Being a big baseball fan, I was eager – to say the least – to be included in this blog tour.  Being in the Washington DC area – Nationals Country – I feel the guest post I was given was a bit of friendly rivalry between Shae and myself, but, as they say – to the victors go the spoils. The Braves had a great year and deserved to be National East Champions. [gads that was hard to type.]  So with that, please read the chat between Shae and Kerry and then go buy the book. Make sure you read through to the end to check out the contest for some very cool prizes.

Playing Ball – A Baseball Anthology

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On Being Braves Fans

By Shae Connor and Kerry Freeman

Shae and Kerry got together for a little Facebook chat last Sunday, the night the Braves won the National League East division championship. A bit of reminiscing and frivolity ensued…

Shae: BRAVES WIN! BRAVES WIN!

Kerry: Did they clinch the division?

Shae: Yep! Actually halfway through their game when the Nats lost. But they won and then went champagne crazy in the clubhouse.

Kerry: Woohoo!!!! Praying for a trip to the series!

Shae: You and me both! First division championship since 2005. Wow.

Kerry: And when was the last series appearance? It was against the Yankees.

Shae: Not since 1999.

Kerry: I went to the first game that year.

Shae: Oooo, cool! I’ve never been to a World Series game.

Kerry: They got swept by the Yankees that year, but it was magical to be there nonetheless.

Shae: Yeah. Let’s not remind Kate of that. 😉 I went to a Division Series game in 1998 against the Cubs. That was the Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa steroid-fueled home run year.

Kerry: The homerun battle got me back into baseball as an adult.

Shae: I had a huge crush on Mark McGwire. Big strapping ginger with massive thighs. Mmm-hmmm.

Kerry: I did, too. But my big crush was on Bret Boone. I lost my shit when he was traded to the Braves  Then lost it again when he was traded to the Padres

Shae: When did you see your first MLB game?

Kerry: It would have been the first season Boone was in Atlanta, 1999. You?

Shae: 1984. Boy, those were some BAD years. I didn’t make it back until 1991, when the Braves were battling the Dodgers for the division title, back when they were in the NL West.

Kerry: Wow! I liked baseball as a kid (the Phillies in the ‘70s), but it wasn’t until my 30s that I think you could really call me a fan. (I’m 44 now.)

Shae: So am I!

Kerry: We can grow old together

Shae: I can just see us now, 95 and crotchety, pointing and giggling at the hot players of the 2060s! I started watching when the Braves hit TBS in the late ’70s and never really gave it up. Even through the really, really bad years.

Kerry: I think it was hard to be a Braves fan the last few years Cox was there. As a fan, I think he stayed too long.

Shae: Yeah, probably. They still won, but not like they had before, and obviously they weren’t doing much in the postseason.

Kerry: I remember the first time I saw Turner Field. It was like going to a cathedral.

Shae: I have pictures (I wish I had them scanned!) from several games I went to in 1995/1996, when they were building the Olympic Stadium and then converting it to Turner Field. It was SO cool to watch. My sister and I went to one of the first games at the new ballpark.

Kerry: I have an unscanned pic of me and Boone. I couldn’t even speak to him. Totally petrified.

Shae: Awwwwww. We met a few players back then. Jeff Blauser was hilarious. John Schuerholz showed us his 1991 NL Champion ring at Spring Training one year.

Okay, other than meeting Bret Boone: favorite Braves memory!

Kerry: Hmmm. Has to be batting practice before game 1 of the Series. Got to see the Braves and the Yankees. Derek Jeter, even. You?

Shae: Probably the 1991 game. It was such a magical year, and I went with my parents and sister. Ballpark was PACKED and buzzing like crazy. Even though the Braves lost that game, it was awesome.

Kerry: Sometimes the best games aren’t ones they win.

Shae: Very true. One of my favorites was a Fourth of July game against the Marlins that the Braves won on a bases-loaded balk.

