Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Playing for First by Chris Paynter

Publisher:               Blue Feather Books

One day it’s going to happen.  The first woman is going to be signed to play on a professional major league baseball team and that’s the topic of Playing for First.

Lisa Collins writes for an online sports magazine as well as the Indianapolis Gazette and anchors her hectic life around the bar owned by her best friend Frankie Dunkin.  Lisa has a chance to make her career when she draws the assignment to follow the career of Amy Perry.  Amy, who is an all-star first baseman with a professional women’s team, has all of the skills required to play with the men and she’s going to be given a chance to work her way up to The Show (slang for the major leagues).  Lisa will chronicle Amy’s progress through the system, which means spending many months on the road as Amy moves from team to team, but she doesn’t expect that to be the problem it becomes.  Lisa and Amy quickly develop a relationship, but Amy is deeply closeted and that causes conflict for Lisa who isn’t.  Lisa also begins to realize that her feelings for Frankie are much deeper than friendship.  She finds herself in the position of building different relationships with both women, one as a lover and one as a supportive friend, which means someone has to be hurt because only one can be the most important one in her life.

Playing for First is a sports fan’s book.  It contains a lot about how baseball is played and the minor league system works.  The book has some competing plots also.  One is about the conflict between living an out life and a closeted one, especially if that could impact on all of your plans for the future.  If Amy announces that she is a lesbian, she could destroy not only her own chance, but those for women following her.  The second concerns the prejudice that women face when they try to play sports on the same teams with men.  Paynter does a good job of capturing the feelings that a person like Amy experiences when she tries to break down those barriers and the attitudes of those who stand in her way.  The most interesting plot point is the one least developed.  Frankie is a cancer survivor who underwent a mastectomy.  She has already lost one lover who could not deal with the effects on her body and is scared to open herself to a relationship with anyone else.  This is a very poignant story and one that would be interesting to read in more depth.

The major flaw to Playing for First is that, with so many different threads running through the story, none of them gets the attention that it deserves.  The major plot of the first woman professional baseball player is developed however and the book might have been stronger if it had only focused on this.  The book will be interesting to baseball fans and appealing to those who look forward to the day when women move fully into professional sports.  For everyone else it’s a quick read and a way to spend a few hours of entertainment.

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