For many baseball fans, a major league game is a flickering image on a television screen or a story in a newspaper. Real baseball is played in their hometown, in a ballpark that seats 5,000 fans, not 50,000. The players wear uniforms like the ones seen on television, but their names are not household words—unless it happens to be summer and you are living in Bluefield, West Virginia, or Cedar Rapids, Iowa, or Batavia, New York.
In 1993, ex-New Yorker Hank Davis put a successful career in psychology and music journalism on hold and went off on a loving odyssey through twenty-eight host towns in search of minor league baseball. Writing with beguiling charm and a firm knowledge of the game, he traveled the back roads of small-town Canada and America and found more than he bargained for: a wondrous cast of characters on the field, in the stands, and on the way to the ballpark. Davis recorded them with his splendid, incisive prose and his remarkable photographs. Along the way he encountered not only the baseball stars of the future, like Derek Jeter, Terrell Wade, and Tim Crabtree, but also a host of fascinating unknowns and longshots. They, too, have stories to tell that will not appear on the stat sheets.
With infectious energy, Davis also looked beyond the players. There are coaches, men in their forties and beyond, making arduous bus trips with players half their age. There are assistant general managers happy to scrub toilets and paint dugouts just to be close to the game. Kids sell Cracker Jacks in Bluefield, and grown-ups operate the mechanical bull at Durham Athletic Park.
Davis finds the small-town setting a universe unto itself. Within it, minor league baseball is lost in a time warp. Unabashedly unsophisticated, it has all the quirky charm of a traveling carnival—full of hawkers and gawkers and the unaffected simplicity of a concert in the park on a hot July night. Davis' full account of his baseball journey is rich with detail inside and outside the ballpark.
“Small-Town Heroes is a sure-fire hit for minor league baseball fans—warm, humorous, moving, and full of the magic of summer nights at the ballpark.”—David Lamb, author of Stolen Season: A Journey through America and Baseball's Minor Leagues
“Small-Town Heroes is a winding, pleasant journey through the minor league ballparks of North America. Davis' vehicle is baseball, but his destination is an America that many might believe was lost forever. Over three summers, Davis visits twenty-eight cities in the U.S. and Canada, and he finds ballplayers, fans, and ordinary people with dreams and hopes and stories that are intriguing and fascinating. It is a great way to discover minor league baseball and America.”—Miles Wolff, President, Baseball America