A college baseball player struggles with his faith and sense of belonging when he transfers schools in this literary novel.
After his recovery from Tommy John surgery, college pitcher Vincenzo “Enzo” Prinziatta hopes to catch the attention of pro scouts. But when his 2015 junior year at State University of New York New Paltz passes without any offers, Enzo turns his attention to Cortland, a star in the SUNY Athletic Conference that’s known for its fan-friendly rituals. Enzo is reluctant to exit New Paltz; he’s a big fish in a small pond, and he’s leaving behind his family, his friend and catcher Lakewood “Semzy” Semend, and his girlfriend, Shannon Hestian, softball player and model. Not only that, Shannon is pregnant, and Enzo or his frenemy Barry Budski may be the father. Enzo also struggles with belief; he’s become rededicated to Roman Catholicism, but he’s disturbed to learn that his father lost his faith while dying painfully. What it comes down to, Enzo tells his adviser Father Pann, is that he wants his chance to play pro ball someday: “Beyond that, I think I want to find some place where it feels like home.” Enzo makes the switch from the New Paltz Hawks to the Cortland Eagles, and heads to Cortland Summer Camp to prepare for his senior season. But his longing for order is upset by the Eagles’ strange hazing rituals, which leave him off balance—especially the contributions of Trudy Booth, the team’s Chinese-Taiwanese-American fellowship counselor, who spouts New-Agey-slogans while stretching alluringly in skintight clothing. She’s also the coach’s wife. Enzo endures it all in the name of fitting in, but can he find a home at Cortland?
Enzo is a thoughtful athlete reminiscent of Henry “Author” Wiggen in Mark Harris’ quartet of baseball novels, most notably Bang the Drum Slowly (1956). But Marcopolos (Womyn Do: The Healing of JOHNNY R3BEL, 2016, etc.) offers a postmodern twist. The mysterious keeps taking prominence in this novel: the hazing rituals, which are amusing, sexy, confusing, and disturbing all at once; the hard-to-figure attitudes of Enzo’s teammates; oddities like a replica of the Winchester Mystery House that somehow features a pagan mechanical bull ride; Trudy’s oracular pronouncements; and portentous dreams and symbols involving several dead birds and brick-tied balloons that a teammate pops. Each image speaks of death and aborted flight, a counterpoint to Enzo’s longing for the big leagues and a home that isn’t stifling. Also complex is Enzo’s character. He wants to do the right thing, is compassionately moved by the plight of a boy with a harsh father, but is a self-admitted “douchebag” to Shannon, and considers standing up to a sexist teammate’s “joke” to be a fight not worth having. It’s a bit too convenient, however, when Enzo and Shannon’s baby is stillborn—another popped balloon and one that prevents Enzo from having to truly grapple with the consequences of his actions, marriage, or fatherhood.
A well-written, intriguing sports tale that explores the importance of home base.