|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!|
Saturday dawned cloudy and cool. The crisp morning air felt like the brisk breezes that I associated with the first day of school. I realized that the long summer would soon be over. I couldn't go for my jog because the superintendent wanted to show the apartment to prospective tenants later in the day, and he wanted me to label all the things that belonged to me and all the things included in the lease. He said if I didn't, someone would be disappointed when the stereo and microwave oven were gone. I taped little tags that said "mine" on all my stuff and tags that said "Yours” on all the ugly things. I folded the sofa bed and tidied up so the apartment looked good. I knew I would miss the tiny apartment. It was my first home away from Mom and Dad, my first time on my own, the place I brought my first boyfriend. No, that sounded adolescent, it was where I brought my first lover.
I dropped off the spare keys with the superintendent. I started to walk to the ballpark for the second last time. Sadness gripped my heart as I entered the parking lot. I would miss good old Herman Hartman Park in the winter; it was more of a home than my apartment. I loved the place. The locker room, the dugout, the bullpen mound that was too close to third base, the sweet smell of the tobacco George was always gobbing; all had become special to me. It was where I realized my fondest dream. For the first time in my life I felt like I truly belonged and I wasn't a misfit. Paul was right; the first time was special, but not in the way he meant, in a way that I couldn't have imagined before.
As I entered the clubhouse I tried to put my rampant nostalgia on hold and get into a killer pitcher frame of mind. We were playing the Tabby Cats, so I knew who I was facing and how to pitch to them.
George, Robbie and I went through our game plan quickly, we seemed to be distracted. If I was feeling slightly nostalgic and Robbie confessed he felt extremely nostalgic, poor George was simply wallowing in it. He was telling tales of his minor league days, almost forty years ago, while I warmed up in the bullpen.
"I started coaching when I was thirty‑eight, twenty years ago. We didn't have computers and stuff like that. We didn't have people who kept track of left‑handed catcher’s batting averages against right‑handed pitchers on days with the letter "N" in them. We went by our guts, by our instincts."
"Was it better back then?" asked Robbie.
"Nah," George answered without hesitation. "We understand the needs of the players now. We teach you guys more and we teach it better."
I continued to throw, concentrating on control. I didn't want to be a wild woman for my last start of the season. One of the umpires worried me. If the quality of some players were strictly minor league, then this was also reflected in the quality of some umpires. This man wasn't good enough to umpire in the rotisserie league. He was inadequate in every way. He was the home plate umpire for today's game and he had a fluctuating strike zone. Most pitchers in the league hated him. I know I did.
The first half of the first inning was boring. We got three fly-outs in ten pitches. The problems began in our half. There seemed to be no strike zone, and Larry walked to first. Then, like the universe, the zone expanded in a bang, and Pete struck out in three that were so far outside the catcher had to hop to catch them. For Kyle, it shrunk back to nothing. One by one the guys sat on the bench, all shaking their head. Dean muttered swear words under his breath and Garry didn't stop him.
"First one comes five feet this way," he leaned over and made a zooming motion with his hand. "He says strike one. Next one come right down the pipe," He made the zooming motion with a whistle added for effect. "And the bastard calls it a ball. He hates me. I know he does."
I threw as best I could, considering the circumstances. I remember seeing a game on television where the pitcher would stare down the umpire every time the ump made a questionable call. After a walk the pitcher glared at the ump until he withered like an earthworm on the sidewalk in the summer sun. For the remainder of the game the umpire called almost everything a strike. I had yet to perfect my killer glare. The truth is, his inconsistency worked to my advantage. I got strikes on some borderline outside pitches. Nevertheless, the batters were becoming more and more frustrated with every call. He had a distinct grudge against Dean. When Dean went up for the third time Gary hung a towel over his head.
"I can't watch anymore," he moaned "Dean's gonna blow a gasket and I'm not gonna stop him."
I stood at the top stair of the dugout. Dean got into position. First pitch was a strike because Dean swung. Second was on the edge of the plate and called a ball. Dean shrugged, third pitch was eye-level and called a strike. Dean fouled the fourth pitch into the parking lot. Someone would be visiting the jiffy auto glass repair shop after the game. He struck out by swinging on a pitch in the dirt. Dean bounced his helmet on the grass. "Woulda called it a strike, anyway," he muttered.
Garry pulled me in the sixth inning. I walked the bases loaded and two scored on a base hit. I handed Garry the ball and he patted my backside. "Go get all dolled up, kid," he said as I walked away. I gave him the thumbs up sign. I flopped on the bench and grabbed a cup of ice water. Dean continued to mutter guttural syllables under his breath. When it was his turn to bat again I stood at the top stair of the dugout to cheer him on.
"Come on, Deannie! Hit it over the fence! Hit it into the gap! Just hit the fucker!"
He looked at me like I had sprouted an extra head. He gripped the bat firmly, peered back at the umpire, and curled his lip into a snarl. The first pitch caught the outside corner and was miraculously called a strike. Dean turned to the umpire. "Strike?"
"Yes," confirmed the ump. "The ball caught the corner."
Dean nodded and got into position. Once again he snarled at the pitcher. Next pitch was in the same location and was again called a strike. Dean looked at the umpire in disbelief. "That was a strike, too?"
"Yes, it caught the same corner."