Kerry: Bases-loaded balk? I’d have loved to see that!

Shae: Is your hubby a baseball fan?

Kerry: He’ll watch a live game but not on TV  We watch football together. He’s watching the Series if the Braves go, whether he wants to or not.

Shae: I have no idea how I’ll fare during a Braves World Series. I used to come home from work and take a nap before the game started. I might be too old for that!

Kerry: I know! I’ll just have to stay up as long as I can. Who knows? Maybe we’ll score some tickets.

Shae: That would be AWESOME.

Kerry: It’s a date!

~~~~

Playing Ball: A Baseball Anthology

“The one constant through all the years… has been baseball.”—Field of Dreams

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Blurb:

Baseball, America’s Pastime, carries with it a mythology like no other sport, entwined with the ups and downs of the nation. In Playing Ball, authors Shae Connor, Kerry Freeman, Marguerite Labbe, and Kate McMurray explore the love for baseball and among the men who play it, from the 1920s through modern times. These four stories tell the tales of baseball men who find love off the field, whether with the heir to a baseball empire, a sports reporter, a fan, or even each other, after their playing careers come to an end.

Home Field Advantage— Shae Connor

When college student Toby MacMillan, grandson of Atlanta Braves owner Ray MacMillan, meets Caleb Browning, who’s getting his first shot at the big leagues, an innocent dinner soon turns into a not-so-innocent night together in Caleb’s bed. Toby quickly calls things off, afraid of the ramifications of their tryst, but unable to avoid each other because of their jobs, the two men develop a tentative friendship that soon becomes more. After Caleb is injured on the field, Toby’s presence at his hospital bedside leads to their relationship going public—and Toby’s grandfather threatening to cut him off. Facing a choice between the team he’s loved all his life and the man he could love for the rest of it, Toby has to decide if he’s ready to make a stand.

Excerpt:

Home Field Advantage by Shae Connor

Part of the Playing Ball anthology from Dreamspinner Press

© 2013 Shae Connor

“Come up for a drink?”

All the warning bells in Toby’s mind went off at once, but none of them were enough to stop him from doing what he did next. He followed Caleb into the elevator, rode up to the sixteenth floor beside him in silence, and then followed him down the hall to his room.

Once inside, Caleb dropped his duffel on the dresser and moved toward the minibar, like he was actually going to make good on his nightcap offer. “Not sure what they have in here, but—”

Toby didn’t let him get any further. He took three long steps, reached up to wrap one hand behind Caleb’s neck, and kissed the words right out of his mouth.

Caleb’s lips were soft and dry, yielding easily to Toby’s insistent pressure and soon parting to allow Toby’s tongue inside. Caleb tasted like the mint he’d popped as they left the table downstairs, with a hint of sweetness from the tea he’d had with dinner and a deeper flavor of pure Caleb.

Toby wondered if he tasted like that everywhere.

Eager to find out, Toby slid his hands under the hem of Caleb’s T-shirt and pushed it up until it bunched under Caleb’s arms. Breaking reluctantly away from Caleb’s mouth, Toby bent to lick his nipple instead, hearing the hiss from above at the intimate touch. Caleb’s skin was saltier here, the remains of a long day of travel clinging to his body, and Toby took another, longer taste, wrapping his lips around the pebbling skin and sucking gently.

“Holy shit, Toby.”

Caleb shifted, and Toby saw his T-shirt go flying a second before Caleb grabbed Toby’s arms and turned them both, shoved Toby against the wall, and fell against him. Caleb sealed his mouth over Toby’s even as he worked his fingers under Toby’s shirt and let them roam across his skin. Toby kissed him back desperately, kneading at the strong muscles of Caleb’s back, muscles honed from years as an athlete who used his body well. Toby was no slouch, physically speaking, but he relished the few inches and couple dozen pounds Caleb had on him. Toby felt surrounded by Caleb but not overwhelmed, the give and take between them perfectly balanced.

