Alaska, where he was able to see the Alaska Goldpanners play in the famous Midnight Sun Game.
“As soon as I had the idea (for “Summer Baseball Nation”), I knew that was definitely one that I wanted to go to,” Geoghegan said.
The Goldpanners have had some talented players in their ranks over the years, including Dave Winfield and Barry Bonds, both of whom have participated in the game where the sun barely sets.
“(The Goldpanners) actually picked up the tradition from (older) local teams that played this game in the midnight sun, so they start the game (at) 10 p.m. and the sun sets at like 2 (a.m.)-2:30 (a.m.), but it doesn’t really go all the way down. So it just kind of stays twilight, so they basically just keep playing without lights until the end of the game,” Geoghegan said. “In terms of my favorite event to go to, that was definitely it.”
As he traveled across the country, still before having a publisher for his book, Geoghegan was just enjoying the ride and having the ability to write about something that meant so much to him.
“It was really fun,” Geoghegan said. “As I was doing it, I didn’t have a book publisher at that point, I was thinking (that) whatever happens, this has been a really cool experience and luckily I had very few travel problems and very few weather issues. Some of these places, I was only there for a day so if a game had gotten rained out I would’ve had to figure something else out, but that really didn’t happen at all, so the baseball gods were smiling on me.”
He found the teams, players and coaches very easy and eager to talk to and with about the game, something he traces back to one of the main things summer baseball is all about: community
“That kind of speaks to the community nature of these teams,” Geoghegan said. “They’re not big organizations where you can’t get access and everyone who’s in summer ball I think really loves summer ball and likes talking about it and likes sharing it with people, it’s very much that kind of a community, so everyone was really receptive to it and welcomed me with open arms and let me talk to whoever I wanted to talk to and that part of it was really cool.”
“I was emailing these people out of nowhere in some cases,” Geoghegan added. “I had some connections in the Cape League and the New England League, but I had never been to Alaska before so that was completely new but everyone was into it and that made it really fun.”
After his journeys in 2016, Geoghegan quickly got into writing the book, a process which he said was educational, even as an experienced journalist.
“It was a challenge at times,” Geoghegan said. “I think any project like that would be, I mean 70,000 words was longer than most things I’m used to writing, so it was tough at times. It definitely took me longer than I thought it would, but at the same time, when things click and when you write something that you like, it makes it all worth it.”
He soon went about finding an agent and a publisher, landing on the University of Nebraska Press, a publisher which is no stranger to the world of baseball literature.
“They are pretty well known for putting out a few baseball books every year, their baseball catalog is really good,” Geoghegan said. “They’re just one of those publishers where that’s one of their niches, the baseball world, so that was really cool to find them and my agent has some connections there and he was able to get me in there as a first-time author, so it really worked out great and they’ve been great to work with and they’re out there promoting the book as well so it’s been a great experience overall.”
After sending in his final manuscripts in the fall of 2018 and making final edits early last year, the book hit the presses this year, with Geoghegan receiving some of the first copies.
“Seeing the finished product has been really cool,” Geoghegan said. “It was a long time coming and when it’s in process for so long it sort of doesn’t seem real and I think I sent a final manuscript to the press (around) October 2018 and then they came back with edits, so you sort of forget some of what you’ve even written, so it’s pretty cool to actually hold it in my hands and see the tangible, real thing.”
With now a few years having past, some of the players Geoghegan features in the book have already established or are on their way to careers in the big leagues, including Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Keston Hiura.
“He actually has a cameo in the book, he was playing for the Santa Barbara Foresters just on a temporary basis while he was getting healthy and then he ended up playing with Team USA,” Geoghegan said. “He was a rookie last year and he’s kind of profiled as a potential star second base infield type.”
Other notable players include former Stanford teammates Colton Hock and Quinn Brodey, both of which went on to be selected in the early rounds of the MLB Draft and now are highly-touted prospects within the Miami Marlins and New York Mets minor league systems respectively.
Overall, the journey of writing “Summer Baseball Nation” helped further solidify Geoghegan’s love and passion for summer baseball and the level of talent required to play in the leagues themselves.
“It all tends to be pretty quality baseball and a lot of the guys get a chance to at least play pro ball at some point at some level,” Geoghegan said.
“Summer Baseball Nation: Nine Days in the Wood Bat Leagues” is available in store at Barnes & Noble in Warwick and for order or on Amazon and the University of Nebraska Press website for $29.95.
Links to all three sellers can be found on Geoghegan’s website, willgeoghegan.com.