The Cactus League

A Novel
Length: 9 hrs and 5 mins
Categories: Fiction, Literary
4 out of 5 stars (71 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

One of The Wall Street Journal's 10 New Books You Should Be Picking Up First In 2020 and one of The Millions' Most Anticipated Books of 2020

An explosive, character-driven odyssey through the world of baseball from Emily Nemens, the editor of The Paris Review

Jason Goodyear is the star outfielder for the Los Angeles Lions, stationed with the rest of his team in the punishingly hot Arizona desert for their annual spring training. Handsome, famous, and talented, Goodyear is nonetheless coming apart at the seams. And the coaches, writers, wives, girlfriends, petty criminals, and diehard fans following his every move are eager to find out why - as they hide secrets of their own.

Humming with the energy of a ballpark before the first pitch, Emily Nemens' The Cactus League unravels the tightly connected web of people behind a seemingly linear game. Narrated by a 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 the season approaches. It’s a journey that, like the Arizona desert, brims with both possibility and destruction.

Anchored by an expert knowledge of baseball’s inner workings, Emily Nemens's The Cactus League is a propulsive and deeply human debut that captures a strange desert world that is both exciting and unforgiving, where the most crucial games are the ones played off the field.

©2020 Emily Nemens (P)2019 Brilliance Publishing, Inc., all rights reserved.

Critic Reviews

"[A] quirky first novel . . . [The Cactus League] showcases a fascinating gallimaufry of characters who swirl around the edges of the springtime ritual . . . Nemens finds a kind of attenuated hope along with melancholy in these sharply etched character studies that “end not with ‘out three’ but ‘out maybe.’'" --Booklist (starred review)

"[An] insightful debut . . . each character is brought to life in convincing detail . . . this debut entertainingly illuminates people and problems usually overlooked in the sports pages." --Publishers Weekly

“Emily Nemens's magnificent debut is a masterwork of great empathy and detail, uncovering the realms of incredible pain and beauty enmeshed within every level of America's pastime. If you love baseball, you won't put it down, and if you don't love baseball, you might by the end.” --J. Ryan Stradal, author of The Lager Queen of Minnesota and Kitchens of the Great Midwest 

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Disappointing

Seems like a romance novel with sports flavor. Not at all what I expected. Some good characters, lots of “I understand baseball” facts and an attempt to connect with megahistory. Never does reconnect satisfactorily with opening scene.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

I'll never look at spring training the same way

I have been going to spring training for the past 12 years and love that part of being a fan. I feel like I have peeked behind the curtain, and seen the underbelly. I wish I had read this before this year's trip... I will definitely be looking through a different lense when I go next year! Good narration done by all.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Thoroughly captivating!

I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the Cactus League. Whether or not you’re a baseball fan, you’ll love this book. It’s not told from the perspective of an insider, but rather the perspective of multiple insiders. The agents, the owners, the coaches, the players, the groupies, the wives, etc, they all get their moment in the spotlight to talk about their lives lived alongside a favorite baseball team. A must read/listen!

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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The Silent Season of a Hero

Just finished listening and I’m reminded of why I love sports and stories about sports. A good game reminds you that it’s not about the final score, but how the game was played.

I’m left reminded of Gay Talese’s essay on Joe DiMaggio and WWJDD: what would Joe DiMaggio do? Grateful.

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A great spring read

This is an interesting story told by many voices. I am waiting for the rest of the tale.

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Cactus League

A very interesting look at baseball spring training. Many different characters intertwined. Unfortunately, it ended with so many things up in the air, it wasn't really an ending. The author just stopped writing.