Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 chapter 3
chapter 4 chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7
Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11
Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Take me home!

Chapter 1

Billboard hell. My first thought as I looked around Herman Hartman Park was: This is it; I'm condemned to billboard hell. Advertising covered every inch of every available surface; from the outfield walls and the scoreboard to fences along the seats. Even the batboy shirts had seven ads sewn on them. The equipment man ripped off all seven ads because the only game shirt small enough for me belonged to the batboys. Thirteen, the number on my other uniform clothes, dangled from the shirt on safety pins.

Garry Dennison, the manager of The Burlington Blue Birds, offered his apologies. He promised me uniforms in the proper size would arrive soon. In addition, he promised I would get my regular number, Thirty one, returned to me.

My brother dropped me off at the park and left me in the care of Garry. We toured the park and facilities. Minor league baseball never expected a woman in its ranks, judging from the layout of the locker room. I peered around the large beige tiled room. Lockers lined the two long walls, with a chair in front of each locker and a bench in the middle. Beside the entrance a door led to the trainer’s room, which doubled as a laundry room, equipment room and general storage room. To the right of this room a short hall led to the coaches' offices and the dugout. At the back of the locker room a door led to another hall. The left went to the showers and the right went to the washroom. The washroom consisted of a row of sinks with mirrors above them, three urinals, and one toilet in a stall that had no door. The showers were less fancy, four nozzles hung limply from the wall. One dripped, leaving a rusty stain on the tile under it. Garry led me back to my chair and told me to make myself comfortable because this was my new home.

I stood alone in a man's locker room. The air was thick with the smell of testosterone and Aqua Velva. I dropped my suitcase on the bench and unpacked my things. I put my bras and panties on the top shelf, beside the neat stack of white socks. I hung up my mauve flowered blouse beside the navy blue practice jersey. I placed my shoes on the floor of the locker. The pink high heels made an interesting contrast to the black and white baseball shoes. I hung my glove on the top hook, and when I started to hang up my make up bag three of my new team mates entered. They stopped at the door and stared. I stood at my locker and stared back.

The first man was a tall muscular black man wearing dress pants, a shirt and tie. The second man was shorter, squarer, and wearing a short sleeve shirt that strained at biceps. The third person appeared younger than me, about nineteen. He had greasy blond hair, a face full of zits and eyes looking for trouble. They walked towards me. I walked towards them. Garry came out from his office. The dropped their gym bags on the bench. I dropped my make up bag on the bench. We stood toe to toe; face to chest. I looked up. They looked down.

"Yo, dude ette!" the teen grinned and held up his one hand in a gesture of greeting.

"Yo, dude." I replied to prove I could speak his language.

The middle guy grabbed the teen around the neck knocked on the top of his head several times to prove it was empty. He held out his hand, grabbed mine, and pumped it up and down a dozen times.

"What Zit for brains is trying to say is: pleased to make your acquaintance. I'm Pete Mercer and noogie head is Dean Dahmer."

"Hi, guys. I'm your new team mate, Annie Weston."

“Holy Crow!” said Dean, looking me straight in the breasts, "You really are a babe!"

I glared at him. "When I'm on the team think of me as one of the guys."

"Yeah, but none of the guys wears a bra," he said, his eyes not moving from my breasts.

The black man and Pete picked up Dean and carried him to Garry, whose face was an amazing shade of purple. "He needs more discipline," said Pete.

"C'mon zit head, we gotta talk." Garry led him away by the neck.

The black man laughed so hard tears streamed from his eyes. He grabbed a towel and wiped them away. "Oh man, I am so sorry!" He blew his nose, wiped away the last of his tears and tossed the towel in a bin marked Uniforms Only. "Oh man, that kid thinks with his dick. Excuse my French, madam!" He tossed his bag into his locker and dropped his jacket on the bench. He cleared his throat and held out his hand. "My name is Larry Owens. Garry told us you would arrive today. He told us to treat you the same as any other new player."

"No," interjected Pete. "Remember, we have to be nice! We're not allowed to shave her head! We have to be nice!"

Larry glared at Pete. "Dean's got that teenage hormone problem. On behalf of the normal men on the team, I apologize."

I smiled at him. "I know all about teenage boys. I have six brothers. I've seen it all."