After breaking the kiss, Caleb pushed at Toby’s shirt, and Toby raised his arms to let Caleb strip it away like he’d done with his own. Caleb wrapped one arm around Toby’s body to pull their chests together and used his free hand to cup Toby’s ass so he could grind his pelvis into Toby’s. Toby groaned as Caleb licked across his jaw to his ear, where Caleb breathed out, “Jesus fuck, you’re hot.”

Toby let out a strangled sound something like a laugh. “Nothing on you,” he managed, turning his head to capture Caleb’s mouth with his.

One Man To Remember—Kate McMurray

In the summer of 1927, New York sports journalist Walter Selby has gained a reputation for being something of a dandy, but he’s a force to be reckoned with, too, as one of the most dynamic voices in the daily papers. He can’t help but notice Skip Littlefield, the Giants’ tall, lithe first baseman, and when he meets the man, he’s left breathless. Skip is talented, soft-spoken, and also incredibly handsome. Skip is terrified by Walt but drawn to him, too, attracted in a way he doesn’t want to be. Against the backdrop of the lights of Times Square, the excitement of the era, and some of the most incredible baseball anyone has ever played, he starts to fall for Walt. Their only hope is that the more charismatic stars will draw attention away from the quite romance blooming between Skip and Walt, or else Skip’s whole career and everything he loves is at stake.

Excerpt:

One Man to Remember by Kate McMurray

Part of the Playing Ball anthology from Dreamspinner Press

© 2013 Kate McMurray

Walt leaned against the brick facade of a Times Square building and watched Babe Ruth get out of a cab. The Bambino was wearing a clean white suit with a matching fedora tilted at a jaunty angle. Walt always found the contradiction of Ruth—the expensive clothes on the odd, triangular body, with the craggy face that looked like it had been in too many bar brawls—to be quite interesting. But there were plenty of reporters in New York dying to follow Ruth around. Walt had another story to pursue.

The Penguin Club was around the corner. It wasn’t Walt’s favorite Times Square establishment. It was a little bland, but that was why he’d chosen it—it was safe. He couldn’t imagine a kid like Skip would do well in the sorts of places Walt really liked to go. He was skittish in the baseball stadium; Walt couldn’t imagine him calm in one of the racier clubs.

He pulled his fedora down over his eyes and slunk down Fifty-Sixth Street. The Penguin was a little off the beaten path—another reason Walt had chosen it—and tonight, Walt wanted to fade into the background a bit, to observe instead of be observed.

He spotted a figure walking down the street from Sixth Avenue and knew immediately it was Skip. He walked with a dancer’s grace, something Walt had noticed at the stadium. As he came closer, Walt saw he was wearing a brown suit a couple of seasons out of style and a battered bowler hat that didn’t really go with the suit. These were forgivable offenses, Walt decided, since he did look pretty great out of a baseball uniform.

“Why, Mr. Littlefield,” Walt said as Skip walked up to him. “You’re a real sheik outside of the ballpark.”

It was too dark to see if Skip was blushing, but Walt imagined from the way he ducked his head that he was.

“I’m still not really sure about this,” Skip said.

“One measly drink won’t do any harm.”

Walt gestured for Skip to follow him. He knew the password, although the door was being watched by a big six named Anthony, with whom Walt had once had a brief and tawdry affair. Luckily, they were still on good terms.

“How are ya, Walt?” Anthony greeted him.

“I’m just ducky. This is my friend John.”

Skip tilted his head, but then extended a hand to Anthony, who shook it.

Anthony said, “You boys can go on in. Although, Walt? If you’re looking for something to do later, Carmela’s performing at that little place off Forty-Third tonight.”

Walt nodded. He loved Carmela’s show, but he was sort of wishing this interview would go long enough for him to miss it. And he certainly knew better than to think Skip would be interested in a show like Carmela’s. “I’ll keep that in mind,” Walt said.

As Walt led Skip into the speakeasy, Skip said, “Who is Carmela?”

Walt chuckled. “Would it terrify you if I told you she is a female impersonator?”

Skip tilted his head again, as if he were taking that in. “Like a man in a dress?”

