It’s an American boyhood dream to play for a Major League Baseball team. For 2007 Elk River High School alum Greg Larson, that dream didn’t come true. Instead, he spent two seasons as the clubhouse attendant for the Aberdeen IronBirds, the High-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles in the now defunct New York Penn League. Larson is an author, editor, and stand-up comedian who lives in Austin, Texas.
Larson spent the 2012 and 2013 seasons as Aberdeen’s clubhouse attendant. He was responsible for tasks like rubbing mud on baseballs before games. After spending two seasons as the IronBirds clubhouse attendant, Larson decided to take his experiences and turn it into a memoir. “Clubbie: A Minor League Memoir” is the result of several years of writing, proofreading, editing and rejection by publishers. The book will be released on Thursday, April 1. The University of Nebraska Press is “Clubbie’s” publisher. “Clubbie” originally started as Larson’s graduate school thesis at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. Larson graduated from Old Dominion in 2017 with a M.F.A. degree in creative writing after earning his B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing from Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
Larson said he was rejected by the University of Nebraska Press once before they accepted what ended up becoming the base of the main draft of “Clubbie” after he sent more than 200 query letters to other publishers.
“I admire their baseball catalog,” Larson said. “Every year, they have amazing baseball books. They were on the top of my list for publications that I was going for. They said [the first draft] was too similar to other baseball books like Pat Jordan’s “A False spring,” and “Ball Four” by Jim Bouton. I edited the manuscript. I didn’t believe it [the University of Nebraska Press’ acceptance of “Clubbie”] was real until I had the contract in my hands and signed it. The process feels so similar to trying to become a professional athlete. It’s shocking. Surreal is the best way I can put it [into words].”
Larson started his collegiate career at Hamline University in St. Paul, where he was on the baseball team for about 48 hours before being cut by the Pipers. He transferred to Winthrop University on a Division I scholarship, but it was for being the equipment manager. Larson said he always thought he was going to have his “Rudy” moment in college.
“They’re going to [say], ‘Oh, our starting shortstop is down,” he said. “Let’s get the equipment manager, Greg Larson, in there. That was my only job experience coming out of college was being an equipment manager. These jobs as a clubhouse attendant in professional baseball do not open up. They’re passed down from somebody’s nephew, somebody’s grandkid, for generation after generation.”
Larson grew up watching the Minnesota Twins, inspiring him to play baseball. His father, Rick Larson, played for the Elk River High School baseball team in the late 1960s and graduated in 1968, earning a scholarship to play for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. Greg followed in his father’s footsteps and played for the Elks as well. In his 2007 senior season, he batted .091.
Rick said it’s been fun reading drafts of Greg’s writing such as “Clubbie.”
“I get to relive my childhood,” Rick said. “One of the greatest parts of Greg’s writing has been that it’s been able to return me to my roots related to baseball and he’s always kind of kept me young because he always wanted to play ball.”
“Clubbie” is about Greg’s experiences as the IronBirds clubhouse attendant during the 2012 and 2013 seasons. According to the description of the book by the University of Nebraska Press, Larson, fresh out of Winthrop University [before he attended Old Dominion University for graduate school], harbors a secret wish to join the team despite the team’s struggles, his own lack of baseball talent, and the negligence of the Orioles. However, Greg falls deeper into his role as the scheming clubhouse attendant and moves into the clubhouse equipment closet, which he uses as his personal office to make deals involving alcohol, IronBirds and Orioles merchandise, and large sums of cash. By his second season, Greg transformed into a deceptive, dip-spitting veteran, now fully part of a system that exploited players he considered friends. He risked losing everything he cared about in order to chase his private dream of becoming a professional ballplayer until an unlikely 2013 IronBirds postseason run gives him and Aberdeen a final shot at redemption.
The IronBirds won the McNamara Division title in 2013 but lost in the first round two games to none to the Tri-City Dust Devils, the High-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels. It was the first and only New York Penn League playoff appearance in IronBirds history.
Greg said he realized halfway through the 2012 season that his experiences could become the basis for a book. From his first season in 2012 to the acceptance by the University of Nebraska Press in 2019, it took about seven years to write the book.
“My initial notes from those two summers are 285 single-spaced pages,” Greg said. “That’s the genesis of the writing process. Then, I started writing the prose in 2015. The summer of 2016, I went crazy and banged out 2,000 words a day [and] finished the first draft. There’s like 96,000 words, sent it to a bunch of editors and they said, ‘Cut it down. Cut it down.’ [I] finally cut it down to 77,000 words in 2019, and that’s when the University of Nebraska Press said, ‘OK, now we’re ready to take it on.’”
Greg said one of the most interesting people in the book is IronBirds pitching coach Alan Mills. Mills played 12 seasons in MLB for the Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees. He finished his career with a record of 39-32 in 474 games with an ERA of 4.12, 456 strikeouts and 15 saves.
“He and I were the only staff members that came back both seasons [2012 and 2013],” he said. “We would get into arguments all the time. He was the pitching coach. He struck out Mark McGwire. He struck out Derek Jeter. I remember at the very end of the 2013 season, he let me go on the field and take batting practice with the team. I’m in a batting practice group with Trey Mancini, who’s now on the Orioles, Mike Yaztrzemski, who now plays for the San Francisco Giants, Jeff Kemp, who was our second baseman, and me. I was this skinny, pale-skinned short guy out there and it felt like Mills was pitching me as though he wanted to add Greg Larson to that illustrious list of strikeout victims along with McGwire, A-Rod [Alex Rodriguez] and all these people. It’s this dynamic of, ‘You belong here, but remember, you're the guy who bat .091 for the Elk River Elks your senior year.’”
Greg said retired Elk River High School English teacher Patty Prody inspired him to become a writer. He took a creative writing class that was taught by her during his senior year and she would let the class read their stories at the end of class.
“That was huge for me because I didn’t know if I liked writing,” Greg said. “I was ambivalent about writing in general and she would allow us to read these stories. I remember I read these silly haikus at the end of class and people were laughing at them. I was like, ‘Oh, I want to chase that feeling.’ I would write a short story, and, eventually, it became this thing where it was like she wouldn’t even ask me if I wanted to read. She would say, ‘Alright, Larson. You’re up.’ That’s what started me with getting to love writing in general and got me in love with stand-up comedy.
“There’s this one moment [where] I told her about my writing routine. I would write in my journal whenever I had random ideas. She looked at me sideways and said, ‘You might be a writer, Larson.’ She taught me that writing could be something serious, funny and something that I could do for a living, which was so mind-blowing to me that it [has] stuck with me ever since.”
Prody said she remembers Greg very well.
“Even as a high school student, I could recognize when kids had voice, and Greg had voice at an early age,” Prody said. “His personality came out of his writing, a lot of times funny because most teenage boys like funny first, but he did develop a more serious side of him.”
As the MLB regular season approaches in April and as fans are tuned in once again to America’s national pastime, Larson said he wants “Clubbie” to be a memory of not only his past life but of a league and lifestyle that no longer exists.
“I want them to understand that there’s more to baseball than just the numbers of the players,” Larson said. “There’s more to baseball than what you see on a Major League Baseball field. There’s all of these guys with incredible stories in the minor leagues. Most of them aren’t going to make it [to MLB]. Part of the reason I wanted to write this book was to tell some of their stories of guys who fought each other in the clubhouse with baseball bats over music arguments, guys who walked out of the game in the middle of the game because they weren’t getting playing time and they got cut from the team. I wanted to tell those stories and I want people to know that, now matter how much we love baseball, it’s a complex sport and it is a big business. It has all of the issues and positive aspects that come with that.”