This week SI takes a comprehensive look at the lower rungs of professional baseball and celebrates the minor leaguer—the guy who suffers long bus rides and small paychecks to pursue his sport. SI photo editor Don Mann (top) has a similar devotion—to softball. Each week he takes a variety of subways to play in four New York City leagues, "and that's down from five or six," says Mann. "I just turned 30, and it was time to cut back."
It is little wonder that Mann feels at home on a diamond. His father, Jack (bottom, in 1965) a sportswriter for Baltimore's Evening Sun, covered baseball for SI in the 1960s. "I remember tagging along with my father as a nine-year-old when he went to interview Ted Williams, while Williams was manager of the Washington Senators," says Don. "Williams even corrected a few flaws in my batting stance."
Don's interest in baseball grew as he got older. At Columbia Prep in Manhattan, he was an all-star pitcher, and he played for two years at the University of San Francisco, for the most part as an infielder. "I pitched a little, too," he says. "I got into one game as a reliever and I blew the lead, but we came back and I got the win. So my college record was 1-0."
In New York City's softball society, Mann's hallmarks are his hitting and aggressiveness. He is batting more than .500 for the combined SI-UPI team in the New York Press League. "The guys call him D Train," says SI senior editor/third baseman Craig Neff. "I'm not sure if it refers to the subway he takes to his various softball games or to his hell-bent style of play."
Unfortunately, one of the leagues Mann plays in uses a park on the Lower East Side that's not particularly suited to his approach to the game. He now has a nasty gash on his left forearm thanks to the park's concrete surface. "I slid into second," says Mann. "That's the macho league, and the guys question your manhood if you don't hit the concrete occasionally."
In his calmer hours during the season, Mann gathers and edits photos for our INSIDE BASEBALL column. In a way, he has been preparing for that assignment his whole life. "As a kid I cut baseball pictures out of SI and organized them by position on my bedroom wall," he says. "It was like picture editing. My mom thinks it's a riot that I'm getting paid to do something that used to trash the wallpaper."