Aaron Schoonmaker

'The Greatest Show on Dirt' is a grand-slam must-read

Posted May 22, 2012

— Durham, and more specifically Durham Athletic Park, “is the essence of what the minor leagues are all about,” according to James Bailey, the author of The Greatest Show on Dirt. Bailey should know, he worked for the Bulls at the old DAP in the early 1990s and has since graduated to publish his first novel using the century-old, twice rebuilt stadium as the backdrop.

With remarkably clear depictions of both time and place, Bailey is able to guide Lane Hamilton through a season of professional transition as a young man, trading in a high-paying job for the life of a minor league stadium hand. When relationships and clubhouse drama produce conflict, Lane is put in trying positions and matures in his compromises – regardless what his buddies, grandfather or high-maintenance but undeniably attractive girlfriend say.

Despite being a “baseball book” the storylines of deep-rooted friendships and newfound passions executed with a sprinkle of life-lesson metaphors make the fast-paced novel an easy and must read for anybody with a summer itch. For those seeking the baseball aspect of the story, it doesn’t skimp, however, offering vivid scenes of game day operations from early morning hours to sun-up nights. People in the Triangle-area will be especially attached as Bailey memorably describes outings to familiar locations along Hillsborough Street, in Cameron Village, Chapel Hill and more.

I had a chance to sit down with Bailey at Sunday’s Bulls game as they took on Charlotte. For eight innings (we met up in the second inning despite both arriving well before the opening pitch) in the centerfield seats, we were treated to a 6-0 Bulls win, but recalled little detail of the game as the book and our baseball experiences dominated the conversation. Bailey reviews books on his own and for Baseball America and has a blog detailing his reads. The new Durham Bulls Athletic Park is a far cry from the stadium that was showing signs of disrepair on his departure in the 90s, but he assured me that he was able to again tour the old park as he was visiting from New York where he now resides.

The book’s characters are derived from people or combinations of real-life characters, but no individual is replicated to the fullest, he said. Bailey eloquently manipulates scenes and uses first-hand knowledge of minor league baseball’s realities to elevate drama and move the story into the fiction novel that it is.

If you like baseball, the Durham Bulls, the Triangle, fiction novels, coming-of-age tales, embedded love stories or any sort of naturally-flowing literature – this book is a must-read.

The book is available at Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh, Regulator Bookshop in Durham and online at most book retailers including Amazon.com. It is also available as an eBook for both Kindle and Nook.

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