Review: Playing Ball Anthology

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Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

Playing Ball coverAre you in love with the boys of summer?  Can’t wait for opening day and the cry of “play ball”? Baseball is America’s favorite pastime and the focal point of the love, heartbreak and the dreams of a nation of fans and players alike.  In this anthology four terrific authors share their passion for the game of baseball with four stories of love…the love of the game as well as romance between men who share a passion for baseball and each other.

Here are the stories in the order they are to be found within this anthology:

“One Man to Remember” by Kate McMurray
“Home Field Advantage” by Shae Connor
“One Last Road Trip” by Kerry Freeman
“Wild Pitch” by Marguerite Labbe

What a treat to pick up a book whose authors and collection of stories share my love for baseball and the boys of summer!  From stories situated in 1927 that bring the Babe back to life to the present day game and romance, these four stories will keep you happy and engaged, especially during those months where the fields of dreams are empty and the stadium seats wait for summer and the fans to arrive once more.

Here are my reviews for each story in the order found within the book:

1.  “One Man to Remember” by Kate McMurray:  Rating 5 stars out of 5

It’s 1927, New York City. Babe Ruth and the Yankees’ unstoppable batting lineup, Murderers’ Row are on their way to a season that will go down in the annals of baseball as legendary.  Across town, a rookie infielder for the Giants, Skip LIttlefield is racking up as many hits as the Babe but no one is noticing.  No one except a  famed sports reporter named Walter Selby, a notorious dandy whose sexuality is an open secret.  Walter has been watching the kid make hit after hit in seeming anonymity as everyones attention is focused on the Babe.  Everything about this rookie puzzles and intrigues Walter so he arranges an interview that will have far ranging repercussions for them both.

Kate McMurray has gifted us with a small historical gem of writing with One Man to Remember.  She has captured both the flair of the era as well as the homophobia and secret society of gay men during those times.  Its clear that McMurray has done her homework not only for the information she imparts about that storied run of Babe’s and the Yankees but the every day life as lived in 1927.  Whether it is snappy slang of the day to notorious places represented by The Penguin Club off Fifty-Sixth Street near Times Square, the author submerges us as throughly as her characters in this time period and brings off a home-run of a story.

The men, their love and knowledge of the game and the manner in which they have to hide their romance is both realistically and beautifully laid out in a story so well done that it cries out for a sequel.  One of my favorite stories in an anthology full of great tales.

2. “Home Field Advantage” by Shae Connor.  Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

Toby MacMillan lives for baseball and loves his team, the Atlanta Braves.  In fact Toby has grown up with the Braves as Toby is the grandson of Atlanta Braves owner Ray MacMillan. Toby owns 30 percent of the team and expects to inherit the rest from his conservative grandfather upon his death.  And that’s primarily the reason Toby has hidden his sexuality from his family and team.

Then a new rookie arrives from the minors, Caleb Browning, ready to make his appearance in the major leagues.  Caleb Browning is talented, naive, attractive and gay.  And he has eyes for Toby.  A dinner engagement highlights their attraction to each others as well as the dangers that any relationship between them will bring to each of their careers.  Despite their good intensions to remain just friends, a romance begins that soon deepens into love.  What will happen when a fastball to the head, threatens not only Caleb’s career but their  love affair as well?

Situated in present times, Shae Connor’s looks at the reality of major league players coming forward about their sexuality and the fragile acceptance they are met with.  Toby’s entire life has revolved about the Atlanta Braves, a team owned by his grandfather.  His is a  character in love with the game while still aware of the realities of being a gay man involved in professional team sports and the sacrifices that requires.  Toby is an endearing characters whose reality is grounded in the truth of the men who love and control the game itself.  Toby realizes that while change is coming, the progress is as slow as acceptance itself.

I had a little more of a stretch to believe in Caleb Browning.  I really don’t see someone who plays ball, whether it is in the minor or major leagues, not being more aware of the consequences of his “gayness” while remaining a ballplayer.  His naivete seems not only extreme but unrealistic, so it took me a while to commit to their relationship.  But once committed, I threw myself into their romance with all the fervor of a fan at the game.  And by the time I got to Toby’s speech towards the end I was cheering them on.  You will be too.

