Karzen covers his bases in ‘Homer’
By Scott DeCamp
A native of suburban Chicago, Jeff Karzen never got much of a chance to witness small-town living, but he has long been intrigued by it.
“For some reason, the small-town thing has always been appealing to me,” said Karzen, a 28-year-old from Evanston, Ill., who is a sportswriter for the Battle Creek Enquirer.
“Maybe it’s because I’m from a place that’s not like that at all. There’s something romantic about the small-town team … the underdog that does well.”
Karzen captures that feeling in his recently released book, “Homer: The Small-Town Baseball Odyssey.”
Veteran Detroit Free Press prep sports guru Mick McCabe wrote the foreward for the book, which chronicles the Homer High School baseball team’s wild success of this decade, including the Trojans’ national record-setting 75-game winning streak.
Naturally, Karzen’s first-ever literary production focuses on baseball.
But it also details how the entire Homer community – located about 35 miles southeast of Battle Creek – offered overwhelming support for its hometown heroes and the battle Scott Salow endured over keeping his head coaching job and school administration position at the same time.
“The story is kind of like ‘Hoosiers,’” Karzen said. “I think a lot of people can relate to playing sports, a lot of people can relate to being from a smaller town. Everyone can relate to a great sports story, no matter where it’s from.
This team from the middle of nowhere could be from anywhere, but it happened right here in Michigan.”
During Homer’s heyday, the Trojans were featured on ESPN SportsCenter’s “50 States in 50 Days” and in USA Today.
Homer’s baseball talent far exceeded that of the typical Division 3 or 4 team.
In fact, three Trojans from that era played Division I college ball. Two of them, catcher Dale Cornstubble and pitcher/first baseman Dan Holcomb, shared Michigan’s Mr. Baseball honors in 2006.
Homer, which survived several close calls during its winning streak, won two state titles and finished runner-up in the 2005 Division 3 state finals, when its victory string was snapped in a 7-6 loss to Saginaw Nouvel.
When it came to community support, Homer had that, too.
It was not out of the ordinary to see the town of 1,800 bring that and more to the Trojans’ big tournament games. In 2004, MHSAA communications director John Johnson estimated that a record 3,000 fans attended Homer’s state championship game against Shepherd, “a simple conclusion because the entire grandstand (at Battle Creek’s C.O. Brown Stadium) was filled with orange.”
“This could’ve been in 1955 or something with the way the town rallied around them,” Karzen said. “Kids don’t play pickup baseball anymore. We don’t live in a world anymore where everyone eats dinner at 6 pm with their family. Getting to know the kids, they were genuinely nice, good kids. They really were down-to-earth, polite kids, even despite some of the insane attention they received.”