Pete left for the toilet area while Larry and I sat at the bench. "Did any of them play ball?" He asked.

"Yes, they were all baseball nuts, that's why I started playing. I bugged them to let me play and one day Jake gave me the ball. They needed someone to throw so they could hit home runs. They told me they were future Joe Carters and Frank Thomases."

"Did any of them get drafted?" he asked while munching a doughnut.

"No, Mom wanted then to have respectable jobs. They were all thrilled when I got picked. All my brothers, that is."

Another man arrived. I recognized him as my catcher from the try out. He introduced himself as Clarence Robbins, but if I valued my life I should call him by his nick name, Robbie. He brought along a newspaper and shared the sections with us. He pointed to a tiny article in the sports section. "Hey, Annie! You made the news!" He read it aloud.

"Today the Toronto Blue Jays made history by signing the first woman. Annie Weston, right-hand pitcher, signed a one year minor league contract with the class A affiliate Burlington Blue Birds. She played both boys’ baseball and girls’ softball in high school. After high school she played in both the junior and senior divisions of the Men's provincial league, a top level summer league. Last year she had a record of 10 and 0 with an ERA of 1.72. She threw two two hit games and one one hit game.

`She shows a lot of potential,' says Garry Dennison, manager of the Birds. `We'll be starting her in the bullpen and move her to starter later in the season.'"

"My fifteen minutes of fame," I said when Robbie stopped reading.

Pete picked up the paper and looked at it. "Is that ERA right?"

"No, it's a misprint. It should be 1.27. I almost got it under one for the first time since high school."

Both Pete and Larry stared at me. "Shit," said Larry. "That's impressive enough for a man, but for a woman, that's amazing. And I don't mean to sound sexist. That's just the way things are."

I couldn't argue so I didn't. The rest of the team filled the locker room. Larry introduced me to everyone and I remembered none of the names. Garry returned with Dean, who appeared chagrined. Garry ordered us to get dressed and get on the field. I took my clothes and excused myself to the privacy of the stall with no door.

I returned to a room filled with men in various stages of dress and undress. My shoes and gloves were on the bench, surrounded by buttocks. The door was on the other side of the room, the other side of the world.

I had two options. The first was to hide my eyes, run screaming through the thighs arms and torsos, and make a grab for my stuff. Option one was not the way to be accepted as one of the guys. I chose option two. I casually strolled to my chair, tossed my street clothes into my locker, and put on my shoes. All the men appeared unconcerned, except for Dean, who tried to put on an athletic protector without standing.

"Don't worry hunk, if I see something I haven't seen before I'll either laugh or scream. Better hope I don't laugh."

There was laughter, mostly the nervous type. "I guess in a house full of boys you've seen everything," said Pete.

"Just about," I answered, sticking a wad of bubble gum into my mouth.

The trainer trooped us out to the field and led us in a series of exercises. I kept up with no problems; it appeared as if some of the men only went through the motions. The coaches led us in fielding drills once the trainer completed his job. I found the drills a challenge because I never fielded the ball in the Provincial league. My coaches told me to let the fielders take care of the ball while I worried about the pitching. We practiced catching throwing, how to position ourselves for certain plays, and many other things. We practiced everything over and over time and again until we did the right thing without thinking. The coach said there wasn't enough time in the game to think, only time to act. When the batting cage went up, George pulled Pete and me over to the bullpen for where I threw, Pete caught and George watched while scribbling on a clipboard.

"Okay, I think I have an idea of your strengths and weaknesses. We can start the serious adjustments tomorrow." He scribbled a bit more then looked up at us. "The guys are getting some food brought in. You might want to join them." He turned to his notes, dismissing us.

"I thought a pitcher with an ERA of one didn't have weaknesses," remarked Pete, wiping the sweat from his brow with the hem of his shirt.

"His job is to see everything I'm doing wrong." We walked to the clubhouse together. A fast food restaurant was one of the club's official sponsors and provided us with food at a discounted price in return for the prime advertising space on the scoreboard. As I looked over the food list I realized the morning's work out had left me famished. I ordered enough to fill me. I laid my food out on the bench in front of me like all the guys did. I gobbled my first chicken burger, and as I started the second several men snickered.

