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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Home, Away

Baseball fans, do I have a book for you! Jeff Gillenkirk’s Home, Away is one of the best baseball novels I have ever read - and I have read a bunch of them. (I enjoyed this book so much that I actually used an exclamation point at the end of my first sentence, something I swore I would never do.) I realize that not everyone out there is a sports fan and that baseball-based novels do not appeal to every reader, but this is more than a sports novel. It is also one of the better love stories I have read in a while, although in this case, it is a story about the love a father has for his only son.

Jason Thibodeaux never really knew his own father, an offshore oil rig worker who was killed in a European rig explosion. Long before his sudden death, Jason’s father would disappear for months at a time, leaving the boy to grow up as if he had no father of his own. Jason, though, shared a love of baseball with his wandering father and he inherited great physical skills from the man. He also decided that he would never neglect his own children the way his father had neglected him. What Jason Thibodeaux never expected, however, was that he would have a son of his own by the time he turned twenty-one.

A star baseball player at Stanford University, and on the brink of a professional career, Jason has a one-night stand with a Stanford law student that leaves her pregnant with his son, Raphael (Rafe). Jason puts his senior season on hold so that he can care for the baby while Vicki completes law school and prepares for the bar exam. Then, just when he is ready to return to baseball, he discovers that his marriage is over and that Vicki is leaving him - and taking Rafe with her. Jason and Vicki will spend the next several years battling over their son, distracting Jason from his baseball career and earning him the reputation among baseball people as a “head case,” a player best avoided.

Through it all, though, Jason’s love for his son never wavers and, with Rafe’s best interests always in mind, he makes the toughest choices imaginable, including one that will see him walk away from a multi-year professional baseball contract worth more than $40 million. Rafe needs a father – and Jason is determined to be there for him.

Home, Away offers a bleak look at what happens to a family when divorce gets ugly because both parents believe only they can offer their children the best future. Jason and Vicki will spend years viciously fighting each other over their son and, of course, no one will suffer more from their fighting than the boy they both claim to love best. It is only when Rafe is on the brink of completely ruining his life that his parents will finally admit to themselves that it will take both of them to save him.

But the best part of Home, Away is the baseball insider’s look it presents of the game as Jason makes his way through several different major league teams. Gillenkirk’s game descriptions are first rate, and his insights into the war between pitcher and batter place the reader inside the heads of both. Particularly enjoyable are the segments taking place in Mexico, a country within which Jason manages to create the surrogate family that will help keep him sane during his darkest hours.

Baseball fans are certain to find themselves enthralled by the last forty or so pages of the book, and love story fans will likely feel the same about the books final three. Do not miss this one.

Rated at: 5.0

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)
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