cover image Waterloo Diamonds: A Midwestern Town and Its Minor Leaque Team

Waterloo Diamonds: A Midwestern Town and Its Minor Leaque Team

Richard Panek. St. Martin's Press, $22.95 (373pp) ISBN 978-0-312-13209-5

Only a fraction of minor league baseball players ever make it to the major leagues. The trip starts in places like Waterloo, Iowa, a town of ``working-class and poor,'' that is the home of the Waterloo Diamonds, a San Diego Padres farm team in the Class A Midwest League. Freelance writer Panek here takes us through the 1992 season, on the field and off, in a city in trouble. Industry has deserted Waterloo; the Diamonds, on the other hand, are a franchise worth about $1 million, and the team brings some $2.495 million into the local economy. City and team need each other to survive, and each is wary of the consequences if the other fails. The team comprises players who aren't likely to be recruited into the major leagues; they are ``battle fodder,'' i.e., players kept on the job so the talented few will have someone to compete with. There are only a handful of prospects this season: Cameron Cairncross, an Australian with a live fastball; Jason Hardtke, a second baseman and all-star; and pitcher Robbie Beckett, a former first-round draft pick with good stuff, if no control. Panek concentrates on the business of minor league baseball, how it flourished into big business in the 1980s, and how it now virtually blackmails municipalities into underwriting it. This is a gritty and unsentimental portrait of the bush leagues. (July)