An over-the-hill first baseman and a female pitcher lead a misfit team to minor league glory in this hangdog sports romance.
After 10 years in the minors, first baseman Parker Westfall has nothing to show for it except two suitcases containing all his worldly belongings, a fat gut, and impressive home run stats that somehow never impressed a major league team. He reaches the lowest rung of pro ball when he signs with the indie league cellar-dwelling Fort Collins Miners in Colorado. There he joins a crew of leftovers, including a gigantic outfielder with a hair-trigger temper, an aching catcher, and a second baseman with a yen for Shakespeare. Presiding over them is Grady O’Connor, an irascible manager with an inane “Grady Ball” system that consists mainly of chewing players out, even when they hit homers. Rounding out the roster is newbie Courtney Morgan, a 20-year-old female knuckleballer who bowls Parker over with her looks. Parker gets off to a fine start, batting .400 and blasting balls out of the stadium, but Courtney, despite her world-class knuckler, gets shelled off the mound in her outings. When Parker tries to give her advice, he runs up against her prickly defensiveness and Grady’s idiotic managerial decrees. Debut author Kaufman’s knockabout yarn paints a grubby but beguiling portrait of minor league purgatory with its cruddy locker rooms, lewd dugout banter, and belligerent fans, all lit in the twilight glow of misbegotten major league dreams. His prose captures both the thrill of the game—“the ball strikes the top of his glove’s webbing, and when Montgomery falls back to earth like Icarus, having touched the sun, the ball stays in his glove”—and the crass commercialism behind the heroics. (“If I keep the same guys on, year after year, we become a lower-tier product, indistinguishable from roller derby,” the team owner says, explaining that the need to draw fans with the illusion that they are watching future major leaguers means Parker’s contract won’t be renewed despite his great season.) Parker and his teammates can’t win, but readers will still root for them.
An entertaining, sweetly atmospheric baseball story.