Those of us who follow Cape League baseball do so for reasons we hold in common -- it is still (for the most-part) noncommercial, community-oriented, close-to-the-crowd and high-caliber. In the cozy parks of the Cape League, it's easy to forget, though, that these attributes are also present in other leagues...even in unlikely places, such as along Highway 521 in rural South Carolina.
It's on this rural highway that writer Frye Gaillard and photographer Byron Baldwin takes us in an unforgettable collection of photography called, The 521 All-Stars: A Championship Story of Baseball and Community.
The thing that has always turned me on about Cape League baseball is how raw the experience is -- how true to the passions and origins the game feels when it's played on Cape Cod.
I stumbled across The 521 All-Stars this summer in the discount bin at the National Baseball Hall of Fame bookstore. It didn't take long to figure out that this book is not one to discount. It is one to treasure.
In this photographic documentary we follow a season with the 51-All Stars. There are flashbacks to the old Negro League, but we also learn that one former player, Terrell Wade, went on to pitch for the Atlanta Braves. And Hall of Fame outfielder Larry Doby also grew up in the area.
The photos of run-down ball parks and talented players reminded me of my own experience growing up in rural Oklahoma and Texas. You can't judge a team by its ballpark. In one photo we see a ramshackle bleechers section but a player with a swing that looks like a right-handed Vladimir Guerrerro.
My favorite photo, though, is probably the one of an entire team gathered beneath a tiny dugout hut to protect themselves against a southern downpour.
Great photos and a great story about a great game -- as it was and as it is.