Thirteen-year-old Sam Palomaki plans to spend the summer playing baseball in sunny southern California. He’s the best player on his team, and can earn a slot at an elite baseball camp if he does well in an upcoming tournament. But money’s tight, and when offered a job as a movie stand-in, Sam reluctantly takes the job – as long as it doesn’t interfere with baseball. Sam’s a dead-ringer for the movie’s teenage star, Trevor Goldman. After a few conversations and a dramatic reaction from Trevor’s mother, the two boys conclude that they are actually twins, adopted by separate families at birth. With the help of lovely starlet McKenna Steele, the boys switch places for the weekend in Pinch Hit, Tim Green’s thoughtful and engaging novel about baseball, power, and life.
Movie star Trevor’s a pretty good baseball player himself. He has his own batting cage and takes private lessons from a professional coach. But with a full schedule of movie roles and the ever-present security issues, he’s never played on a real team. Trevor’s proposal to Sam is simple: switch places for a few days. Trevor becomes Sam and practices and plays with the team. Sam acts in the movie, and lives the Hollywood life. As a bonus, Trevor arranges a “green-light” for Sam’s dad’s script to be made into a movie. Everybody wins, right?
Of course, it’s not as easy as it sounds, as unexpected situations arise. But Green doesn’t settle for slapstick mistaken-identity gags. As usual, Green finds a tougher issue to incorporate. Pinch Hit explores power – who has it, who doesn’t, and what that means. When Trevor snaps his fingers or makes a phone call, adults hop into action. This takes adjustment for Sam, as he learns the advantages and responsibilities of calling the shots. And in Sam’s world, Trevor learns that real-life relationships require finesse and grace. Picking a fight with Sam’s nemesis seems like a good idea to Trevor at the time, but it leads to almost-disastrous results.
To his credit, Green glamorizes neither Trevor’s wealthy lifestyle nor Sam’s lower-middle class routine. The Goldman’s mansion is gorgeous, but it seems empty compared to the cozy Palomaki trailer. But the next morning, Sam wakes to the scent of fresh flowers while Trevor’s day begins with the aroma of the landfill next door. Trevor is surprised by a meager breakfast of cereal and toast, when he’s used to eggs, bacon and fresh fruit prepared by a chef. Sam flies in a helicopter to the beach house for a lobster dinner, while Trevor enjoys a burger from In-and-Out with Sam’s lovable Shakespeare-quoting dad. Both boys enjoy many aspects of their "traded" lives.
Pinch Hit moves along nicely, thanks to short chapters that alternate the experiences of Sam and Trevor. Cliffhangers abound as the focus shifts, but we’re never more than a few pages from a resolution. At 300 pages, the book will seem a little long for some tween readers, but there are no dead spots. The last chapter is a flash-forward; it’s a feel-good ending, but we’re not quite sure what’s transpired in the past few weeks to get us to that point. Maybe Green and/or his editors decided this was the best place to trim an overly-long manuscript.
Tim Green is a solid writer, and most middle school librarians and English teachers are familiar with his resume: college valedictorian, pro football player, best-selling author. His protagonists exhibit good sportsmanship, and typically take the high road when presented with tough choices. Pinch Hit deserves a place in your upper-elementary/middle school library or classroom collection. Promote it to baseball fans, reluctant readers, and anyone looking for a fast-paced, imaginative read.