"What's your problem?" I glared towards them.

"Nothin," said a teen with no neck and a bullet shaped head, "It's just that I've never seen a girl eat so much food."

"Yeah," drawled a man with a scraggly moustache. "My wife is this thin," he held up his hands with six inches between them, "And she still complains that she's too fat."

"Well," I said pertly, "I just worked off a zillion calories and if this grease doesn't replace them then nothing will." I loudly slurped one of my two milks.

There was more laughter, only this time it didn't sound as nervous. After lunch we shared a bunch of magazines and newspapers. Others sat in the trainer’s room and watched cartoons. I joined Pete and a couple others in a critical comparison of Klingons versus Cardassians.

The coaches returned to the clubhouse an hour before the game. Garry hung a large pad of paper on the wall listing the names, numbers, and positions of our opponents.

"Okay, guys," shouted Garry, clapping his hands three times. This is the starting line up for the Spruce Valley Voles. But first, I'd like to officially welcome our newest Blue Bird, Annie Weston. Um after your first day is there anything that needs adjusting because of your um um. . ."

"Sex?" I offered.

"Gender! Yes because of your gender!" Garry blushed deeply.

"The door on the toilet is a problem."

"What's the problem?"

"There is no door"

"It's in the laundry room," said the trainer, who was nameless to me.

I continued. "Also, the showers lack privacy. I want to be one of the guys but that's asking a bit too much."

Garry tugged at his suddenly too tight shirt collar. "We'll see what we can do." He said between teeth clamped in an uncomfortable smile. He returned to the sanity of the chart. "Now, on to our line up!"

The first few days went smoothly. A curtain went up around one of the showers, and the door returned to the toilet stall. A joker put the sign “Ladies' Powder Room" on the door. I thought it was funny and told them to leave it there. I learned the names of my team mates. The bullet head was Kyle, and the Nebraska drawl was Tyler Graham or Ty for short.

A uniform that fit arrived on the same day Garry said I was ready to appear in a game. I would no longer have to pin my pants around my waist, and my practice jersey wouldn't hang to my knees. The pants ended mid calf, showing off the old fashioned stirrup socks we wore in our league. The number thirteen didn’t change.

I received extra instruction from George that morning. We worked on my fastball.

George taught me how to make it go low and inside. Usually it went where it wanted to go; in the dirt, over the umpires head or the opponents dug out. I threw a wild fastball. George used his hands to talk, and they wheeled in circles as he described release points. Pete mimicked George's gestures. The sun beat down on the field, and all I concentrated on was the bottle of orange juice on the bullpen bench, so close yet so far.

"Okay, let's start workin on that breakin forkball thing."

"NO!" cried Pete, peeling off his glove to reveal a bright red hand. "I can't take it any more!"

"Awright," George drawled, drooling tobacco juice on his sleeve, "But we work again tomorrow. You're gonna watch a special training video for pitchers."

"Oh, I can hardly wait," I said, trying to stifle my sarcasm. "What's it called?"

"`Pitching is Physics not Physical.' It'll show why a li'l girlie like you can throw so hard and why some big muscle guys throw like li'l girlies." He clamped his and over his mouth and blushed. "No offence, Ma'am."

"None taken," I answered. "The last thing I want to do is throw like a girl." Throwing like a girl is baseball's ultimate insult.

We walked back to the dug out in the mid May sunshine. The only sounds were the roar of the highway and a twittering nest of birds that made their home in the right field bleachers. A bus rumbled into the parking lot and broke the silence.

"Do you think knowing physics will help my fastball go down and inside to lefties?" I asked.

"Well, it will help you understand what I mean. Now don't bat your eyelashes and look all innocent to me. I know when a body thinks I'm talkin Greek."

"Better Greek than geek,” chimed in Pete.

George grabbed Pete and noogied the top of his head. "Git your ass to Bernie and have that hand iced. Annie and I are gonna have a private talk."

Pete ran ahead and we stopped at third base. "This is real private talk, kid. You're good, damn good, but they eat the balls off damn good up in the show. You gotta be better'n damn good." He spat on the base bag. "I'd love to see you in the show, kid. I wanna see you kick ass. You either kick ass or you get your ass kicked, if you learn one thing from your ole coach, I hope it's that." He spat again. "Now git to the clubhouse and chow down."

