Frank Ryder is the next evolution of MLB pitchers: he’s hitting 110 MPH with his fastball. Pretty much every game he starts is a win for the Orioles. But everything isn’t as it seems.
Ryder almost didn’t make it to college ball, let alone the Majors. When he was in little league, he killed another kid with a fastball to the face. And now Frank is seeing Deon’s ghost. On top of that, he meets a girl while being in a committed relationship, the league is conspiring against his velocity, and his team wants him to follow the unwritten rules of the game. It all snowballs until Frank is at a breaking point.
Stevens has crafted one of the better baseball novels of recent memory.
The book fits with the current game, pitting stats versus scouting, ownership squabbles, and the place of the unwritten rules in the game. He also uses a mix of fictional and real people that actually works. While Ryder and his teammates, the owners, and opposition are clearly fictional, Ryder talks with Jessica Mendoza and Buster Olney, mentions big name players that he doesn’t face (Mike Trout), and talks about real former players (Jim Palmer, Reggie Jackson, Rick Ankiel).
The story itself is compelling. The idea of a pitcher throwing 110 isn’t that far fetched any more and the response of opposing owners seems realistic; owners know that the game isn’t as marketable without the home runs. Ryder is a smart pitcher, but his issues with control when everything compounds comes off as realistic. Stevens also builds in game tension, especially as the Orioles make the playoffs.
And he nails the story around Frank and Deon; he shows how traumatic the incident was for Frank and how he needed closure to move on with his life after dealing with this for 10 years. You also get the perspective of Frank’s parents and Deon’s parents.
The conclusion of the book is both surprising and something that could end up happening in today’s environment; there have been young players that have left the game for less then what Ryder faces in the book. The book is as much about dealing with mental health as it is with baseball; the stress of killing a kid and being the face of a billion dollar industry could be unbearable for a lot of people.
There are a few issues with the story.
Stevens did leave some of the plot threads either forgotten, or hastily finished up. Ryder continually mentions a potential affair when the team traveled to Toronto, but no details are given, nor does it get resolved. It’s more there to make you wonder if Frank is the cheating type when he meets Olivia.
Olivia is another example. Her and Frank hit it off and he’s seeing her while also in a relationship with Maggie. The story then pretty much drops Olivia until close to the end of the season when Frank runs into her with another guy. It’s implied that the potential relationship there is over, but it feels like empty resolution.
Rating: 4.75 out of 5. It was a really good baseball story; I don’t know if a non-baseball fan would appreciate the details to the game that Stevens added. It was also a very quick read, so it’s a good one to throw in after a long book.