The love of writing and baseball combine in Apple’s debut novel.
It’s 1995, and John “Ditch” Klein is pitching relief in the minor leagues. He has a bad shoulder, a twice-broken finger, and the misfortune of being born a right-hander, along with many other disappointments you might expect. Still, baseball is all he knows, and like so many other journeymen of the sport, he’s just trying to play every season he’s got left. But Ditch also has another passion; he’s a closet writer, and he feels the compulsion to put pen to paper as a physical sensation along the same arm that delivers his pitches: “His body knew when it had to write, even if his mind didn’t want to.” During the long, hot summer of the minor leagues, in stolen moments on the bus or in hotel rooms, Ditch outlines profiles of his fellow players and vents his frustrations about the team’s management, all while grappling with the growing realization that his days of playing professional ball are coming to an end. Clearly influenced by the classic baseball film Bull Durham, Apple creates a Crash Davis–like character in Ditch—older, wiser, and more experienced than his teammates but with plenty of his own hang-ups that are played out both on and off the field. Apple’s writing is at its best in the extended play-by-play descriptions of individual games (sportswriting, like middle relief, is an often undervalued skill), including the culminating double-header referenced in the title, in which he effectively conveys not only the mechanics of play, but also the psychology of pitching. Readers who are more casual baseball fans may prefer the often comic, sometimes-poignant off-the-field antics of Ditch and his teammates—the good-natured and naïve catcher, the Ivy Leaguer struggling to fit in, the big prospect burdened by expectations. There are some misfires—the use of heavy dialect for some black players seems forced and dated, and passages that don’t relate directly to baseball feel underdone (“After a short shower John headed over to the local IGA and bought fresh meat and the appropriate condiments”). There are also some father issues that seem somewhat too easily resolved, but then again, that’s how the game of baseball fiction is played—and it’s part of what keeps the fans coming back for more.
An overall solid effort; readers will find that it’s worth sticking around for the last pitch.