Paul Kolbe’s adventure begins with a perhaps-imagined conversation with long-dead Triple Crown winner Joe Fisher, who leaves Kolbe with a decidedly real tin of pine tar. One drunken night, Kolbe, who has an “endowed seat” at the All Pro Sports Pub & Grill, in Rochester, Minnesota, is picked up by Heather, a beautiful woman who’s the niece of Sam the bartender; she’s also Fisher’s great-granddaughter. On top of that, Kolbe is offered a spot as an outfielder for the Cardinals—and that’s just the beginning. Well-written and hard to put down, McLean spices his redemption tale with baseball politics, personality conflicts, ownership issues, illegal gambling, romance and attempted murder. During Kolbe’s tenure with the Cards, his hitting places him squarely in the competition for the Triple Crown. Meanwhile, he cuts back on his drinking, his physical condition deteriorates and he gets involved with a hooker named Nikki. This all leads to threats from a gambler (who hints that he wants Kolbe to fake a hitting drought), a strange vehicle tailing him and someone taking potshots. McLean skillfully moves his tale along while transitioning between styles. To keep the blow-by-blow progression of the baseball season from becoming tedious, McLean employs the lively voice of a baseball announcer and “Bernie’s Bytes,” an online column: One column, titled “Kolbe sends the fans home happy, again,” reads, “Paul Kolbe has shown remarkable patience in his plate appearances this season, averaging over five pitches per trip to the plate. Every pitcher in the league knows his approach and reminds himself of Paul’s tendencies when going over ‘the book’ on the Cards left fielder.” McLean is also fond of wordplay. Names echo each other—Kolbe, Colby, Cole—while characters continually force monikers on one another: “Boss Lady,” “geezer,” “Paulie,” “Sailor,” “slugger.”
A joy for baseball fans and, in the frigid offseason, anyone looking for summer dreaming.