I dashed to the clubhouse where a bag of food waited for me. I joined a bunch of guys who sat in the dug out. The opposition straggled onto the field for their warm ups. There was over ninety minutes before the game, and we didn't have to leave the field until and hour before.

We had several Spanish players on the team and we helped them learn English. They, in turn, taught us Spanish, baseball's second language. A large man with a huge cropping of red whiskers on his upper lip stepped into the batting cage. Dean stuck two French fries in his nose and made sounds like a walrus. We tried to translate the word walrus, but to no avail. Juan pointed to Dean and taught us the word for Shithead.

Our opponents, if I forgot to mention, were the Hamilton Tabby Cats, a farm team for the Detroit Tigers. The next Tabby in the batting cage was the most magnificent specimen of masculinity that I had ever laid my eyes upon. He got into his batting stance with his butt sticking out in my direction.

"Oh, look at the nice butt on twenty two," I purred.

Dean picked up on it right away. "Hey! Twenty two!" He swaggered out of our dugout. "Twenty two! Our pitcher thinks you got a nice butt!"

"Yeah!" crowed Kyle. "Our pitcher wants to pinch your cute little cheeks on your cute little butt!"

Dean continued. "Our pitcher wants your phone number!"

I noticed they said our pitcher and didn't refer to my gender. I hid behind Juan and untied my hair and tucked in my shirt while tightening my belt, to emphasize what little shape I had. Neither Juan nor Marcos needed a translation of what was occurring.

Dean stood his ground as Twenty two towered over him. "So your pitcher thinks I have a nice butt, huh?" he glowered down at Dean. Dean nodded, still grinning. "What is he? Some kind of gay boy?"

"Nah,” Dean waved and I pranced over, sticking out my out my less than ample bosom and wiggling my hardly there hips. I looked up at him and batted my eyelashes. Dean squealed, "Our pitcher is a girl!" Everyone broke into raucous laughter.

"Nice butt," I purred and ran back to my team mates. We retreated to the relative sanity of our clubhouse where we laughed until we cried. When Garry went through the line up we sat in the corner and giggled. We didn't hear a thing he said.

I sat on the bullpen bench during the game. To amuse ourselves we engaged in a sunflower seed spitting contest. Whoever spit their shell the farthest was the winner. Pete always won. He hit the Tabby's third base coach on the arm. He glared back at us.

Bernie, our trainer, always kept a supply of sunflower seeds available for the guys who used to chew tobacco during the game. Tobacco chewing was against the rules of not only our league, but almost all the minor league organizations. One of the paragraphs in my contract stated that if they caught me using any tobacco products I would be fined. They needn’t have worried about me.

When I played summer league I learned a valuable lesson from one of my coaches, a former Yankee. He told me that if I wanted to make it up to the big leagues, I would have to learn how to spit. His theory was that the more a player spit, the better he played. All the best Major Leaguers spit profusely, according to him. He used Lenny Dykstra and George Brett as examples of this bizarre theory. He said if I wanted to be taken seriously, I would have to learn how to spit something, not necessarily tobacco juice.

To be honest, the sight of a man gobbing brown slime is almost enough to make me barf, even to this day. I refused to believe my success or failure depended on whether I was willing to risk face cancer. I ignored his advice. That was when I was sixteen, playing in the top junior league in the province, partly hiding my gender. That year started badly, and my ERA had ballooned to almost five. We played a charity game against some Rookie League players from the U.S., and I noticed the one player would stick a handful of peanuts in his mouth when he went up to bat. He would stare at the pitcher, crack a nut, spit out the shell and say, “That's what I'm doin to you, boy!" He had both our pitchers so intimidated that he got a hit at every at bat.

Something clicked inside my head. Mike's advice couldn't hurt, and it might help. The next game against Niagara Falls I chomped on peanuts and spit them out at psychologically advantageous intervals. Whenever I felt my confidence waver, or if I got behind in the count, I would pop a nut in my mouth crunch it, spit out the shell, and say, "That's what I'm doing to you, boy." The guys on the team gave me the nick name of "Nutcracker".