3. “One Last Road Trip” by Kerry Freeman.  Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

After many years in the major leagues, bad knees sees Second Baseman Jake Wilson retiring from San Diego Padres and heading back home to a small town near Atlanta.  He is making one last road trip, pulling along a small trailer of possessions both physical and emotional.  On his way, he visits his ex wife, his grown children, getting reacquainted with his present and bringing up memories of his past.  And always present in his thoughts is Mikko Niemi, the young man he fell in love with in college and has never forgotten.

From his Facebook account, Jake has learned that Mikko’s long term partner has died and Mikko has started to date once  more.  So Jake is heading home to Mikko hoping it’s not too late for them to reconnect and ignite a love that never should have been abandoned.

Kerry Freeman, Kerry Freeman, you hit a home run to the heart with this one.    Not only it is about older ex lovers getting a second chance at love but the main character is a retired MLB player feeling every inch of his years in the game and the injuries that go along with it.  I loved the character of Jake Wilson.  His rueful examination of his past actions along with acknowledging how much he was still grateful for his ex wife and children, well, it is a heartwarming and compassionate portrait of a man at a certain stage in life who has come to grips with who he is and where he hopes to be.   Jake is a large hearted individual aware of his short comings and his strengths.  He is easy to connect with and root for.  In fact all the people in this story are well rounded, layered characters that a reader will love spending time with.

If I have any small quibble at all, it is that I wish we had gotten a little bit more of Jake and Mikko after their reunion.  A little more interplay between them would have sweetened an already emotionally satisfying romance.  But that quibble aside, I loved this story and you will too.

4. “Wild Pitch” by Marguerite Labbe. Rating 5 stars out of 5

Ruben Martell and Alan Hartner have been together as friends for a long time. They met during their early years playing baseball, and their friendship stayed strong through marriages, different teams, and locations, and even through death of a wife and divorce.  Now they are business partners in a batting cage/ sports bar and coach rival Little League teams.  And through it all, Ruben Martell has loved Alan Hartner, not just as a friend, but with a passionate hidden love.

Except for one night where their relationship crossed the lines of friendship, neither man has ever referred to each other as anything other than best friends.  But the pain and stress of hiding his feelings and hopes from Alan is causing Ruben to question their friendship and business partnership.  Ruben isn’t sure how much more he can take of the status quo without even a glimmer of hope for their future. As Ruben pulls away from Alan and his kids, Alan realizes just how much he might lose unless he takes a chance on a wild pitch.

Wild Pitch by Margueritte Labbe brings together all the elements needed for a great romance and then spices it all up by  using baseball to frame this long term relationship between Ruben Martell and Alan Hartner.  This story is so great on so many levels I don’t know where to start.  Both men have been together since their earliest times in baseball.  With a love for that sport as the cement that initially held them together, Labbe lays out for the reader how that relationship has changed and deepened over the years, morphing from friendship to brotherly love to something far more dangerous and passionate, especially on Ruben’s side.

The author delivers this story with an intimacy and warmth that makes the reader a companion and friend to these men right from the start.  I loved feeling included as Alan and Ruben deal with Alan’s kids and the Little League players they coach.  These are  real kids spouting dialog that can be heard on school and park playing fields country wide as well as at home.  I loved them and wanted as much of this aspect of the story as I did the romance.

But it’s the emotional realism of the scenes that Labbe has written as the men break through the stasis of their present relationship into that of a recognized romantic love that will catch at your heart and perhaps even bring out the sniffles.  Watch out especially for that moment where one son’s asks how much love a heart can hold…sniff.  Well, just have the  tissues handy because you will find yourself bawling away like I was.  A remarkable story to end a collection of marvelous tales.

This collection of stories demonstrates just why baseball is so often used as a metaphor for life.  It is full of passion, and history.  It’s hilarious and heartbreaking.  It’s about the grand gesture and small intimacies.  And its about love and all the memorable diverse characters drawn to the National Pastime.  Every story here is a home run!   It is already on my must reread list.

Cover art by Aaron Anderson is perfect.  It has an almost old time look about it with the design and font that works perfectly for this collection.  Great job.

