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“Safe at First”: J. Sterling reminds us there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel

At last – the long awaited third and final Boys of Baseball novel is here, and J. Sterling gave us a perfect conclusion to the trilogy with Mac Davies’ story in Safe at First. Sterling writes from the heart, so her stories are always powerful. For being romance novels, they still have a very serious undertone with very real messages. It’s what makes her stories stand out compared to other romance authors. And Safe at First is no different.

I have one more year of baseball eligibility left. One more year to show the major league scouts that I’m worth it. That I’m good enough to play professional baseball for them.

But honestly, I’m not sure that I am. I’m good enough to play for one of the best college baseball teams in the country, but that doesn’t mean that I have what it takes to go beyond that. So far, not a single one has approached me. There are no agents banging down my door, hoping to represent me, no emails, no phone calls, no messages through Coach Jackson. No, nothing.

I also want what my best friends have. The one thing that keeps alluding me; a girlfriend, a partner, a teammate. I know I come off as the team’s biggest player, but it’s all a front. A defense mechanism. As long as I call the shots and keep the ladies playing by my rules, I can’t get humiliated like I did my Freshman year. I need to change and I have no idea how to do it. Especially when girls only want to be with me because I’m a baseball player.

What happens if I no longer am one?

Who would want me then?

Mac Davis… where do I even start with this boy? This complicated, charming utterly impossible boy. It was hard reading from Mac’s point of view sometimes. He feels broken, unworthy of love, and can’t imagine how anyone could want him anymore because he feels like he has nothing to offer after getting his heart ripped out before. But what Sunny shows him is that not only is he worth knowing and worth getting to know, but he is also worth loving and worth fighting for. Until her, he never really had that.

In a way it was kind of nice reading that from the perspective of a boy. It’s not unusual for girls to feel like that – in fact, it’s so common it’s practically became a cliché. But guys tend to appear a lot more ‘macho’ than that, and rarely let down their guard enough to show that. It was nice to know it’s a universal feeling, and could encourage other guys to allow themselves to be vulnerable with the right person and let them in.

This is exactly what Sterling does. She opens our eyes to issues to issues that tend to normally get pushed aside. Like boys struggling to allow themselves to be vulnerable. In Safe at First, she also shows how it’s not just women that get groped or came on to without consent. There’s a particularly moving moment where a girl throws herself on Mac without his permission, and shows how powerless he felt in that moment as though he couldn’t do anything about it even though he said no multiple times. Again, sometimes people forget that these things don’t just happen to women: it’s a universal problem, not just a female one. Guys get unsolicited attention and groped from women as well as women from guys.

There are a lot of strong topics that Sterling touches on in Safe at First: gun violence, child abuse, domestic problems, losing a dream. But with the romance between Mac and Sunny, Sterling shows us that no matter what life throws at you, all the crap that can happen to you, can feel more bearable when you’re with the right person.

At the start, Sterling dedicates this novel to tough guys who want someone to be soft with, and the girls who have to push to be let in. To remind the guys that they’re worth fighting for, and remind the girls that they’re worth letting in. And Safe at First absolutely is for these people. But that’s not the deeper message in the story.

This time, Sterling’s message is this: You don’t always get what you work for. You don’t always catch your dream no matter how long you chase it for. But there is always light at the end of the dark and sometimes lonely tunnel, but you have to get through it to get to it. And no matter what happens, you are always worthy, and you can find new dreams.

Life is hard, and you don’t get always get what you work for and what you deserve. Sometimes deserving it doesn’t even have anything to do with it, you’re never guaranteed anything in this life. But with the right person, you can get through anything. And there’s never a shortage of dreams out there. If one doesn’t go your way, you can always catch another. You can do anything you put your mind to. And you’re worth the effort.

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