I warmed up in the sixth, but didn't get into the game. As I left the clubhouse Garry told me that I would pitch in the next day's game. Dean was the scheduled starter, and he never made it past the fifth inning.

That morning news vans and television trucks filled the parking lot. One had a satellite dish on its roof. Reporters were everywhere, more that the usual few who covered our games. Their noise filled the stands during practice, and they prattled behind the closed door of our clubhouse. Our clubhouse door was never closed before.

Garry bounced up to the chart on the wall. "Well kiddies," he chortled, rubbing his hands together. "Today we make history, or should I say Herstory."

The guys around me slugged my head and shoulders while making guttural "huh huh huh" sounds.

"Today this girl," Garry pointed at me, "Becomes a man. Annie will pitch the final three innings of the game. Let's hope she doesn't blow her big chance at fame and fortune."

As he said that the bubble I had blown popped. "Don't worry about me," I said. "I'll strike out the Tabbies one at a time."

Garry grinned at me. "A few things about the media monster out there: we'll have a brief press conference before the game and they'll be allowed in the clubhouse after the game. Be honest and don't babble. Think about what you're going to say before you say it because you don't want to sound like an idiot. And remember: there's no law that says you have to answer every question, especially the nosy and stupid ones." He clapped his hands three times.

"Annie, Georgie, let's chat up the press. The rest of you, on the field in thirty minutes."

We exited to the dugout bench, where a crowd of reporters waited for us. Lights snapped on as we sat down. Some of the reporters sat on the dug out stairs, the others on the grass. Garry held up his hands and spoke.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, here she is, Annie Weston. She'll pitch the final three innings. We await your many questions." Garry beamed with pride.

"So how's Garry been treating you?" asked a man who winked at Garry.

"No complaints so far," I answered.

"When did you start pitching?" Asked a man in an expensive suit.

"I started throwing to my brothers when I was about five. We lived in the country and there were no other kids around so we started our own team. My brother Jake -- "

"That's Jake Weston, the artist?" Interrupted someone.

"Yeah him, he suggested I throw the ball so they could hit home runs. When we moved into town I played in pick up games then in little league then one thing led to another and by the time I got to high school even all the teachers expected me to be the pitcher. I tried out for a position on a summer league team when I was sixteen and won a spot as a starter. When I was nineteen I moved up to the senior league, the youngest in the league. That’s where I was scouted and signed."

"Who taught you how to throw like a man?" Asked a woman from my home town television station.

"A family friend, Sid Mossman. He played in the minors years ago. I surprised him when I caught on so fast."

"Is she a good pitcher, George?" asked a man in a sweat stained shirt and purple tie.

"Oh yeah," drawled George. "We're workin on control. She throws hard an’ slippery. She can also do the basics like throw the curve, and each pitch is a different speed. She also does a couple trick pitches. I think we got a diamond in the rough."

"Garry, has there been any trouble fitting a woman into the team?"

Garry shook his head. It appeared that he thought carefully about his answer. "No, the first thing she said was to think of her as one of the guys, and that's what she's been; just one of the guys."

"Annie, have you requested any special treatment because of your unusual circumstances?" That came from a well dressed woman with her hair sprayed rigid in the quickening breeze.

I though about the toilet and shower and answered, "No, it's like Garry said. When I'm on the team I'm one of the guys. I get along with everyone, we clown around and stuff, nobody seems to have any problems. I know I don't."

"How do you think you'll do today?" The sweat stained man winked at me.

"I should do okay! I hope I don't screw up too badly!" I laughed.

Garry clapped his hands three times. "Okay kiddies, our little pajama party is over. Now find your places and enjoy the show."

The reporters straggled out of the dugout as the team straggled in. Shimmers of heat rose from the outfield. Dust puffed from the base bags as the groundskeeper dropped them in place. A cloud of gnats fluttered around first base. The groundskeeper watered the base paths. Maybe he hoped they would grow. Maybe if they watered the whole park it would grow into the Skydome.

Dean lasted three innings. His only saving grace was that he came up to bat three times and hit three home runs. His batting average was seven seventy five. Unfortunately so was his ERA. I warmed up to a rousing cheer in the sixth inning. I got into a good groove. When I was ready I waited beside Pete.

"Looks hot out there," he said while wiping his face with a towel.