Walt nodded. “Carmela is in fact an Italian fella named Carmine who I’ve known for years. He’s… well, he’s something, to be sure. But his brother owns a bunch of the Times Square establishments, plus a few other places downtown, so he has plenty of performance venues.”

Skip seemed more intrigued by this than put off, which was not the reaction Walt had been expecting. “What does he do in his show?”

“Dances, tells jokes, that sort of thing. Like a one-man vaudeville act. Why do you ask? Do you want to see it?”

Skip shrugged. “Just wondering.”

What an interesting man Skip was turning out to be. The lack of literacy had given Walt pause back at the stadium. Walt’s handwriting wasn’t so abysmal that it couldn’t be deciphered, so Skip’s hesitancy over the words said a lot. But he still had found the place. Asking about school was on Walt’s agenda for this evening. He didn’t know much about Skip except that he was very attractive—he had a round face with a narrow nose and surprisingly plump lips atop that athletic body, and as he removed his hat, he displayed a thick head of wavy blond hair—and he played baseball as well as or better than many of the best ballplayers in the city. He was also, apparently, barely literate and intrigued by the idea of a show like Carmela’s. Walt was fascinated.

Wild Pitch—Maguerite Labbe

For as long as Ruben Martell has known him, he’s been in love with his best friend Alan Hartner. They played together, traveled together, and dueled on opposite teams. Years later, they’re retired, running a business together, and coaching rival Little League teams, and Ruben hasn’t given up hope that Alan might return his feelings. Alan quit the game at the height of his career to take care of his sons, and the one constant he’s been able to rely on is Ruben. He’s tried to forget about the night everything changed, but being with Ruben on a day-to-day basis is weakening his resolve. They’d stepped over the line before, and it had hurt their friendship and left Alan with a guilt he didn’t know how to handle. Alan doesn’t want to do anything to jeopardize that friendship now, even if it mean denying the feelings he’s kept locked away for so long.

Excerpt:

Wild Pitch by Marguerite Labbe

Part of the Playing Ball anthology from Dreamspinner Press

© 2013 Marguerite Labbe

The pop fly went straight up the center and was caught easily by the shortstop. Ruben came jogging forward as the end of the inning was called. “Didn’t get enough sleep last night, Alan?” he called teasingly, and Alan narrowed his eyes. Oh no, he was not going to be the only one who had a hard time concentrating today.

“Just remembering The Maltese Falcon,” Alan said, patting Ruben’s back as he came to an abrupt halt. “Makes it a little hard to stay focused.”

Ruben turned to look at him, his gaze hot and intense, and Alan knew he’d gotten under his skin. He was learning to recognize the little signals from Ruben that gave away his interest, like the way those eyes of his would darken even more, or the way he’d kind of lean in toward Alan. “Good movie,” Ruben said, after a minute examination of Alan’s face. “Good memories associated with it.”

“Good, hmm?” Alan let his gaze rake over Ruben and grinned wickedly as the other man shook his head in bemusement. “I can think of many other adjectives.”

Ruben leaned closer still and lowered his voice. “You’re a damn tease, Hartner. I never would’ve thought that of you.”

“Goes to show you don’t know everything about me yet.” Alan backed away toward his dugout with another grin, spreading his hands wide. “Kind of exciting, isn’t it?”

One Last Road Trip—Kerry Freeman

After the last game of his major league career, Jake Wilson is hitting the road. He’s got an ex-wife to manage in New Mexico, a son to see in Oklahoma, a future son-in-law he doesn’t know about in Tennessee, and a gamble of a lifetime in Georgia. In 2,500 miles, his life will completely change, and he can only hope that his unannounced visit to his first love will cause everything to change for the better.

Excerpt:

One Last Road Trip by Kerry Freeman

Part of the Playing Ball anthology from Dreamspinner Press

© 2013 Kerry Freeman

It had been a lonely few months in Atlanta. Jake had gone from being a high school baseball star to just another hick jock. It didn’t matter that his test scores and grades would have gotten him into Georgia Tech regardless of the baseball scholarship. The smart kids looked down their noses at him. And the other jocks? Until Jake played a game and played it well, he was only a wannabe freshman.

