Overall Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Disclaimer: Prior to reading The Ninth Inning, I had not read J. Sterling’s The Perfect Game series. I wasn’t familiar with Jack’s story, but I knew there had to be some backstory to the characters of J. Sterling’s newest series, The Boys of Baseball. And I was right. However, with that being said, you do NOT need to read that series to invest yourself in Sterling’s newest series.
You have to know before we start that I LOVE a good sports romance. Growing up in a sports home (my brother played baseball) and marrying a sports nut has ingratiated me into this world. I grew up in the baseball world, so sports romance set in the world of baseball generally piques my interest immediately. Add to that my love for college baseball. I’m a college professor, and college baseball is THE sport on my campus. I’ve taught several of its athletes in my classes, and they are oftentimes some of my favorite students, partly for their personalities and partly for their sport.
What J. Sterling’s The Ninth Inning does well is capture this world beautifully. If you attend a school without football, and your baseball team is one of the best in the nation, your baseball players become celebrities. Add to that the dream of most college baseball players at a Division 1 school: to make it to the “big leagues.” Believe it or not, only a small percentage of these players actually make it. Even then, the chances of making it to the top are even more difficult. Therefore, college baseball players walk this fine line of instant celebrity for the school’s marquee sport balanced with the academic rigor of college against the want to play well enough to make your dreams come true. Sterling shows us the gravity of this celebrity in her hero, Cole Anders. Sterling’s ability to create a character as complete as Cole to illustrate the complexity of the college baseball world is the gift of her book. To be honest, for the first third or so of the story, you won’t really like Cole. He’s indecisive and almost cruel in his treatment of the heroine, Christina. He believes he cannot commit to her due to this sports dream, but he also doesn’t want Christina with anyone else. This causes him to be equal parts possessive and aloof. In moving between these two responses to her, he creates confusion for Christina that borders on cruelty. As such, I struggled with him initially. Thankfully, Sterling develops Cole’s psychology for her readers, so, at some point, you feel empathic for him. Yet, it takes some time to accept him as heroic.
To balance a disdain for the hero, Sterling crafts a heroine who you commiserate with. Honestly, Christina has impressive emotional maturity when it comes to Cole. There were several times when she vacillates over her boundary-setting, and I found myself yelling at her to hold firm. I am not a game player, and I don’t advocate for it in romances. It reads as beneath the author to do so. However, Christina shows her inner strength in her willingness to protect herself and set firm boundaries around her relationship with Cole. Even though he continually breaks her heart, she determines that she is more important than anything with him. Sterling illustrates emotional health through the construction of her heroine, Christina. There is only one area where we see Christina’s judgment falter, and that occurs with her perception of Logan, the villain of The Ninth Inning. Thankfully, Sterling doesn’t draw out Christina’s misjudgment of Logan’s character, but it’s enough that it creates plenty of tension for her story, something necessary for all romances. Since Cole makes it difficult for the readers to like him at first, Sterling gifts us a heroine who stands in her strength and embraces the challenge of protecting her heart.
J. Sterling’s The Ninth Inning is a sports romance that reminds us of the challenges of college baseball. It’s an admonishment to follow our hearts. Cole believes that Christina will endanger his goal of making it to the big leagues. Therefore, he only follows his dream, casting aside his love. In doing so, he potentially misses living an abundant life. This is J. Sterling suggesting that life involves gradations of purpose: the purpose to grow, the purpose to love, and the purpose to live your dreams. They don’t have to be mutually-exclusive because The Ninth Inning illustrates that we can have it all if we simply believe in it. If you are a fan of sports romances like me, then you should DEFINITELY read J. Sterling’s brand of sports romance.
In love and romance,