Take me out to the ballpark – and watch that crowd…

Now that basketball season is over and spring is here, how about a fun book about baseball that will entertain  and  enlighten you? Paul O’Connor has just the thing.

Reviewed by Paul T. O’Connor

FINDING AMERICA IN A MINOR LEAGUE BALLPARK. By Harris Cooper. Skyhorse Publishing. 199 pages. $35, hardback.

As the spring of 2022 approached, Harris Cooper needed something to do. A retired professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, Cooper had seen his summer plans fall through. Left unoccupied, he posed a threat to the mental health of his wife and neighbors, of whom I am one. (That’s my full disclosure.)

So, when Cooper learned that the Durham (N.C.) Bulls minor league baseball team was hiring game hosts, he signed on. Not for the money, which he admits is not much, but for the chance to be at the ballpark and observe people, the latter being something professors of psychology and neuroscience probably like to do.

Game hosts are what we used to call ushers. They wipe down the stadium seats before the fans arrive, check tickets, answer questions and call the clean-up crew when a child heaves his tacos or a grown-up his beer.

At some point between learning of the job and working his first day, Cooper decided he could get a book out of the experience. And he was right. He has written a fun, informative and insightful book about baseball fans, minor league baseball, the Bulls, Durham, baseball movies, ballpark operations and ushers. And, it’s much more readable than what you might expect from an academic. He’s easy to read, using words we plebeians understand. When he delves into psychology, it’s never for more than a paragraph and it, too, is understandable, even fun.

Finding America in a Minor League Ballpark is an enhanced journal. Most chapters encompass a Bulls home series. Depending on what comes up that night, he expands. One night he sees a crowd of youngsters seeking autographs near the opposing team’s dugout. It leads to a discussion of baseball cards – yes, there are minor league player cards now – and the adults who collect both the cards and autographs.

Cooper writes of his fellow workers, everyone from the director of the between-innings entertainment and that man’s interns to the clean-up crews and his fellow hosts. He tells their stories: a techie suddenly out of work, a retired judge, retired men and women who supplement their income working as hosts for other venues such as Duke football and the Carolina Hurricanes hockey.

There’s a special chapter on the history of minor league baseball and another on the city of Durham and its long association with minor league ball.

Each chapter opens with information about the opposing team, its history and home city. Each chapter ends with a summary of a famous baseball movie; that’s fitting because the success of the Bulls derives directly from the 1988 movie, Bull Durham.

His interactions with the fans create the heart of the book. There are lost children, spoiled children and crying children. There are parents there to watch their sons on the field and parents there to create a ballpark bond with a child that will last forever. Some fans have a deep knowledge and understanding of the game; others are attending their first game.

Some nights he staffs the gate leading from a local bar that overlooks left field and he’s responsible for keeping inebriated restaurant customers from sneaking into the game without a ticket. There is good behavior and bad.

This is a coffee-table book, big and glossy with lots of great photos, some of which Cooper took. It’s also a book I read in 20-minute spurts. I’d read one series, one chapter, and put the book aside. Long ago, a Little League coach taught me, “Play ’em one day at a time.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *