In the small, baseball-loving town of Walton, 12-year-old star player Jack Callahan struggles to continue loving the game after suffering a severe loss. The summer prior, Jack’s older brother, Brad, died in a dirt-biking accident. Spring is in the air, and it’s time for the Rays, manned with Jack, his best friend Gus, and more, to make the voyage back to the little league championship, which they lost the season before. It is Jack and Gus’ dreams to make it to the Little League World Series in Williamsport.
Out of nowhere, after the team’s first practice, Jack announces to his coach that he’s quitting the team. Jack and Gus have played ball together since T-ball, so it upsets Gus when he learns the news, leading him to confront Jack the next day.
Cassie, the softball superstar of Walton, comes to Jack’s defense. After Cassie and Jack become friends, Cassie convinces him to stay involved with the game by assistant coaching her softball team with her dad. In his time away from Gus, Jack befriends Teddy, an overweight classmate of his with low self-esteem. It is their friendship that allows Jack to open up about why he quit the team, explaining that he blames himself for Brad’s death by letting him go out the night he died. A final message from his brother inspires Jack to return to the game he loves, and the journey for the championship is back under way."
Author Mike Lupica knows his sports. As I had presumed, he sticks to his guns with The Only Game, using the same formula that gave him success with books like Heat and Travel Team. This opener to a four-part series succeeds for what it is.
The characters in the book’s beginning feel a tad dry and stereotypical, but for what for the opening’s starkness limits, the rest of the story makes up in Lupica’s excellent sports writing, where he recaps Jack’s games with an exciting vitality. Even though the young characters showcase an unrealistic maturity, the friendship story is great. The narrative improves significantly after the book’s commencement, and makes for a page-turner that readers and baseball fans alike will enjoy.