The pitch: Fans of the new Fox sit-com “The Last Man on Earth” come to figure out that the key to accepting this bizarre premise as something that’s quite entertaining has to do with a suspension of some key parts of reality.
Things such as: Really, this is the last man? How the heck did he survive and apparently no one else? What happened to everyone else?
So once you decide to accept the premise of this novel — 40-year-old divorced mom of two living in a Cleveland suburb goes from tossing the ball around in the park with her kids in chapter one to signing a contract with the Indians by the end of chapter seven, and there are 19 chapters to go — you’ll fare just fine with this engaging tale of sociological exploration.
You root for Brenda Haversham to become the big league’s first female player not because you have to, but because, when you get to the core of it, she’s enduring a lot of the same kinds of mindless ignorance from fans and opponents, not to mention teammates, as Jackie Robinson did when he broke the color barrier. Maybe not to the same intense degree, but with a lot of the same intolerance.
Plus, she’s a mom. C’mon. You know someone like her and would be behind her all the way.
Petrone, who actually lives in Cleveland with her husband and blogs about the Indians at her ESPN “Sweet Spot” site cleverly called It’s Pronounced LaJaway, doesn’t just make Brenda feel real, but you also feel her angst as she struggles with why she wants to even go forward with this situation in the first place.
As a middle relief pitcher who channels ex-husband anger issues into a purported 94-mph fastball, it’s reasonable in today’s age to believe that she could get this far in such a short time because of a viral video captured of her throwing at a pitching booth before an Indians’ game in April. Listen, she’s there only as a chaperone for her son’s Little League team and made the throw because her son gave her the ball.
Now, it’s “Chubby Mom Throws Heat” all over ESPN, as if Brenda doesn’t already think she has “saddlebag hips” and a lower half of her body that makes her “feel like a parade balloon.”
An ESPN anchor named Charlie Bannister becomes her biggest fan — and not-so-secret admirer — by campaigning for the going-nowhere Indians to at least give her a tryout. They do. She impresses everyone. She signs a deal. And after a brief stay in the minors, she’s progressed to Progressive Field.
(Again, in the real world, would the Indians even care beyond maybe giving her a shot at throwing out a ceremonial first pitch before it all blows over? But making this leap from pitching in a men’s rec league to becoming a factor in a wild-card race is where your imagine has to go. Forget the fact she doesn’t seem to have any dead-arm issues after a couple of weeks considering she’s never pitched in high school or college, but simply learned a four-seam fastball from her dad decades ago?)
It’s not just a misguided plot for a Disney movie, a la “The Rookie.” The nuances that Petrone also brings into the narrative make it feel pretty real — Brenda reads Jane Austin novels and can’t master a smart phone, yet can certainly curse like anyone who’s under pressure to be the bread winner in a modern-day family situation.
It’s also intriguing to consider what motives she might have on the mound with this new-found power. Why would she think twice about wanting to strike out an Orioles star slugger who has been known to have spousal abuse issues? She’s concerned he might take his anger and humiliation out on his wife. Think about that dilemma.
At one point, Brenda even admits she feels like “a D-list actress portraying herself in a movie” as she’s on an Indians’ road trip while also fighting for custody of her children. But why wouldn’t that be a real-life issue that interrupts life?
Of course she, like any female pitcher, would be perturbed if the Indians’ marketing department continued to play the Tom Jones song, “She’s A Lady,” every time she came out of the bullpen. Instead, she uses it as motivation, thrown into something of a hostile environment.
From her own story delivery, Petrone wins us over in that she’s not trying to show us how much she knows about the game while getting her points across. We can overlook just a couple very minor slip-ups because of the overall enjoyment we’ve had in trying to go with the flow in how we might react if a woman, even one who has to isolate herself from the rest of her teammates simply to get ready for a game, had not just the talent but mental strength to play in the big leagues.
Did you know: Commissioner Ford Frick banned women from playing pro baseball after Eleanor Engle signed a minor-league deal in 1952? Is that rule still in place? We’re not sure, but If anything, this book reminds us there are barriers we’ve put in front of ourselves, seemingly for our protection, that we’re still going to have to overcome sometime.
When a woman does eventually reach the major leagues, it’ll be quite interesting to reflect back on this book to see how much of it comes true.
More to know:
== More reader reviews from GoodReads.com
== Before even reading “Throw Like A Woman,” we started to tackle the book, “Her Curves Were Too Much For Them: Based on the True Story of Jackie Mitchell,” a novella by Andy Broome, which came out last December.
Unfortunately, it just wasn’t capturing our fancy in spite of the breezy style and a box score from a 1931 exhibition that shows an 18-year-old female named Jackie Mitchell pitched against the New York Yankees and struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.