Book captures a legacy

Book captures a legacy

By Lori Holcomb
Battle Creek Enquirer

A group of hearty, good ol’ boys, a coach that guided their way into baseball history books while battling behind the scenes for his job and a small town that backed them along the way – sounds like a great story, right?

Homer baseball coach Scott Salow thought so and when the Trojan skipper voiced the idea after a 2005 playoff victory, it stuck with Jeff Karzen.

Karzen, an Enquirer sports writer, celebrated the release of his book, “Homer: The Small-Town Baseball Odyssey,” on Saturday at Homer’s Cascarelli’s restaurant with friends, family and Homer baseball players fresh from a recent matchup.

Their faces and names are different, but the guys in orange Homer jerseys are part of a legacy Karzen captured as he followed the Trojans’ 2004-06 baseball seasons.

The book gives readers an insider’s view of how the Homer team brought their one-stoplight town into the national spotlight.

But along with the good – winning two state championships and setting a national record for consecutive wins with 75 – Karzen delves into the dramatic struggle brewing behind the scenes during their impressive run.

The book begins in 2003 as a group of talented players are preparing for a highly anticipated season. Meanwhile, the local teachers union is opposing Salow’s dual service as middle school principal and head baseball coach.
While the boys tried to avoid politics and focus on playing the game, the community rallied behind Salow and he was allowed to keep his coaching and administrative jobs.

Although the team’s dominant efforts on the field initially pulled Karzen in, he said what went on behind the scenes made the story.

“The baseball stuff is great,” Karzen said. “But the off-the-field stuff put it over the top and made it appealing.”
Karzen combined his coverage of Homer games with other articles from the Enquirer and Jackson Citizen-Patriot archives as well as in-depth interviews from the people involved.

After reading through the book a few times, Salow said he is honored to have a book recording the accomplishments of his team, but some memories were less pleasant to revisit than others.

“It was hard to relive a part of that because there were some uncertain days and stressful situations, but they became a part of that era,” Salow said. “It’s something I can’t go back and change but my hope is that it doesn’t open up wounds that have healed over the past five years. And I’m confident it won’t.”

To the players who have moved away from Homer, the book brings warm reminders of their time as a Trojan.
“Homer was definitely unique in the aspect that everybody in the community was involved with and went to the games,” said Dan Holcomb, who now plays baseball for Evansville University in Indiana. “It brought the community together.”

Had the same events happened in a bigger town, Karzen said he didn’t believe the story would have been as intriguing.

“It was a special, special moment in time for those kids in that town and it struck me as really neat that a town of 1,800 became the high school sports story in Michigan,” he said as to why he dedicated hundreds of hours to the book.

“And partly for my parents … to justify all the money they spent putting me through journalism school.”