Three minor league pitchers contend with fate in this debut novel.
Growing up outside Boston under the shadow of his father’s unrealized major league baseball dreams, Jimmy Bailey wishes to succeed where his dad could not. That’s why he’s willing to board with a strange family in Jamestown, New York, in the early 1970s. He isn’t the only pitcher there to play ball for a Single-A affiliate of the Montreal Expos. There’s also Bobby Mangino, a hotheaded New Yorker with some father issues of his own to work out, and Bud Prescott, an aw-shucks optimist from Athens, Georgia. The three young athletes must contend with their nerves, ambitions, and abilities to throw fastballs as they spend the summer competing to move forward toward their dreams of the big leagues. “We’re all in the same boat: all-stars in our high schools, Babe Ruth and Connie Mack ball,” narrates Jimmy. “People at home knew who we are. Here, we are essentially nothing but three passengers jammed into the back seat of a Dodge station wagon—until we can prove otherwise.” They must face the expected obstacles. But the unforeseen tragedies (bodily, legal, and otherwise) will remind them that once they leave the field, they still have to compete in the most important game of all: the rest of their lives. Fischer adeptly—and often lyrically—captures the mindset of her characters, both their love of their sport and the things that they’ve given up to pursue it: “There’s nothing better than the smell that fills every corner, every inch, of a ballpark on a sunny spring day....The aroma makes me feel high. I bet it’s like sniffing cocaine or drinking too much tequila. But I’ve never done that. I’ve only gotten high on baseball.” The author wrings genuine emotions from the tale, making sure that readers know what’s at stake for these young men. This is perhaps why some shocking third act developments feel histrionic and unnecessary. Even so, Fischer manages to clearly communicate her ultimate message: that baseball holds more humiliation than it does glory, and far more losers than winners.
While it eventually turns melodramatic, this tale offers an appealingly honest portrayal of aspirant baseball players.