The first day of preseason training, it all started to turn around for him. He and the other freshman bonded over their mutual desire to prove they were worthy to wear the gold and white. They worked hard and cheered each other on. They quickly became favorites of the handful of regular practice spectators, who all seemed to have a soft spot for the awkward newcomers.

One spectator stood out. Jake tried not to stare, but he couldn’t stop his surreptitious glances at the man. Jake had known since forever that he could be turned on by men as well as women, but this was different. The man’s square jaw and tight swimmer’s body made Jake have evil, evil thoughts, thoughts of things way beyond the frenzied hand and blow jobs he’d experienced with other equally frightened high school boys.

Jake also had more tender thoughts, which he found slightly frightening. Every time the man brushed his hair from his eyes, Jake wondered if the hair was soft, how it would feel if he ran his fingers through it. He snuck enough glances to determine that the man’s almond-shaped eyes were a beautiful hazel, and, more often than not, those eyes were trained on Jake. Worst of all, Jake wanted to pull the man’s full bottom lip between his and find out how the man tasted. He had never kissed a man, but God, he wanted to kiss this one.

After a few weeks of torture, Jake decided he’d had enough. He might make a fool of himself. He might even get his ass kicked. But he was going to talk to the man who’d been starring in his dreams.

When practice was over, Jake hung back on the field, waiting for the other players to head toward the locker room and hopefully out of earshot. He’d noticed days before that the man would not leave right away; he’d linger, reading a book or relaxing on the bleachers. It was almost as if he were waiting for someone. Then again, Jake thought, that could be his own wishful thinking.

As he walked, Jake brushed off his pants and straightened his cap. When the man looked up from his book to see Jake heading his way, his smile was unmistakable. Jake was sure he’d never seen a clearer invitation to come closer, and he struggled to keep his feet from speeding up. He needed to play this cool, keep his intentions a secret until he was sure they were welcome.

“Hey.” Jake shoved his glove under his arm. “What you reading?”

The man waved the small paperback. “Oh, this? To Kill A Mockingbird. I have been told it is a classic American novel. I like it so far.”

Oh holy fuck, Jake thought. He has an accent on top of everything else. The man’s voice was cool and smooth, like a window in an air-conditioned room. It sent frissons cascading over Jake’s sweat-damp skin. Each word was clearly enunciated, crisp.

Jake sat down, leaving a respectable distance between them. “It is. I read it in high school, and it’s pretty good.”

The man folded the corner of a page and closed the book. “We read a few American novels in school in Finland, but not this one. I think I may recommend it to my teacher back home.”

“Finland? How did you end up here?”

“I wanted more sunshine and warmth. My family visited friends in Savannah once, and I fell in love with Georgia.”

“Well, you definitely came to the right place for sunshine.” Jake was positive if he heard much more of the man’s accent, he would melt on the spot. “I’m Jake Wilson,” he said, holding out his hand.

The man stared at Jake’s hand before finally shaking it. “I know,” he said. “I read about you in the student paper. My name is Mikko Niemi.”

Buy links:

Ebook: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=4197

Paperback:

http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=4198

Contest:

Naturally, we have a giveaway! We’re offering two prizes. The grand prize is a print copy of Playing Ball signed by all four authors, a unisex BBQ apron featuring hot athletes from Originals by Lauren (https://www.etsy.com/shop/OriginalsbyLauren), and swag from all four authors. The runner-up will get an ebook copy of Playing Ball and swag from all four authors.

The giveaway will run from 12 AM Central on September 21, 2013, to 12 AM Central on October 11, 2013. To give an opportunity for the authors to get together to sign the book and gather swag, the winners will be picked and the prizes shipped after the end of GayRomLit 2013.

