‘The Cactus League’ by Emily Nemens – A Dramatic Fun Baseball Novel for Adults


‘The Cactus League’ by Emily Nemens (2020) – 272 pages

Like many young boys, I was a huge baseball fan from about age ten to fourteen. I knew the name and batting average or earned run average of every player on every club and had a huge baseball card collection. I was such a fan of baseball that I would actually listen to the game on the radio if it wasn’t on TV.

Most baseball novels are written for kids like I was or overgrown adult kids who still love baseball. They are simplistic, innocent, suffused with hero worship, and concentrate mostly on the actual play on the baseball field, They are nostalgic, male-centric.

‘The Cactus League’ is different. The author Emily Nemens knows that baseball is much more than the game and the players on the field, and her novel deals with many of the behind-the-scenes circumstances that are going on. Her novel covers all of baseball: the players, the baseball wives, the coaches, the managers, the agents, the groupies, the other hangers-on, the new rising stars, the falling stars, the owners, the washed-up. Even the concession stand workers at the park.

It takes place in Scottsdale, Arizona where the Los Angeles Lions do their spring training each year before the regular season begins. A lot of players are invited to try out for the team during spring training, but only a select few will actually make the team. Those select few pretty much have it made, while the others will get sent back to a minor league club where they will get a subsistence wage.

In a lot of ways, baseball players are like other men. Some of them are dummies, some of them are mad, some of them are suspicious, shallow, arrogant. Some are so driven they’ll just about forget there’s a woman in the room, even if she’s dressed up sexy or screaming her lungs out, even if she’s the mother of their children. But the difference separating ballplayers from everyone else is that they care about something tremendously, and have since they were little.”

In many ways, ‘The Cactus League’ deals with the social etiquette of the entire baseball subculture. Emily Nemens has a dramatic way of presenting these baseball stories from a more complex sophisticated angle than most baseball novels dare. Since all of the stories are interconnected, together they form a novel.

Sometimes when the baseball wives are not busy with shopping and restauranting, they will come to the game to watch their husbands play.

That row, usually reserved for the more senior baseball wives, a line of skinny white women with too much makeup and fake-looking hair, is empty.”

The Los Angeles Lions do have a superstar named Jason Goodyear who makes millions in product endorsements as well as an exorbitant salary. No wonder so many women – baseball groupies – hang out at the park to entice these men, much to the indignation of the baseball players’ wives.

They look familiar, but he’s not sure if it’s because he’s seen them before or if it’s because they look like every dolled-up divorcee in town.”

Even a superstar can have problems and get into trouble, and then we get an owner’s lament:

No, he definitely has not heard their $150 million dollar investment had a run-in with the law.”

‘The Cactus League’ is a vivid fun baseball novel for adults by an obviously talented writer.


Grade:    A



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