Book Review: September Nights

September Nights

By James Shields as told to Bill Chastain

WorldSplice Sudio, $14.95

Everyone on the 2010 Tampa Bay Rays knew their window for winning a championship with its current cast would close at the end of the season when management was slashing payroll. That only added to the drama of the team’s September pennant chase for the American league East title with the Yankees.

In September Nights, Rays pitcher James Shields and author Bill Chastain detail with behind the scenes insight what the team went through on the field and inside the locker room as it pursued its second World Series appearance in three years.

In addition to Shields, many of the players such as Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena had been there when the team was known as the Devil Rays and suffered annual losing seasons and last place finishes in the division. They came of age together when they shocked baseball in 2008 and advanced to the World Series before losing to Philadelphia.

Now, as the 2010 season reached its September climax, Shields knew this close group with excellent chemistry would never again set out in February in search of a title. As the clock ticks on the season, and the group’s time together, Shields’ helps readers experience the urgency players go through when the season is on the line. His conversational style shows how manager Joe Maddon keeps the team loose and on an even keel as the pressure mounts down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Shields, a 16th round pick in the Rays’ 2000 draft, describes how players deal with the nightly stress of playing when a division title and playoff berth hang in the balance. He also lets fans in on what he and his teammates think of their opponents and how he plans to pitch them in some of his most important starts of the season.

All the while, he and his teammates know their time together is running short, and Shields does a good job displaying the human side of the game. That despite the money and fame, playing the game he loves, with guys he’s come to love like brothers, has a tinge of sadness as their time together ends.

Another interesting theme he and Chastain weave through the fast-paced narrative is how despite their low payroll, the Rays have ascended from doormat to one of the Beasts of the AL East along with New York and Boston.

“Bill came to me with the idea, and I thought it would be interesting for fans to read about what we think and go through on a daily basis,” Shields said. “We talk about how I throw my changeup; we talk about some stats fans might not be that familiar with. It just gives fans more insight so they can enjoy the game more, as well as where the team was at during that time.”