Thank you so much for hosting me on your blog, Sam!
My debut novel, “Keeping Score,” is about a divorced mom, Shannon Stevens, whose 9-year-old son Sam wants to play travel baseball for the summer. Travel baseball holds try-outs, and not every kid who tries out gets to play. The novel traces Shannon and Sam’s ups and downs for that summer… and baseball is a game with plenty of them!
My son Alex also started playing travel ball when he was 9, and he had just as many trials and tribulations as Sam did his first few years playing. When I started writing “Keeping Score,” about two-and-a-half years ago, Alex was 17 and I thought all his problems with baseball were over. He had just finished an awesome junior season and was one of the most well-known, sought-after players in our area. He was on a high-profile summer showcase team, and college coaches were calling constantly, offering scholarships. I should have known the good times in baseball are fleeting no matter how old you are. The college Alex picked turned out to be the wrong school for him, and because of stringent NCAA rules, he has to play this year for a junior college (and earn an AA degree) in order to play for another Division 1 school his junior and senior years. The good news is he had an All-Star summer in the Florida Collegiate League, and Florida four-year schools are interested in him for next year.
Baseball is one of the most superstitious sports out there – there are lots of rituals players and fans use to break a streak of bad luck and keep a good streak going: Don’t walk on the pitcher’s mound. Change your spot if the team is playing poorly. Don’t tell a pitcher if he’s got a no-hitter going. I guess I should add to that: Don’t write about your son’s former bad luck when he’s on a hot streak!
When her 9-year-old son wanted to play summer travel baseball, Shannon had no idea the toughest competition was off the field.... When her son Sam asks to try out for a travel baseball team, divorced mom Shannon Stevens thinks it'll be a fun and active way to spend the summer. Boy, is she wrong! From the very first practice, Shannon and Sam get sucked into a mad world of rigged try-outs, professional coaches, and personal hitting instructors. But it's the crazy, competitive parents who really make Shannon's life miserable. Their sons are all the second coming of Babe Ruth, and Sam isn't fit to fetch their foul balls. Even worse, Shannon's best friend Jennifer catches the baseball fever. She schemes behind the scenes to get her son Matthew on the town's best baseball team, the Saints. As for Sam? Sorry, there's no room for him! Sam winds up on the worst team in town, and every week they find new and humiliating ways to lose to the Saints. And the action off the field is just as hot. Shannon finds herself falling for the Saints' coach, Kevin. But how can she date a man who didn't think her son was good enough for his team ... especially when the whole baseball world is gossiping about them? Even Shannon's ex-husband David gets pulled into the mess when a randy baseball mom goes after him. As Sam works to make friends, win games and become a better baseball player, Shannon struggles not to become one of those crazy baseball parents herself. In this world, it's not about whether you win, lose, or how you play the game... it's all about KEEPING SCORE.
Here’s an excerpt from “Keeping Score” that’s all about bad luck: Sam’s very first time on the pitching mound in a real game, against his best friend’s team.
Compared to the Saints, Mid-County didn't seem to have their act together at all. There was no organized cheer. The kids didn't run out to the field as a group; in fact, some of them weren't running at all. We were missing an outfielder. And Sam was left standing on the pitching rubber, squeezing the ball, while Mike helped the catcher put on his gear.
Seeing my son out there all alone, I felt the worst stomach pain ever. I was used to feeling a little nauseated when it was Sam's turn at bat. But this feeling was unlike anything I'd ever felt.
"You okay?" Ron whispered. "You got really pale all the sudden."
"He's never pitched before. I think I'm dying."
"Let's go, coach," the umpire barked.
Finally, the catcher shuffled behind home plate. Sam threw his first warm-up pitch. It was nowhere near the catcher. It hit the backstop with full force.
"You know," Ron mused, "I don't remember seeing Sam warm up at all."
"Hey, Dad," Eli yelled from second base, "we don't have a right fielder!"
Mike yelled at the kids on the bench while Sam threw a few more pitches. Finally the catcher caught the fourth ball he threw.
A kid ran pell mell from the visitor’s dug out to center field. The player currently occupying center field shoved him over to right.
"That's enough warm-ups!" the umpire yelled. "Let's play ball!"
"Blue, my pitcher gets twelve," Mike protested. "That was only five."
"You can forget your stalling tactics, Coach," the umpire snapped.
"But Blue --"
"Batter, get out here," the umpire barked at the kid who was swinging his bat outside the Saints dugout. The boy headed to home plate.
Sam leaned down and stared at the catcher, who had put a few fingers down between his legs.
"I don't know why he's doing that," I whispered. "He's only got one pitch."
"And he doesn’t want everyone to know that.”
Sam wound up and threw his first pitch. Ball one, outside. This was shortly followed by ball two, low and outside, and ball three, high. The pain in my stomach was worse than ever. It felt like someone was shoving a knife an inch above my belly button.
"Strike!" It was a beautiful pitch, right down the middle, and the batter had just stared at it.
"Why didn't he swing?" I asked. "I would have swung at that."
"You never swing on three-and-oh," Ron instructed me.
"Should he have swung at that?"
"Yeah. He's an idiot for not swinging at that."
The batter swung at the sixth pitch Sam threw. He connected weakly, sending the ball straight to Eli at second base.
The ball went right through Eli's legs. By the time the right fielder got the ball and threw it back to Sam, the batter had made it all the way to third.
"Way to go, Ryan!" a Saints parent yelled, "a triple!"
Some of the other parents snorted.
"Now that," Ron whispered, "was completely obnoxious."
Sam looked a little rattled. The next batter stepped into the batter's box. The runner on third moved several feet up the base line.
As soon as Sam went into his wind-up, Ryan started charging for home. The players behind Sam yelled, "He's going!" Sam immediately stopped his pitching motion, turned and looked.
"That's a balk!" the umpire yelled. He pointed at the runner, then at home plate. All the Saints parents cheered as the kid trotted home and stomped on the plate.
"What the hell just happened?" I whispered. "What's a balk?"
Ron sighed. "Something Brian and I should have told him about. Something his coach should have told him about. I'm sorry."
Sam looked hurt, frustrated and bewildered. I had to fight the urge to bolt onto the field, grab my baby and get out of there. This was ridiculous. He was nine years old! What was I thinking? What was anyone thinking, putting this much pressure on little kids?
"Let's go, pitcher!" the umpire ordered. The batter stepped back into the box. Sam went into his wind-up and threw.
The ball hit the batter squarely in the back. The kid screamed in pain and collapsed on the ground, holding his back and moaning.
"That's a warning!" the umpire yelled. "If this pitcher hits another kid, he's out of the game!"
A lifelong resident of Maryland, Jami Deise recently moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, along with her husband Tom, son Alex, and dog Lady. A baseball mom for over 10 years, “Keeping Score” is her first novel. Jami is an associate reviewer at www.chicklitcentral.com and a generalist reader for an NYC-based literary agency. Along with women’s fiction, she loves all things horror and watches too much TV.
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