I nodded. "Dean went right to the showers after he got pulled. I thought I heard him barfing. He can't handle the heat."

"If he would listen to Bernie he wouldn't have so much trouble. But you know Dean. He knows everything."

Bernie, our trainer, taught us how to play through the heat without getting sick. He told us to eat a light meal two hours before the game and drink plenty of water before going on the field. During the game we were to drink a special concoction he made so we wouldn't get dehydrated. If we felt dizzy or nauseated or headachy it meant we weren't replacing our fluids fast enough. Most of us listened to Bernie, except for Dean, who had his own system he used when he was breaking all those high school records. Bernie told him he wasn't in high school anymore and his system wasn't working anymore, either.

I took a big gulp of Bernie’s stuff, which tasted suspiciously like weak orange juice with salt and something else added. As I took to the mound the crowd stood and cheered. I waved my cap and they cheered louder. I decided I could really get to like that sort of thing.

The first batter, wearing number thirty six, walked up to the plate and scowled. "No bitch is gonna strike me out!"

I just grinned and spat on the ground. He glared. I struck him out in three pitches. I didn't even give him the benefit of a fastball. Hell, I could have thrown in the dugout and he would have swung on it.

Next was number fifteen, the walrus face. He had a poker face pasted over the walrus face. I threw a perfect low and inside fastball. He swung and missed. Strike one. The next was too far inside. He hopped back and shook his head. "Bad girl!" he called over. I just grinned. He fouled the next pitch into the crowd. One ball and two strikes. I threw a slider which he grounded right back to me. I threw to first for the out. Two away and one to go.

Twenty two came to the plate. He stuck his but towards me then got into his batting stance. He was a mountain and dwarfed the bat. I looked to Garry for a sign and he had his hands over his eyes. I don't think he meant that as a sign.

"Gimme your best l'il girlie," he leered at me. He was gorgeous.

Robbie called for a slow ball. It went low and he didn't swing. Ball one. He probably wouldn't swing unless it was the pitch he wanted, and then he would muscle it as hard as he could. Robbie called for the curve. He tried to check his swing and fouled it into the seats. One ball and one strike. He took the grand tour around the plate, knocked the dirt from his shoes and spat. Robbie lifted his mask and spat. I spat. Garry rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand. Robbie grinned and called for a fastball. I wound up and threw as hard as I could. The poor dolt was so accustomed to off speed stuff his swing was way behind. Twenty two's grin slipped a notch. I threw his timing off. For the coup de gras Robbie called for the screwball. Twenty two swung himself into a circle and landed on his butt.

"You've been screwed," said Robbie, as he offered a hand to help him up.

"Usually I enjoy it more than that." He stood up and shook his head. "She's good. And I've hit against the best."

I gave up two hits but no runs in the eighth, and two fly outs and a ground out in the ninth. Twenty two was up on deck but didn't come up to bat. Our team got charged up and exploded for six runs. I got the win.

Afterwards, I went with many others on the team to Ziggy's, the bar in the plaza beside the ballpark. We often went to Ziggy's. Certain bars held a certain attraction for athletes, and Ziggy's was THE place in Burlington for Jock, real and armchair.

I'm not sure what attracted us to the place. Perhaps it was the seven large screen televisions always turned to sporting events. Maybe it was the games room, with three pool tables, four foos-ball tables and a dozen dartboards. I know we enjoyed the large main room with ten different beers on tap and the world's best chicken wings, hot enough to melt the keys in your pocket. Or maybe it was the decor, best described as ersatz Fenway Park complete with one large green wall that made everyone feel so jockish. A small photo of this year’s Blue Jays hung on the green wall, and beside it a photo of this year’s Blue Birds, twice as large as our major league counterparts. I think that’s what I liked the best!

Robbie and his wife Suzanne, Pete, Larry and his wife Sandra, Dean, (still pale from his ordeal in the heat), Ty, Kyle, Chad, Blake and Jamie joined in the festivities. As we waited for our drinks Butch Aitman, manager of the Tabbies, approached us.

"Guy, and girl, good game. I had some reservations about playing against a girl, but none anymore." He returned to table.

