Friday, May 11, 2012

Hard and Fast: Best of the Best by Tim Green

Josh's father pointed to the knob on the pitching machine that controlled its speed. "I think you're ready for ninety," he said.

Josh swallowed. Ninety miles an hour was a fast ball you might see in college or even the pros, and even though he stood nearly six feet tall, he was still just twelve.

"That scares you?" his father asked. "It should."

"I wouldn't do it if I didn't think you could handle it. I want to make sure that you develop everything you've got. I want you to go further than me. Everyone who sees you knows that you've got it."

Josh LeBlanc's father is a great little league coach whose guidance has led his team to national attention and earned himself a substantial stipend from Nike coaching traveling teams. Josh is a player of rare talents, hitting and playing shortstop, but his father's frustrated personal ambitions are putting a lot of pressure on him on the field and at home.

His father is pushing Josh to leave his team and join a local winning Little League squad which has earned a a slot in the playoffs leading to the Little League World Series, insisting that that venue will almost surely yield lucrative college scholarships. Josh is reluctant, but a promise that his best friend Benji can join the team if he qualifies leads him to agree with his father's plan.

But his father's ambitions at home are threatening to destroy the family. Insisting that his five-year contract with Nike means that the family should move to a grander house and lifestyle, his dad is soon spotted tooling around town in a sporty Audi convertible with an all-too-attentive red-haired real estate lady named Diane Cross who obviously is aiming at landing more than a big sale. And when his dad moves out of their home and moves in with his new obsession and hints that with Diane's guidance he's planning to "leverage" his contract with Nike into a cash investment which will make him rich, Josh knows that change is coming at him a lot harder and faster than a ninety-mile-an-hour fastball.

As the elimination games for the World's Series play out, Josh and his friend, would-be star reporter Jaden, also begin to investigate Diane's background and uncover a record of sleazy and downright illegal deals by her husband, "Right" Cross. Investigative journalism is Jaden's meat and potatoes, and she is sure that if they can manage to video the supposedly estranged couple together, they can show Josh's dad that he is being scammed. Josh's greatest hope is that his dad will change and reconcile with Josh's mother, but the surveillance plan by the two young sleuths proves dicey and dangerous as it is played out against a backdrop of the team's advancement to the final game of the Little League World Series.

As always, Tim Green's Best of the Best: A Baseball Great Novel (Harper, 2012) in its new edition for this season balances both exciting game play and family dynamics in a tautly-written novel for middle reader baseball fans in another solid sequel to Green's best-selling Baseball Great and Rivals: A Baseball Great Novel.

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