Changing Pitches - Steve Kluger
What a huge disappointed. Not only was this novel by the author of one of my favourites so far, ‘Almost Like Being in Love,’ it was about one of my favourite plot lines: straight guy falls for another guy.
Scotty is a baseball player, whose catcher is replaced after an accident. Jason the new catcher is blond, beautiful and Scotty hates him on first sight. It was such a promising story! But the bit I’ve just told you doesn’t happen to page 168! 168 pages of baseball! I admit I skipped badly, scanning the lines for the word Jason.
So, on page 168 Scotty realises that his enmity for Jason is in fact love. Now, as readers of my stories will know, this is a theme with which I’m not unfamiliar! I love the idea of the all the misunderstanding that such male inability to talk about feelings can bring on. Not in this book though. Scotty goes to a shrink to get “cured”, so the next hundred pages or so are him talking to Joel (the shrink) about everything and anything but Jason.
Finally, and wait for this, Scotty discovers that his love for Jason is just his denial that he wants to get married to his girlfriend—fear of commitment and all that.
Last page we have conversation between Scotty and Jason that should have been the FIRST page of the novel.
So, huge, huge disappointment. However, if you are fascinated about baseball then by all means get it! It’s got a lot of baseball in it… pages, and pages and… pages.
This one left me frustrated, not least because it stopped just when it got really interesting. Yet I have to admit I enjoyed it. A light and easy read I picked up when feeling emotional after finishing the final Brandstetter. Kluger also wrote Almost Like Being in Love and the style of this earlier novel is the same: journal entries, letters, notes and newspaper cuttings take the place of traditional narrative in a way I suspect you love/hate.
Maybe I was expecting too much, because (going by the cover & publisher’s blurb) I thought it was a gay romance, and it is…sort of…but rather more a coming out story…except due to the annoyingly ambiguous ending I’m not sure what I think happens really does. Also it contains a lot of baseball related stuff. Confused? Me too!
The story covers a baseball season, set late 70s/early 80s. Scotty McKay is 36, a left-handed pitcher for the Washington Senators, the kind of perennially hopeless cause I thought we Brits loved and can-do Americans couldn’t understand. Scotty isn’t hot stuff anymore and it’s looking like his career is over. I won’t bore you with details about pitching arms, anaemic fastballs and loaded bases- I skimmed the baseball information, mostly. Scotty is a smart and literate guy, not a dumb jock, real easy to like and care about.
Scotty’s best friend is Buddy, the team’s catcher. Together they decide what Scotty needs to get back into the game is to switch from fast to curveball. At this point I assumed ‘Okay, here we go, Scotty’s got rather more change coming than a matter of angles and velocity’. Especially when Buddy gets injured and the coach brings in blue-eyed blond hunk Jason Cornell to take his place.
Well it takes half the book before Scotty realises he’s in love with Jason, then he goes into therapy to find out what’s wrong with him and get over it. He doesn’t tell Jason how he feels until the last few pages. I get that a straight guy thinking about marrying his girlfriend isn’t going to find it easy to come to terms with romantic feelings about another man. The backstory is good, Scotty’s relationship with his distant father and history of intense male friendships, and his confusion realistic. I think we should’ve had a pay-off, Scotty & Jason together, rather than the definitely- maybe ending we’re given.
I don’t want to end on a negative note, as this IS a fun book that’s enjoyable to read. I suppose a gay relationship between professional baseball players more than 20 years ago in real life would’ve been the end of their careers, though since the book was written in 1984 they’d have been great role models for gay kids. Since I read the novel I’ve been catching up on QAF S5. Drew the football jock’s situation mirrors Jason’s, and look what’s happened with him, in 2005.