After he left a waiter placed a drink in front of me. "From the gentlemen in the corner." He poked his thumb to the back of the place. I looked back and into the eyes of twenty two, who sat with two other tamed tabbies. He raised his mug to me, and I raised my glass to his. I took a sip. It was a screwdriver. I smiled at him. He smiled back. He had a smile that could melt Antarctica. It certainly melted me.

"You know what that drink means don't you?" asked Chad.

"He's trying to pick me up?"

"No. It means that they still respect you as a man even though you kicked their butt cracks up to their ears." A couple of the guys nodded in agreement.

"I know Garry thinks I'm a man now. When I got to my locker after the game he presented me with my very own athletic supporter/protector."

"A what?" Asked a red haired girl who stood behind Dean, rubbing his shoulders.

Occasionally he would lean back into her boobs then apologize like it was an accident.

"A jock strap you silly thing," snapped Suzanne, who appeared to strongly dislike groupies. She turned to me. "I guess you really are a man, now." She giggled because she was there when Garry gave it to me.

"So you think those men respect me as a man?"

"Oh yeah," said Larry. "The losers often buy the winners a drink, to prove that they're good sports. Guys don't always say things, but they let you know how they feel." Larry gave my shoulder a slug. "See? That means you're a good buddy."

All the guys thumped my shoulder, and I thumped them in return. "I guess I'll have to learn the guy language," I said.

"Don't worry! You'll pick it up fast," said Suzanne. "It's a simple language because of a simple truth: guys are simple." Robbie poked her in the ribs and she jumped.

"That must be guy language for `don't call us simple'," I laughed.

Larry was also laughing. "You pick up on new languages fast!"

Midnight drew near and we were about to leave. Dean disappeared almost an hour before with the red haired girl. We were waiting at the table for Larry, who was in the men's room, when I heard a commotion at the entrance. Number thirty six stormed in. "Bitch!" He shouted towards me. "I wanna talk to you bitch!" He was coming towards us, pushing tables and chairs out of his way. I don't think he respected me as a man. He didn't respect me as a woman either.

"Get over here, cunt!" He smashed a bottle and waved it at me.

"Don't worry," hissed Robbie under his breath. "We'll help you stand up to this bastard!"

Now in another place and at another time I would have said that I was a mature independent woman who could take care of herself; but with all six feet six inches of thirty six breathing beer and something else on me; I decided this was neither the time nor the place. I ducked behind Larry, who returned when he heard the noise. The screwdriver waiter dialed the phone, hopefully for the police.

"Look jerk, you got something to say you say it to all of us!" Larry tried to block his way.

Butch Aitman ran over. His face was white a base bag.

"Out of my way shit head!" Thirty six yelled a Larry. "This is between me and the bitch!"

"Then you'll have to get through us first," yelled Robbie as he and several others formed a human fence. Chad tried to pull me away. Blake and Ty tried to hold thirty six back, but he broke away and lunged for me. He grabbed my pitching arm and squeezed hard.

Butch, his face now flushed with rage, yanked at the jerk’s free arm. "What in the name of Christ do you think you're doing, Dirk?"

"She struck me out, coach. I ain't been struck out since high school. I wanna teach the bitch a lesson, I wanna teach her RESPECT!" He roared the last word one inch from my face and squeezed harder. I would have said something, but my throat felt as if had filled with shards of shattered glass.

Larry grabbed Thirty six's pinky finger and yanked it hard enough to make it crack. His grip loosened long enough to break free. I wanted to run as far away as possible because Twenty two and his buddies were coming over, and they had fire in their eyes. Before I could move Thirty six grabbed me and yanked me around, knocking me off balance.

Everything became a blur. Fifteen jumped on thirty six, knocking him to the floor while twenty two grabbed me. Larry was about to punch twenty two when I realized what they were doing.

"No, Larry! He's on our side! I think…” Twenty two put me down, but kept his arms around me. He looked at thirty six, now firmly pinned under Fifteen, Larry and Robbie. Twenty two looked at me and I stared deeply into his eyes. They were deep blue, the colour of the summer sky.

He let go of me and turned his gaze to the floor. He might have been blushing; it was difficult to tell in the dim bar room lights. "Yeah, I guess I am," he said to the floor. "Anyway, Dirk's a jerk. Nobody likes him, least of all me." With that speech he returned to number thirty-six, now and forever known in baseball history as Dirk the jerk. He sat in a pile of broken bottles and chairs. He sobbed and mumbled incoherently. The police came in and took him away.

