Title ~ Wild Pitch (Homeruns 1)
Author ~ Sloan Johnson
Publisher ~ SJ Books
Published ~ 11th June 2015
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
There’s never been any question in Sean Tucker’s mind that he’d do whatever it took to make it to the major leagues and be one of the best pitchers of his time. The day he acknowledged to himself that he was gay was also the day he vowed to stay in the closet in order to chase his dreams. The problem is, he never counted on Mason Atley.
Sean showed rookie short stop Mason Atley the ropes, both on the field and off. The two forged a friendship which continued as both of them moved through the ranks of the farm system and into the majors. Unfortunately, there’s always been one secret Mason never felt he could share with Sean. Until now.
For seven years, Sean lived with the fact that he loved a man who would never reciprocate. When Mason admits that he’s always known he’s bisexual but has never allowed himself to pursue a relationship with a man, will Sean be able to put aside his reservations about starting a relationship with the friend he’d always assumed was straight? And more importantly, will they be able to find a way to stay together when their careers keep them apart more than they can be together?
“Wild Pitch” is the first book in a new series (“Homeruns”) by Sloan Johnson, and it’s an auspicious and promising beginning. If you like sports, gay athletes, and gay romance, this book is definitely for you, and the rest of the series promises more of the same.
Describing this book doesn’t really do it justice. At first glance, it doesn’t appear all that unique amongst the multitude of sports-centered gay romance novels that have proliferated over the last few years. Once you look a little more deeply, however, you discover that Ms. Johnson’s elegant and masterful writing marks this book as something quite a bit better than you might have expected. But it’s her characters, their words, attitudes, courage and integrity that make it truly special. Your heart will go out to them, you will root for them, you will, perhaps, even fall in love with them a little bit.
“Wild Pitch” is about two Major League Baseball players, Sean and Mason, who fall in love. Sean is a gay man who has managed the closet fairly well, if there is such a thing as successfully managing the closet. As far as the world is concerned, Sean appears absolutely straight, and he’s accomplished that without a “beard” or telling too many lies. He was lucky enough to have a teammate, Eric (who is also gay and closeted), as his friend and roommate. That relationship blossomed, over time, into one of “friends with benefits”. It’s a lot easier to stay in the closet when you don’t have to go out looking for someone to satisfy your most basic needs.
Mason is a married (about to be divorced) and ostensibly straight ball player for a competing team. He and Sean have been as close as brothers, ever since they started as rookies in their first year in the League. Mason is one of the few who knows that Sean is gay, but they have never touched each other in any intimate way or displayed anything but the safest, least demonstrative, macho “bro” affection, publicly. Sean doesn’t know that Mason is bisexual. Being bisexual made it much easier for Mason to hide his attraction to men behind his attraction to women. According to the tabloids he has dated any number of hot, eligible women, eventually marrying the beautiful (but cold) Theresa, leading his friends, family, and the world-at-large to believe that he’s the most heterosexual of men.
He’s not. From the day he met him, he’s been intensely attracted to his best friend, Sean. But he never dared let him know. Sadly, he’s all too aware that one overt move in Sean’s direction could cost them both their careers, and put their long, valued, friendship at risk. And that’s a shame, because they are, in reality, already intimately close. They know how the other thinks, they finish each other’s sentences, and their silences speak volumes.
Despite Sean’s warnings, Mason married Theresa, “the Ice Queen”, a woman who cheated repeatedly on her husband, despite enjoying the fruits of their marriage and dominating his life, his money and his home. She’s not exactly nice and remains a thorn in the men’s sides for most of the rest of the book.
A single momentous event precipitates a huge change in both men’s lives. Eric is traded to another team, without notice. Sean is devastated. And he shouldn’t have been – after all, being traded is a fact of life for pro ballplayers, and although he and Eric had grown close, it’s not like they were committed lovers. The trade is announced just a couple of hours before today’s game, a game in which Sean’s team is up against Mason’s. Mason can see that Sean, the Maverick’s star pitcher, is way off his game, even though he manages to barely eke out a win. After the game, he goes up to Sean’s room to commiserate.
The men do more than commiserate. They kiss, they make love, confessions and affections are shared, and nothing will ever be the same. They have no idea how they’ll manage a relationship, which they’re both eager for, in a profession that doesn’t tolerate gays, not to mention surviving the stress of the frequent separations their careers require.
It’s not a spoiler to let you know that the men eventually get outed. But it would be a spoiler if I reveal the results of that traumatic event, because that’s one of the things that distinguishes this book from so many other similar books.
It is so refreshing to watch these men carve out an authentic life for themselves as out gay athletes, without sacrificing their dreams. It’s refreshing, but hardly realistic. I suspect we’re on the cusp of equality in professional sports. The pro sports leagues are paying lip service to it, which is a great improvement, but not drafting, hiring or encouraging gay players. You can tell the time is ripe. Most new young athletes come from a generation where homophobia and discrimination are unthinkable, the same generation as many of the teams’ current fans and all their future fans.
One other thing sets “Wild Pitch” apart from many gay sports novels – Ms. Johnson’s characters are so three-dimensional, so vivid, that they come alive from the moment they’re introduced. The author wastes no words on unnecessary description, she lets their own thoughts and actions speak for them. This is a very well-written book. Ms. Johnson has treated the characters’ obstacles and triumphs with elegance, authenticity and an obvious love of baseball. She “gets” gay men and celebrates them. Sometimes she dips into melodrama as she lets them create and inhabit their self-made family, but that’s to be forgiven, because she’s careful to make even the melodrama evocative and mostly believable. And she moves you so deeply, at times, that I defy you to read this book without shedding a tear.
Keep in mind that “Wild Pitch” is not a documentary. It’s a gay romance novel. It’s driven by love, has its fair share of angst and there are times when the characters question themselves, but it’s also colorful, well-paced and, when all is said and done, explores an area of life that’s still not as accepting and tolerant of LGBT people as it should be.
If you’re looking for a good fun read, and intrigued by athletes who love each other, you can’t do much better than this new series, and this new book. I’m looking forward to the books that follow.
Connect with Sloan
Sloan Johnson is a big city girl trapped in a country girl’s life. While she longs for the hustle and bustle of New York City or Las Vegas, she hasn’t yet figured out how to sit on the deck with her morning coffee, watching the deer and wild turkeys in the fields while surrounded by concrete and glass.
When she was three, her parents received their first call from the principal asking them to pick her up from school. Apparently, if you aren’t enrolled, you can’t attend classes, even in Kindergarten. The next week, she was in preschool and started plotting her first story soon after.
Later in life, her parents needed to do something to help their socially awkward, uncoordinated child come out of her shell and figured there was no better place than a bar on Wednesday nights. It’s a good thing they did because this is where she found her love of reading and writing. Who needs socialization when you can sit alone in your bedroom with a good book?
Now, Sloan is a tattooed mom with a mohawk and two kids. She’s been kicked out of the PTA in two school districts and is no longer asked to help with fundraisers because she’s been known to lose herself with a good book and forget she has somewhere to be.