In a frustrating parallel to the national pastime's recent history, Panek's exhaustive look at the Class A Diamonds' 1992 season spends more time in meeting rooms than in the locker room or on the field. The business of minor league baseball is the focus here; the game itself becomes incidental. The Midwest League affiliate of the San Diego Padres, the Waterloo (Iowa) Diamonds were owned by 15 area residents. Municipal Stadium was owned by the city and needed a half-million-dollar renovation to meet the minimum requirements of the 1990 Professional Baseball Agreement with the major leagues. The city wouldn't budge, despite the club's estimate that baseball pumped $2.5 million annually into the city's economy. All of the fundraisers and promotions dreamed up by general manager David Simpson and his assistants scarcely covered the team's $300,000 annual operating budget. Valued at about $1 million, the team was threatening to sell itself to outsiders. Against that unstable background, manager Keith Champion tried to motivate young players to play good baseball, in spite of often primitive living conditions and inadequate facilities. As Panek astutely observes, ""Champ"" had a dual responsibility: to win, but also to develop players for his real bosses, the San Diego Padres. He took his orders from the big-league club regarding who to play where, how many pitches a pitcher was allowed to throw, and so on. PEN award--winning fiction writer Panek is at his best in this nonfiction debut when portraying the players' youthful and often crude behavior on and off the field, whether hooting at a young woman in a halter top or playing tic-tac-toe with their spikes in the outfield grass. His looks at the hopes and dreams of individual players are his most effective passages. Well written, but too much behind-the-scenes and background stuff and not enough baseball.