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Book Review: “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America” by Brian Carriveau

July 17, 2012

Brian Carriveau’s book, “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” chronicles the 2008 season of the Home Talent amateur baseball league in southern Wisconsin. In Carriveau’s first attempt at a full-length book, he combines exhaustive research with skillful storytelling as he weaves together the personal and professional lives of players, coaches and families involved in the Home Talent league. While documenting the play-by-play of key games throughout the season, the storyline zigzags across the state of Wisconsin to tell the tales, events and tragedies of the book’s characters. “It’s Just a Game” details how baseball is not only alive and well in Wisconsin but is inextricable from the lives of its small towns.

The backdrop for Carriveau’s narrative is the heavy flooding that devastated seven Midwestern states in 2008. Some of the hardest hit areas in Wisconsin were towns where the Home Talent teams resided. Showing their resolve, the people of the Midwest trudged on despite Mother Nature’s wrath. Carriveau relays the stories of people who came together to volunteer their time and effort to help salvage homes, towns and annual festivals that featured Home Talent baseball.

The volatility of the weather in 2008 mirrored the players’ own triumphs and catastrophes. “It’s Just a Game” provides readers with glimpses into the daily lives of small town America by narrating the lives of everyone involved in the 42 Home Talent league teams across southern Wisconsin.

The prevailing theme in “It’s Just a Game” is the notion that everyone seems to have a connection to the Home Talent league. As evidenced by Carriveau’s own father-in-law striking up a conversation at a Fourth of July game with an old baseball rival, which sparked the writing of the book, connections between the people of Wisconsin and the Home Talent league run deep. Throughout the manuscript, Carriveau chronicles the lives of brothers, fathers and cousins who play and coach alongside one another as each seeks the ultimate goal of a league championship.

Despite the rising popularity of football and basketball across the United States, Brian Carriveau’s book shows that baseball is still the centerpiece for many small towns in Wisconsin. And a big part of what makes the Home Talent league so great is that the players go out and play every Sunday for the right reasons. No one makes any money; they are motivated by the camaraderie and love of the game.

When I finished the book I realized the triumphs and tragedies of the 2008 season could have occurred just as easily during seasons past. In his book, Brian Carriveau captures the timelessness of Wisconsin’s amateur baseball by showing that the Home Talent league is played with the same integrity and on the same fields as it was 50 years ago. To put it in Carriveau’s own words, “It’s only the names that change in Home Talent, not the game.”


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