Book Details:

ebook, 270 pages
Expected publication: September 25th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press

The Rank Few and their Rank View or When By The People and For The People Went Into the Dump and The Week Ahead In Reviews

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One of the many aspects that people either love or hate when living in the Washington DC Metro area is our constant bombardment of information of and about the Government.  The constant stream flows from our radios, tvs, cable, computers, phones, tablets, seemingly from the air itself.  It keeps us informed and aware of things happening in the government (whether we want to or not). I would even say that most of the people who live in this area work for the government or it has an impact on their work in some way.  Its Inside the Beltway at work and normally I kind of enjoy it.

Not now.

Now the government is shutdown and I am angry, and feeling helpless to make a difference in a situation that never should have happened in the first place.  This has effected me in so many ways, from the people I love, my family, my friends, acquaintances, all who are on furlough, those working and not getting paid, everyone who is impacted by this idiocy., including myself.

All those wondering how their mortgages will get paid, how will they put food on the table, or even get gas to bring them to the work they are not getting a paycheck for.    I see and hear it in the voices of cab drivers and food truck operators with no one to drive or feed,  hotels vacant because the tourists have gone home or have cancelled their trips.  From the front desk to those cleaning the rooms and hallways, and everyone else involved in the hospitality business, all are impacted, all are hurt.

What about those 30 children just admitted to a new cancer program at NIH, a last hope certainly and one that is frozen along with all the other protocols patients enrolled in specialty care need so desperately.  What about that person who needs a serious operation now.  It was scheduled then all leave was cancelled, no exclusions, no exemptions.  Who looks them in the face and tells them no? Even those hoping to get married or WWII veterans hoping to see their memorial? It’s certainly not the idiot Congress at the helm of this shutdown.

I, along with countless others, have called my representatives, Republican and Democrat, to voice my anger that the needs of the people who put them in office are being ignored, dismissed entirely because our views are not considered important.  The phone lines for all, especially the Republicans are constantly busy.  And when I did get through, I got a voice mail, saying all mailboxes were full.  No one is answering the phones on those offices.  But turn a camera in their direction, and they have time to expound on their importance and what they see as their own path to power and glory.

I am embarrassed that those people voted in to help their constituents have decided to help themselves instead.  The rank few with their rank view, those petulantly powerful, those gasbags of arrogance who should have been helping the government work has shut it down instead.  A fight was picked that they knew they wouldn’t win for the express purpose of shutting the government down.  They are confident that they will never have to come face to face with the millions they are hurting in the process.

And they are probably right.

Will they be visiting the people they made homeless?  Or those standing in line in the food banks?  Those in the hospital and those out of work because they lost their jobs or their businesses?  I don’t think so.  For these type of people its never their fault.  Their self-importance and arrogance overwhelms all else, leaving others to suffer for their selfishness and need for even more power.

The United States Constitution starts out as “We the People”, not We the Few and Powerful.  I think those Senators and Representatives who have shut down the government, need to be reminded who and what they represent.  They need to sit down and listen as someone reads to them the documents on which our nation and our freedoms are based.

Right before the signatures on the Constitution, the following paragraphs appear:

In all our deliberations on this subject, we kept steadily in our view that which appears to us the greatest interest of every true American, the consolidation of our Union, in which is involved our prosperity, felicity, safety–perhaps our national existence. This important consideration, seriously and deeply impressed on our minds, led each State in the Convention to be less rigid on points of inferior magnitude than might have been otherwise expected; and thus, the Constitution which we now present is the result of a spirit of amity, and of that mutual deference and concession, which the peculiarity of our political situation rendered indispensable.

That it will meet the full and entire approbation of every State is not, perhaps, to be expected; but each will, doubtless, consider, that had her interest alone been consulted, the consequences might have been particularly disagreeable or injurious to others; that it is liable to as few exceptions as could reasonably have been expected, we hope and believe; that it may promote the lasting welfare of that Country so dear to us all, and secure her freedom and happiness, is our most ardent wish.

Where is their adherence to those words and feelings expressed above?  Lacking, tossed aside in favor of their own positions and small minded thoughts.

How sad,, how infuriating, and how un American.

Now for the Week Ahead in Reviews:

Monday, Oct. 8:         Northern Star by Ethan Stone

Tuesday, Oct. 9:         Starry Knight by T.A. Webb

Wed., Oct. 10:             Enigma by Lloyd A. Meeker

Thurs., Oct. 11:           The Night Visitor by Ewan Creed

Friday, Oct. 12:           Guest Blog by Playing Ball Authors

Sat., Oct. 13:                Playing Ball Anthology