Saturday, September 13, 2014

Playing Ball Anthology

Title: Playing Ball
Authors: Shae Connor, Kate McMurray, Kerry Freeman, Marguerite Labbe
Purchase at Dreamspinner
Purchase at All Romance eBooks
Cover Artist: Aaron Anderson
Genre: anthology, sports
Length: 270 pages, 92k words
Formats: epub, mobi, pdf, print

Baseball—America's favorite pastime—provides a field wide open for romance. A Home Field Advantage may not help when Toby must choose between the team he’s loved all his life and the man he could love for the rest of it. In 1927, Skip hides his sexuality to protect his career until he meets One Man to Remember. Ruben and Alan fell victim to a Wild Pitch, leaving them struggling with heartache and guilt, and now they've met again. And on One Last Road Trip, Jake retires and leaves baseball behind, hoping to reconnect with Mikko and get a second chance at love.

All apologies to the authors and readers who love the game, but baseball is team golf. What happens around the game, now that’s interesting. Fortunately, we have four stories where play by play is sparse and story is abundant. Presenting the stories in the order they appear in the book, we have:

One Man to Remember by Kate McMurray

This story takes us back to the Roaring 20s, when Babe Ruth in all his magnificent excess ruled baseball and homosexuality was something to hide. The tone reminded me a lot of Damon Runyon, to the point where I had to check my perceptions in his short stories, which was a lot of fun.

The catcher from Podunk and the sportswriter with the fageleh reputation get together and fall in love, but they’ve been seen too often together. Skip is forced to choose between his game and livelihood and the man he’s falling for. We’re left at the cusp of “how will they make that work?” It’s charming and the sense of period never wavers. The story revolves around the choice to be made and not the practicalities or the joy of overcoming them, and the degree of play by play is greatest in this story. Skip's uneasy relationship with the written word seemed a bit tacked on, and while much was made of it, it didn't really seem connected to the story. Kudos, however, for making me look at Runyon again. 3.5 marbles

Home Field Advantage by Shae Connor

I was truly startled by the degree with which a real team, the Atlanta Braves, was worked into this story. An heir to the team, Toby, falls for one of the rookies, and has to work out how much he can allow himself, given Caleb’s need for acceptance and Toby’s hide-bound grandfather’s grip on the team Toby’s dedicated himself to. One of the dangers of the game precipitates a crisis for them. The story came out before Donald Sterling opened his big, ugly mouth, but there are echoes of situation. All Toby’s stomach churning worries come through in Technicolor, and his strength of character does too. His interaction with his grandfather was a wonderful moment. 4.25 marbles

One Last Road Trip by Kerry Freeman

Bisexual Jake, retired from baseball and on a mission to reconnect with a love from his past, has to run the gauntlet of the interstate highway system from coast to coast, strewn with the landmines of his ex-wife and grown children. Mikko, his long ago hidden lover, now recently widowed, is starting to date again. Jake hopes to rekindle something, anything, being lovers if Mikko will have him and friendship if he won’t. Mikko in the flashbacks was far more vivid than Mikko in present day. The greatest source of tension in this story is Jake’s reaction to his daughter liking hockey better than baseball.  3 marbles

Wild Pitch by Marguerite Labbe

By far the most complicated situation in the book, here Alan and Ruben are retired players with ex-wives and small children and a deep friendship with a smoldering attraction underneath. They’re also business partners, “uncle” to each other’s kids, and generally in each other’s lives so deeply that they might as well be lovers, and would be if Alan can wrap his head around it. We get to follow them through the unraveling of Alan’s feelings and acceptance of the gay component to his personality. There were a couple of really odd issues, such as the degree of media attention two broken down Little League coaches attracted, but there was also the sense that these men have real lives. We get to watch them resolve the disconnect between what they felt and did and what they said. 4 marbles

These four stories run novella length, longer than usual for an anthology, and tackle the sport from several different directions. While a baseball fan may be more connected to the stories than I, I still had a pleasant afternoon’s read, and would go another inning with any of these authors. 3.75 marbles for the collection.

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