Rules: You must be a resident of Earth, 18 years or older, who lives in a place where the viewing of adult material is legal. By entering the giveaway, you are indicating your agreement to the rules. Winners must provide a physical mailing address to receive their prizes. If a winner does not respond to the prize notification within 48 hours, the prize will be re-awarded.

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About The Authors:

Shae Connor lives in Atlanta, where she works for the government by day and reads and writes about people falling in love by night. She’s been making up stories for as long as she can remember, but it took her a long time to figure out that maybe she should start writing them down. Now, she usually has far too many stories in progress, but when she does manage to tear herself away from her laptop, she enjoys watching baseball, hiking, cooking, and traveling, not necessarily in that order. A proud geek girl, Shae works on volunteer staff for Dragon Con and is a regular guest at Outlantacon.

Shae writes primarily gay contemporary romance and is published with Dreamspinner Press, MLR Press, and Wilde City Press. Her most recent publications have been “Fringes,” a scifi ménage erotica short story released as part of Wilde City’s Charlie Harding Presents line, and “What to Expect When Your Boyfriend Is Expecting,” a scifi short story as part of the tongue-in-cheek Butt Pirates in Space anthology.

Shae is active on Twitter @shaeconnor and posts snippets, updates, and thoughts on writing and editing at her web site, http://www.shaeconnorwrites.com. You can contact her at shaeconnorwrites@gmail.com.

Kate McMurray is an unabashed romance fan. Her first published novel, In Hot Pursuit, came out in February 2010, and she’s been writing feverishly ever since. She likes stories that are brainy, funny, and of course sexy, with regular guy characters and urban sensibilities. When she’s not writing, Kate works a nonfiction editor. She also reads a lot, plays the violin, knits and crochets, and drools over expensive handbags. She’s maybe a tiny bit obsessed with baseball. She’s currently serving as Vice President of Rainbow Romance Writers, the LGBT romance chapter of Romance Writers of America. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with a pesky cat. Visit her at www.katemcmurray.com.

Marguerite Labbe has been accused of being eccentric and a shade neurotic, both of which she freely admits to, but her muse has OCD tendencies, so who can blame her? Her husband and son do an excellent job keeping her toeing the line, though. Marguerite loves to spin tales of stubborn men with smart mouths, working toward a deep and lasting love, no matter what else she throws at them.

She has won the Rainbow Award for Historical Romance with Fae Sutherland, as well as the Rainbow Award for Paranormal and the Rainbow Romance Award for Excellence also in Paranormal.

When she’s not working hard on writing new material and editing completed work, she spends her time reading novels of all genres, enjoying role-playing games with her equally nutty friends, and trying to plot practical jokes against her son and husband. Unfortunately for her, her son is learning her tricks very fast.

Visit Marguerite’s web site at http://www.margueritelabbe.com.

Kerry Freeman was born and raised in Alabama and she grew up swearing she was going to get the hell out of Dodge the instant she could. Turns out Dodge ain’t so bad, and she never left. Alabama’s version of a city girl, she married a country boy, and the couple lives in a small town with their two socially awkward dogs.

Kerry loves to write about love, and it turns out most of the voices in her head are men. She also loves to write about the South, so most of her stories end up there, one way or another.

A tomboy and a geek from way back, Kerry has a day job but dreams she will one day write full time. She has a weakness for yaoi, Japanese stationery, YA, and ginger-haired singers from Britain. She owns an impressive t-shirt collection. Nowaki & Hiroki are her homeboys.

Links

Website: http://kerryfreeman.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kfwritesbooks

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/authorkerryfreeman