Baseball 'Beyond the Fence'
Josh Eidem remembers the exact moment he fell in love with town baseball.
"I came up from Rochester to play with some of my UW-River Falls teammates for the Spring Valley Hawks at the Ellsworth Cheese Curd Days Tournament in 2000," he recalled. "It was a Saturday night game and I was standing out in center field with all these people at the game cheering and having a good time and I was thinking, 'Why do I go home during the summer?' I came in to pitch at the end of the game and people were just screaming. I was thinking, "This is just a town ball game.' We used to get some people at our college games, but not like this. I went into the dugout after the game and told the guys, 'Save this jersey for me, I'll be back next summer.'"
Eidem joined the Hawks full-time the following summer and eventually became the team's unofficial player-manager. He stayed in that position when the team moved to River Falls in 2008 to become the Fighting Fish and is currently preparing for the team's 2011 season.
Eidem, a 30-year-old elementary school teacher in Prescott, recently channeled his love for town ball into his first novel, "Beyond the Fence," a work of fiction based on Eidem's experiences playing in the St. Croix Valley Baseball League.
"The stories are based on true stories, but it's more how we remember those stories than how they might have actually happened," he said. "I changed the names to protect the innocent. While no character represents one single person, each character is a compilation of players around the league, past and present.
"Guys ask me, 'Am I in the book?' The short answer is yes. All the guys I played with are in all the characters. It's really an 'us' book."
Originally from Rochester, Minn., Eidem came to UW-River Falls and played baseball for the Falcons from 2000 until the program was disbanded in 2001. He said the seeds for the book were planted during his college days.
"I lived in a house full of baseball guys and we'd come home after practice and talk about the characters on the team," he said. " I told the guys at the time that I was going to write a book about this someday. They all went 'Yeah, sure.' Well someday has come."
"Beyond the Fence" spans 30 years of St. Croix Valley League baseball, on and off the field, centered around the annual Plum City Memorial Day Tournament hosted by the Plum City Blues.
"It's a place that brings all these teams together," he said. "To me it really represents what's great about town ball. The goofiest, craziest people you could ever meet are all accepted that weekend in Plum City."
He said while the characters are fictitious, he felt it was important to make the settings real. While writing the book, he sought the advice of teammate and fellow author Joe Paatalo.
"Joe said, 'Why not make up a place?' But I can't make these places up. There's so much character in these towns and ballfields, I don't need to make that up. This is a great place for baseball, and amateur baseball in Wisconsin. There's such a great love of baseball here. It was important to me to write something that represents that."
Eidem credits Paatalo, along with other teammates like Scott Warrington and Prescott English teacher Bob Burton, with helping him finish the book. He said he began the book almost exactly two years ago.
"I wrote one chapter , the part about Dam Days in Spring Valley. It sort of gives the back story on the main character," he said. "I slipped it under the door of Bob Burton, who teaches in the class next to me. He's a great English teacher and he liked it and told me I should write the rest of it. Had he not done that, or been busy grading papers or doing all the things teachers do, it might not have happened. Because of that, I spent the next two years doing this."
He said he tried to capture the passion and uniqueness of town ball players in the book.
"They are passionate, not only about baseball but about everything else too -- jobs, family," he said. "They're not necessarily intense, but they like to be around people. They are also all a little bit off. I can't really quantify that but if you know any town ball players you know what I mean.
"That's why I think it will resonate with people," he added. "If you've ever been on a softball team full of misfits, or if you've ever been on a volleyball team full of misfits, you'll be able to relate."
In one chapter a character talks about why he loves town ball, or as Eidem describes it: "The last pure form of the game on Earth."
"I'm sub-par at my job, an average husband, skip my family reunion each year to be here in Plum City, and barely graduated from college. But every day I step on the field, I have a chance to be great. I never want to give that up."
Eidem said he learned a lot about himself while writing the book, including when the main character struggles with the decision over whether to keep playing town ball.
"That was the hardest part for me to write because I'm not there yet," he said. "I had to think a lot and talk to guys in that situation like Scott Warrington. I asked him to read what I had written and tell me if that's what it was like. Guys like Scott and Joe, I've spent enough time and had enough conversations with those guys that it gave me an idea. But I haven't experienced it yet."
"Beyond the Fence" can be purchased in print directly at aspencreekpublishing.com or on Amazon.com, and you can read it as an e-book through the Amazon Kindle Store or Smashwords.com.