When a baseball team of country kids goes to the Little League World Series and nearly comes home with the title, it attracts national notice. The recently published novel, Return to Summers Run, is set in crossroads Pennsylvania and describes a farm boy‚??s journey from the hayfield to the manicured greenery of Lamade Stadium, South Williamsport, Pa., home of Little League.
‚??Folks think it‚??s about the 2011 regional champs from Clinton County, Pa., near Lock Haven,‚?Ě says grandfather, livestock photographer, and novelist James Cotton from Stevensville, Mont. ‚??No, my series first appeared in 2009.‚?Ě
When asked if it‚??s a pleasant read, Cotton points out the work in neither saccharine nor unsparing of the reality of rural life and coming of age.
‚??The Montana chaptersare anything but sugar and spice‚?Ě he said. ‚??That mule deer is brutal.‚?Ě
Cotton recalls the morning he was typing the final chapters of the sequel, Return to Summers Run.
‚??My fictional team ‚?? from northwest ‚??P.A.‚?? ‚?? had just punched its ticket for South Williamsport," he said. "I nearly went up in smoke when ESPN reported Pennsylvania‚??s Clinton County Keystone team took the Mid-Atlantic trophy that same day. What irony.‚?Ě
Life can indeed imitate art, he says, noting members of the real Pennsylvania team came from towns ‚??you never heard of: Beech Creek, Mill Hall, Blanchard, Loganton‚?Ľ.
‚??There is just something so right when small-town America shows its mettle. It‚??s the underdog sports story we all love,‚?Ě Cotton says, ‚??where a bunch from the back roads triumph.‚?Ě
Part of Return to Summers Run deals with coaching, good and bad, and how managers turn baseball bitter or into butter within this time capsule of a boy‚??s life. He cites the chapter of Return entitled, ‚??When Baseball Ceases to Be Fun,‚?Ě where soccer or skateboarding takes over.
Cotton, a native of Pennsylvania, admits his loyalties would have been tested had the 2011 regional champs from Big Sky Billings‚??Montana‚??s first-ever entry at the LLWS‚??met the team from ‚??P.A.‚?Ě
‚??Boy, think about it," he said. "The Perfect Season Finale. California spoiled it.‚?Ě
Cotton notes his two novels could be read in Sunday School, yet they take an unflinching look at life and loss on the farm, our yearning for rural roots, and the politics and angst of youth sports.
‚??The series deals with growth, friendship, and the bittersweet farewell to boyhood,‚?Ě he said. ‚??We‚??ve all lived some of it.‚?Ě