Jason Goodyear is the star outfielder for the Los Angeles Lions, and he’s coming apart at the seams. Moviestar handsome, paparazzi famous, and spectacularly talented, Goodyear is stationed with the rest of his team in the punishingly hot Arizona desert for their annual spring training. As the weeks before the season crawl on, and Goodyear’s cracks begin to show, the coaches, writers, wives, girlfriends, criminals, and diehard fans following his every move are eager to find out what, exactly, is wrong with their star player—as they hide secrets of their own.
Humming with the energy of a ballpark before the first pitch, Emily Nemens’s The Cactus League unravels the tightly connected web of people behind a seemingly linear game. Narrated by a wisened sportscaster, Goodyear’s story is interspersed with tales of Michael Taylor, a batting coach trying to stay relevant; Tamara Rowland, a resourceful spring-training paramour, looking for one last catch; Herb Allison, a legendary sports agent grappling with his decline; and a plethora of other richly drawn characters, all striving to be seen. As Opening Day approaches and Goodyear’s secrets emerge, he risks taking down not only himself, but everyone around him.
Anchored by an expert knowledge of baseball’s inner workings, The Cactus League is a propulsive and deeply human debut that captures a strange desert world both exciting and unforgiving, where the most crucial games are the ones played off the field.