Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Trading Places: Pinch Hit by Tim Green

Sam hesitated for a minute, not certain he wanted to hear the answer to his next question. "So... you like being me?"

"Most of it. What about being me?" said Trevor.

"What's not to like?"

"If I could play baseball, it'd be pretty perfect," said Sam.

"My dad says nothing's perfect."

"That's funny," Trevor said. "Mine, too!"

The one bright spot in Sam's rusty trailer lifestyle has always been baseball, and now with a great team, moving through the playoffs to the top spot, he has a chance to win a coveted place at the USC Summer Program that will be his ticket to a stardom in the big leagues. When his dad, an English teacher with a dream of writing a hit movie script takes him along to a "pitch" meeting at the movie studio, he suggests that Sam sign up as an extra to make some summer money while they're there.

Sam is astounded when an obviously excited casting director hastily picks him as a replacement stand-in for mega-kid star Trevor Goldman. Sam soon sees why: except for his longish hair, he and Trevor are dead-ringers for each other, scarily identical, even down to their mutual passion for baseball. The two soon conclude that their similarities in looks, voice, and personality are no mere happenstance. Both know they were adopted as newborns, and they just know they must have been twins, separated at birth.

Trevor has it all, rich, famous, and even loving parents, a mansion with his own batting cage and personal baseball trainer, a Malibu beach house, and a limo at his disposal, but the one thing he can't have is a place on a regular baseball team, with teammates, a season of play, a chance to see how good he really is at the game. In their eerie similarities, Trevor sees a way to live that dream, and persuades Sam to trade places with him for a few days. As a sweetener to the deal, Trevor and his co-star McKenna, who seems taken with Sam, offer to help Sam's father find a producer for his "old school" horror film script, Dark Cellar. So Sam gets a haircut and the two make the switch.

Sam discovers that like baseball, acting seems to be in his blood, and after a few bumbles, he begins to enjoy performing before the cameras and living in a style to which he is not, to say the least, accustomed. Trevor finds pinch-hitting for Sam takes more than acting skills, making a few fumbles in the field, and finds that hitting the curve ball is something his hired tutor neglected to teach. But like Sam, he finds that he's got the basic ability in him and his learning curve in the infield and at the plate is steep. He finds Sam's laid-back and literary dad a pleasant change from his own supercharged and often absent father and despite the constant aroma of the adjacent landfill, life in Sam's trailer home has a certain simplicity that he immediately settles into. Meanwhile, despite nagging worries about their switch interfering with his baseball dreams, Sam is liking the perks of being a movie star with a teen queen girlfriend.

But then, push comes to shove for the boys' plan. Trevor realizes that his baseball skills are not ready for the unscheduled appearance of the USC scout at a game and sees that he and Sam will have to find a way to switch back quickly or Sam may lose his one opportunity to make the summer camp. Even with McKenna's help, the double exchange ends in a cliffhanger chase with the whole identity trade on the line for this dynamic duo.

Tim Green, who practically owns the franchise on the gameplay-with-family-tension sports genre, makes a switcheroo himself in his latest, Pinch Hit (Harper/Collins, 2012), drawing the plot premise for this one from two classics, Shakespeare's tale of separated twins, The Comedy of Errors (reprised in Broadway's The Boys from Syracuse), and Mark Twain's evergreen The Prince and the Pauper, in which a ragpicker and a princeling exchange places with comedic and dangerous consequences. This one takes a bit of Coleridge's classic "willing suspension of disbelief," but with Green's strong storytelling chops in play, it's good page-turning fun, as Sam and Trevor make the best use of their identical DNA to carry off their plan and in the process begin to appreciate the challenges and rewards inherent in their very different lives. As one of Shakespeare's other titles says, "All's Well That Ends Well" and while Sam nails his big scene on the set and Trevor manages to make the diving catch and hit that curve along the way, this one plays out as a different sort of baseball novel for young Tim Green fans to devour.

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