by Alice Leonhardt
It seems that Team Player had the misfortune of being too long when it was a Word document sitting on some editor's hard drive, and instead of requesting a little editing to trim the story down to an appropriate length, the editor decided it would be easier to highlight the entirety of the last chapter and hit the delete button.
Oh, Thoroughbred. It's this dedication to quality that makes me love you so.
Will Parker make the team?Parker Townsend and his Thoroughbred mare, Foxglove, have proven that they have the talent to compete in the Olympics in combined training. But they still haven't made the team. Parker can't figure it out. He's won more events than any of his competitors, and Foxy is in top form. No jump is too high for them, no dressage course is too technical. So why haven't the Olympic stewards asked him to join the team?His trainer, Samantha McLean, knows why. Parker isn't a team player. He always does his best and usually wins, but sometimes that's not enough. In order to compete, Parker must show the Olympic stewards that he can help out his team members and ride for the team.
This summary is a tad exaggerated. Parker has in fact not "won more events than any of his competitors," nor does he "usually" win. The sad state of affairs is more subdued, but that doesn't make for good summary writing, apparently. The fact of the matter is that Lyssa has actually been the winner of all the events the summary seems to think Parker has been winning, therefore making the question of why Lyssa has been picked to be on the team and not Parker far less of a head scratcher.
But whatevs. Let's get down to business.
Parker is super busy. He's got responsibilities (horses to ride, Foxy to train, Kaitlin to yell at, mountains of tack to clean because we all know tack is forever dirty even two seconds after it's been scrubbed to death), unappreciative girlfriends to placate (Christina), parents to avoid (The Townsends, in all their awesome hilarity), and so many things to worry about (the Olympics, school, maybe buying a new horse with no money). It's hard to be Parker, okay?
Because he has no money, he's been reduced to teaching kids how to pull the manes of their school ponies, which is a tremendous lesson in patience while Samantha is persistently nagging him to buy a young horse while trying to hide the magazine that proclaims Lyssa the next Olympic horse goddess. Lyssa has gotten on the USET team's short list, and Parker has not. Parker attempts to not be bitter, and fails. Samantha makes a casual remark about that chip on his shoulder and then whirls off to be unproductive somewhere else as Parker drags his feet to Whitebrook to remark about how his relationship with Christina has changed, and it's not for the better.
You see, Christina and Parker never see each other anymore, both aiming for their completely unreasonable dreams because everyone knows that after the age of eighteen it's standard practice to give up on yourself and help children you kind of know and/or created accomplish greatness. In other words, life loses all meaning when you're an adult. Parker tries to seek support from Christina regarding this whole Lyssa development (come on, people, we know you all just want to bitch about her. Just do it already) and gets nothing but, "That's great! They're still accepting young riders!" Of which they have one, so do they need more? Just saying.
Parker trudges off to class and then goes home to Townsend Acres, where he decides that it's finally time to suck up to his parents and try to get back into his trust fund. Brad, because nothing is better than racing -- nothing -- has cut off Parker and made him drive an unreliable truck and be poor until Parker shucks off his Olympics dreams and gets into the family business. Only all he's greeted with is a buffet table of eggs and bacon, which Parker falls upon like a ravenous honey badger while Lavinia looks on in sheer horror and Brad mutters about how a Townsend doesn't wear jeans during breakfast. They wear suits and diamonds, naturally.
Fresh from that comical interlude, Parker runs off to Townsend Acres Version Warmbloods so he can look at a horse that is outside of his price range, because Samantha doesn't get that he has no money. That's when they meet Wizard of Oz, or Ozzie, burned out stadium jumper who has no interest in doing work ever again. Naturally Samantha's all ooooh, this one! And so they take Ozzie on trial, but not before they look down their noses at Ozzie's successful and therefore "arrogant" and obviously horrible owner.
There's a three-day event of some such that Parker wins, attracting the attention of Captain Donnelly of USET fame, which leads to Captain Donnelly deciding to move his two short list USET people (Lyssa and a Jeff who is of no import) to Whisperwood so he can stalk Parker and cause him great emotional turmoil. Parker drops the ball when put on the spot, but then manages to save things when he's invited to a lesson with Lyssa and Jeff, only to drop the ball again when he gets all internally uppity about being told what to do. Nobody knows Foxy like Parker!
You know, it's a real wonder that Christina and Parker couldn't make it through this book. They are so perfect for each other. Unfortunately they split. Or "take a break" after Parker misses a date and decides that hey, he won't try to call or do anything about it until later. How do these people not have cell phones? This is 2001!
Well anyway, Parker takes Ozzie out to mull his decision about whether or not to go further into debt in order to buy him and Lyssa, giver of bad advice, says that he totally should. Just stick him in a round pen (which doesn't wind up working, of course) and all will be fine! Oh, if only we could all be sponsored like Lyssa! What a magical life she leads. I'm shocked Parker hasn't gone crazy. I really am.
So Rolex rolls around. Samantha and Kaitlin strong arm Parker into going to the party beforehand, which Parker is of course staunchly against. Parties might mean fun is afoot, and as we all know fun is the work of the devil! I'm surprised Samantha even wants to take part in this horror show, but I suppose that she is an adult, and her life no longer has meaning or ambition. All the more time for parties!
Parker goes to the party, only to run into his parents, who have come to the realization that there are rich people around the Rolex also! Let's mingle! Brad remarks that it's quaint that the winner gets a Rolex watch. Oh, if only Parker were into racing; he could have all the Rolex watches he desires should he give up on this fool's errand. Mission to destroy Parker's confidence accomplished, so back to mingling!
God, that man is just so awesome.
Samantha gets Parker's mood back on track on the first day of Rolex, and he completely crushes the dressage test and skyrockets into third. Then the cross country comes along the second day, and there's much angst. It is hot! Horses are dropping like flies. The jumps are terrific and difficult. If only Parker would listen to advice. Samantha is here to help with her so-so wisdom! Captain Donnelly wants him to do well, but not invite him on the team so Parker tosses his advice and goes for broke. Foxy barely makes it through the course in an effort that puts them in first place, but this effort is too much for the horse and there is pandemonium and tears and screaming and oxygen tanks and hypodermic needles and Parker feels like a total loser because his horse is probably dying right there at Rolex and...
That's the end of the book. No closure for you! That's just the way Thoroughbred rolls.
In all seriousness, Alice Leonhardt was awesome and supplied fans with the cut chapter. I once had it in my possession, and I once knew what it contained. But that was in 2001, so I've clearly forgotten it entirely and have lost the chapter in all the computers I've left in my wake.
That all said, despite the mysterious ending, Team Player is a solid installment in the series. Granted, I have a hard time wrapping my head around Parker trying to get on the USET team, especially when he has these hilarious moments of enlightenment about how he's competing against riders who are worlds better than him at Rolex and he's still expecting to get short listed.
Maybe this series was always about supporting delusions of grandeur. It's all starting to make sense now!
#51, Distance Runner, aka Christina Discovers California And Fails to Appreciate It, is up next.