One by one they interviewed us for our stories of what happened. They wanted me to go to the hospital, but I wanted my trainer to look at it first. Larry arranged to have Bernie and the doctor for the Blue Jays meet us there. They charged Dirk with half a dozen things, from public drunkenness to assault to uttering threats. As the hauled him away he had one last go at it.

"You dumb cunt, you dumb cunt!" he shouted over and over again. "I'm gonna get you! I'm gonna find you and get you you dumb cunt!" He tried to break free, but the police held him tight. He continued to scream as the cops dragged him away. “You can’t get away from me you dumb cunt! I’m gonna find you and you’re gonna pay…”

Butch sat at the table. "I I I don't know what to say. Is sorry a good start?"

I nodded. "I want to be left alone, okay? My head hurts and my arm hurts and I'm trying not to cry. I want to go home and sleep for a week."

As we left I looked around for Twenty two, but I couldn't find him anywhere. Hours later, as I fell asleep with ice packs wrapped around a large bruise, the last thing I saw in my mind was the eyes of Twenty two.

Garry held a press conference the next morning. It was in the conference room of a nearby hotel. I sat in the middle, to my right was Garry and Larry, and to the left sat Butch Aitman and fifteen, introduced as John Gregory. Garry read a prepared statement of the team’s official position: it was a vicious and unprovoked attack. Butch read his statement. It was unfortunate but Dirk was having trouble adjusting. He should have worn a smaller jock strap, I thought. Larry and the Tabby gave stories that were so identical they sounded rehearsed. I answered several questions and displayed my bruise, which was a lovely shade of bluish purplish brownish black. We answered questions for almost an hour. Thinking back, I can't remember anything they asked or what I answered. My mind was still in a haze.

Before the game I searched the other side of the field for Twenty two. He waved at me and I waved back. "How's the arm?" He called over.

"Just a big ugly bruise," I yelled back.

"That's good. As long as it's not serious. We're all really sorry, you know."

I yelled back that I knew, but sorry or not they were still beating us 15 5 when Garry told me to start warming up. "But my arm " I stammered.

"Don't want it to stiffen up,” he said. "Now get those buns in gear."

The bullpen mound was right by third base. Too close, because we had all been run over at least once by enthusiastic infielders. As I finished my warm ups I heard a voice calling me.

"Hey! Thirteen! Over here!"

I turned around and Twenty two had moved from first base to third. "I have a name," I said to him.

"I know! You're Annie! The lady pitcher!" He jumped towards, and missed, a dribbling grounder.

"So does Twenty two have a name?"

"Yup! Paul. Paul Morrison." A line drive bounced off the top of his glove allowing Robbie to score from second. "I hate playing third base."

"I take it your natural position is not the hot corner?" I tried not to giggle.

"Nope!" He grinned and scratched the back of his head. "I had to trade with John, the man with the moustache?" Paul was very close to me, with his back to the infield.

"Yeah, he kept hacking at my forkballs!"

"Oh, is that what it was supposed to be?"

"You know what, Paul?" I let my voice go deep and husky.

"What, Annie?" His grin grew bigger and his eyes sparkled like fireworks.

"You just missed the ball again!"

Shortstop threw to third, the only play he had, but Paul was so busy talking to me he didn't see it. He ran to the fence to retrieve the ball, and then threw it over the head of the outfielder covering third. The shortstop came over and yelled in Spanish at Paul. I recognized the word “shithead.” The people in the stands laughed, the guys on our bench laughed harder, but I managed to keep a straight face.

"Well, back to the game," he said, blushing and grinning.

Larry hit a hard one on the edge of the grass and the dirt and it bounced high. Paul made a major league jumping catch and proceeded to throw the ball into the stands beyond first base. The crowd was laughing hard, and so was Garry. That was too much for me, and I laughed so hard tears came to my eyes.

Paul turned his back on me while spitting into his glove. "Girls don't belong in baseball,” he muttered. "Too damn distracting!"

Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 chapter 3
chapter 4 chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7
Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11
Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Take me home!

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copyright 1993-2004 Linda Leis Soeder