Rating: 4 stars
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Harmon “Hawk” Kiel is a second-year third baseman in the Bigs, playing for the Phillies. This season is not going well, and it goes from bad to worse when closeted Hawk ends up splashed all over the news for a drunken bender in a very gay club, doing things that are also very gay. The Phillies had been looking to trade Hawk on account of his bad attitude and lousy play, but they don’t want to go down as the team that cut the first openly gay player in the league. So, they trade him to an expansion team, the Carolina Loggerheads, and Hawk hightails it to Charleston.
Hawk’s always been an outsider, moved from program to program as a kid whenever his father found a better playing opportunity. Hawk didn’t hear a lot of praise growing up, and he’s silently upset that he has zero communication from his parents at such a trying moment in his life. On the flip side, Caleb, bullpen catcher and Mr. Nice Guy of the Loggerheads, is eager to give Hawk a warm welcome, starting with re-naming him “Heck” to cast off the ghost of his father’s reach. There’s an instant attraction for both Caleb and Harmon, but not something they pursue immediately.
Harmon has to find his bearings on his new team, and that includes a position change to center field. While adjusting, Harmon finds that it’s not much fun being isolated. He accepts Caleb’s friendship, and the more that’s been subtly promised and quietly offered. Harmon’s had very limited experience with men, and Caleb’s a patient partner. Despite being “out,” Harmon doesn’t want to make a spectacle of his private life. The closeness he feels with Caleb—a very new experience for him—leads to heartache when Harmon learns about Caleb’s traumatic past. I found Harmon’s frustration understandable. Poor Harmon’s life has been vivisected, and Caleb carefully hides his pain and frustration, particularly surrounding his lack of playing in the Bigs, behind a jovial façade and conversational diversions. Harmon is right to feel as if Caleb doesn’t trust him, and I wished they had better communication.
I really love sports books, and wanted to love this one more, but I had a little trouble with the pacing and logic. There were moments I found jarring, and I had to backtrack to see what detail I must have missed (but didn’t) that would have smoothed it all out. This happened a few times and it distracted me. Also, I didn’t understand the switch of Harmon from third base to outfield. That is unlikely to happen in the Majors. Infielders trade places and outfielders trade places, but moving from the hot corner to the big grass seemed such a jump I found it unbelievable from a logic standpoint. Harmon’s response to the (giant, monumental, career-gambling) switch is rather subdued, even in his own thoughts, which troubled me. The dude needs counseling, I thought, more than once. Also, the whole discussion about team standings didn’t make much sense. Teams that have as good a record as the Loggerheads were purported to have at the end of the season are not “cellar dwellers.” That said, most readers are likely not as into baseball as I am, and will not have as strong an opinion as I do regarding these plot points.
I really liked Caleb. He’s a good guy and a good friend to Harmon. I applauded the slow growing relationship between them, and the connectedness they began to share over the long road trips and disastrous outings. When Harmon has to face his old Phillies again, it’s a big kerfuffle, and sadly, realistically bad stuff happens. It helps to ground Harmon in his new place, though, and that moment of “We’re all in this together” leads to the team developing cohesion that it had previously lacked. I loved how that influenced Harmon. He arrived in Charleston a shamed lone wolf and ended the season a beloved player, befriended, and partner. That’s a pretty great season, in my opinion.
While parts of the prose didn’t mesh with my baseball love, there were very realistic elements, too, particularly the training and travel. I really loved the scene with my beloved “Bean” in Chicago’s Millenium Park. Glad those guys splurged for some yummy cinnamon rolls (likely at the famed Ann Sather’s) while visiting my fair city. I think if you like books about sports and pro athletes dealing with the prejudice and problems of being out, you’ll find this story very interesting. There are some great romantic elements, too, and the sexytimes are excellently written. Expect an HEA that’s not forced at all.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.