Pitch-by-pitch account of the 2008 College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
ESPN The Magazine senior writer McGee’s diligent research, chock full of statistics, history and local color, should prove a welcome treat for hardcore baseball junkies, but it may be more than the casual fan can comfortably digest. Even dedicated fans may get impatient when the author detours from the compelling action on the field to insert yet another obscure historical sidebar. At one point, he pauses to describe how the dining room at the local Hilton Garden Inn was named after a former Omaha police chief. To maintain the narrative flow, McGee wisely avoids chronicling all eight teams participating in the tournament and focuses on those teams—Georgia, North Carolina, LSU and underdog Fresno State—who survived to the final rounds. The author unearths some memorable off-the-field stories, like the Iowa couple who drove 500 miles to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary at the tournament, or the local memorabilia and food merchants who basically survive all year on the income they draw from the two-week-long invasion of baseball fans. McGee is less successful at building the action to a dramatic climax or placing the story in the appropriate context. Like the aging and soon-to-be-replaced Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium, where the College World Series has been staged since 1947, the majority of these athletes are walking the big-time sports stage for one last hurrah. McGee delivers the nuts-and-bolts of the tournament—and some interesting historical tidbits—but doesn’t capture the bittersweet smell and feel, the “pure, unhinged, uncorrupted, refuse-to-sellout joy.”
Readable and generally interesting, but the appeal won’t go far beyond serious college-baseball fans.