“The Mountain Empire League” is a book that captures a time, a place, a sport, and a Nation. Although the plot is fully encased in the world of baseball, it is so much more than just a tale of a sport. But then, is baseball ever “just a sport”? Not really, and this particular game, a game played out in hot weather and until recently, a game played out slowly and especially in the minor leagues, a game played out near its fans, was always special.
This book can be read by folks who have no knowledge of baseball and still thoroughly understand and enjoy it. It is written in the cadence of the game, how the game is announced at ballparks, and over radios and televisions. It uses baseball terms, both the terms many know, like “laying down a bunt,” and terms not as well known, like how the players and the coaches call each other “mullions.” For me, this was a pure delight as it brought back memories of sitting under the broiling sun and listening to announcers at the stadium (and sometimes over the old transistor radios some fans brought with them), along with the crack of the bat; the cheers and boos and screams of fans; and in the minor leagues, where you are close enough to the field, the banter of players and coaches. And like this game, this book speeds up and slows down as events unfold, as the characters live their lives on and off the field, as the plot, and the baseball season, develop. These were no ordinary times: Black people were starting to push out from the horrible conditions they had been living in since being brought forcibly to these shores in chains. And of course, this brought resistance, contempt and violence. All is in this book- all of it. What a great way to witness a piece of history! A fine story, well developed characters of all stripes, all classes, all professions; a story that keeps you turning the pages but also making you feel the anger, the heat, the fear, the determination, and the frustration. And yes, it also makes you root for the characters, and really, isn’t that an integral part of this sport, and all sports: that we always end up rooting for the people and the teams that capture our hearts? That happens here in this wonderful book; we end up caring about this group of people, this League, and Baseball. Read this and you will step back in time but really, these themes are with us now. You will pick up knowledge you didn’t know you were missing, you will feel emotions along with the characters and that, to me, is the mark of a good writer and a fine book. Bravo, Marshall.
-Sharon A. Furlong