Hard Ball: A Billy Baggs Novel

Will Weaver, Author HarperCollins Publishers $15.95 (192p) ISBN 978-0-06-027121-3

In this third novel (after Striking Out and Farm Team) starring Billy Baggs, the farmboy with a mean fast pitch, sparks start flying on and off the diamond when the hero locks horns with archenemy and rival ballplayer Archer ""King"" Kenwood. Billy has the edge during heated games against the Town Team, but victories are less certain in the romance field, with pretty Suzy Langen making plays for both boys' attention. When squabbles over Suzy turn physical, Coach Anderson puts a lid on the action by forcing Billy and King to trade lifestyles for a while. For half a week, King bunks with Billy on the Baggses farm; then it is Billy's turn to try out town life at the Kenwoods' posh house. Although the boys are not destined to become bosom buddies, they do share one serious problem: hard-nosed, close-minded fathers who try to run their lives. The stereotyped casting of rednecked farmers and uppity townsfolk compromises the book's otherwise wide appeal. Similarly, the narrative is marred by strained rural references, especially with regard to the female characters: ""Compared to Suzy Langen, as tall and graceful as a show cat, the Erickson girls were scrappy, barn cats.... His eyes were welded to Gina like it was a hot Fourth of July and she was a double-scoop ice-cream cone."" Ultimately, the author's portrayal of town/country rivalry is as broadly and unconvincingly sketched as legends surrounding Billy's ""rocket-launcher"" of an arm. Ages 12-up. (Mar.)