Dean dropped his bat and planted a kiss on the umpire's cheek. He fell to his knees and bowed to the ground. "Oh, thank you, oh mighty umpire. Now we know what a strike is in your imperfect ocular opinion." Dean rose to his feet and got into position. The umpire had frozen in place, his mouth hanging in the dirt.
"Did you just kiss me?" spluttered the umpire.
"Yes. I was so grateful for a consistent call that my emotions got carried away."
"You! You!" The ump's eyes were bulging out of his head. "You're gonna get carried, all right! YOU'RE OUTTA THE GAME!" He pointed to the dugout.
Dean walked away, bowing to the raucous ovation from the crowd. I followed him into the clubhouse and we both collapsed on the bench, giggling hysterically. I blew my nose and calmed my giggles. "Where are you going?"
"Back to California. Maybe back to college. I don't know."
"What's your major?"
"Surfing and cruising for babes!"
"That is real in California. Actually, I was studying geology. I'm fascinated by earthquakes and rocks."
"Oh," I said. "You lived in the right state for earthquakes." I yanked off my shirt and threw it at his head. "I'm hitting the showers."
"May I join you?"
"In your dreams." I stood behind the door leading to the showers, took off my t-shirt and threw that at him, also. He rubbed it against his face.
"Oh, Annie," he sighed. "It's still all warm and moist." While his face was buried in my shirt I hit him squarely in the knees with my pants.
"Happy fantasies," I called to him. I ducked into my shower and soaped away a game's worth of dirt and sweat. I wrapped myself in my robe and Dean showered as I dressed. I wore my ruffled shirt and flowered skirt and vest. Dean dressed in an oxford shirt, baggy pleated pants and a tie with a cartoon character on it. We left our clothes on the bench and arranged them to appear that we had been fooling around. We hoped this would drive Garry to his early grave.
The rest of the team came in as I was drying my hair. Garry looked at the pile of clothes, picked up Dean's jock and my bra, which we had knotted together, and began laughing. "Oh, you guys are real comedians. Ha-ha. So funny I forgot to laugh. I don't believe it for a second." He picked up the bundle of clothes and tossed them into the towel bin.
Dean and I stood in front of Garry while he attempted to appear stern. He brought out his best pointing finger and shook it at us. "You guys are going to send me to an early grave. I'm glad I'm not your parents. You guys are incorrigible."
"Oh good!" Dean crowed. "That means we can't be turned into cardboard!"
Garry shook his head and retreated to the safety and sanity of his office. The rest of the team was in the locker room, preparing themselves for the big party. When everyone was decent Garry opened the clubhouse doors to our friends and families. I was applying a final coat of mascara as my family came in.
Jake was dressed like an artist in a cartoon. He wore a black turtleneck, olive green pants that were splattered with paint, high black motorcycle boots, and, I swear I'm not making this up, a black beret. Ellen was in head-to-toe black; a long flared black dress, black tights, black shoes and glittery black jewellery. Kenny was dressed similarly to Dean, only he favoured brown to Dean's blue. Mark was perfectly turned out in banker's grey pants, white shirt, and grey tie. Ellen slithered past Kyle and his eyes almost popped out.
We greeted each other. I hadn't seen Kenny or Mark since April. I introduced them to a few of my team mates. Ellen made her way over to Dean.
"Dean," she purred. "Annie's told me so much about you."
Dean grinned. "Yeah? Any of it true?"
She draped her arms over his shoulders. "I think you're much cuter than Annie does."
Oh great, I thought. Now Dean's going to think that I find him cute. I did, and still do, but I didn't want him to know at that time.
His grin grew larger. "Yeah, Annie told me all about you, too." He undraped her arms from his neck and walked out of the clubhouse. I had a new respect for Dean.
Colin and Kyle looked at Kenny and I with quizzical eyes. Colin spoke first.
"You two are twins, right."
Kenny got a devilish look on his face. We were going to go into our well‑rehersed mind reading routine. "Yes, we are," said Kenny.
"Are you guys identical twins?" asked Kyle, betraying his lack of knowledge in the basics of reproductive biology.
"Oh, yeah," I answered. "We're like those spooky twins in horror movies."
"Really?" Kyle's mouth opened and closed like a beached guppy.
"Yeah, watch this!" Kenny paced his hand on my forehead. "Think of something, Annie!" I closed my eyes. "Your thinking about -about -about --you're thinking that these two are jerks!"
I feigned surprise. "You're right! Now you think of something!" I placed my hand on his head. "You're thinking about sex!"
"Wow! You're right too!"
Kyle and Colin forced their mouths shut. "Wow‑ I've always wanted to be a twin," said Kyle in absolute awe.
"Oh great, that's all the world needs. Two Kyles." Kenny laughed at my joke and we got away from the gruesome twosome.Garry shook his finger at us as we left and said: "Corrupting the innocent again." We had the biggest room in the restaurant to ourselves. Everything was decorated in the Blue Jays colours. Blue and white streamers trailed from the mirrored ball in the centre of the room. The walls were festooned with more streamers and balloons printed with the logos of both the Jays and the Blue Birds. Our mascot and the Mascot for the Jays stood at the disc jockey's table and applauded as we entered. The big Blue Jay ran up to me and hugged me.
We sat at large round tables that had room for twelve. Blue, white and silver balloons hovered in the centre of each table, anchored in place with yards of ribbons tied to small wooden bats, like the kind they sold as souvenirs at the Skydome. My family sat with Larry and Sandra, Jamie and Maria and their two boys. The food was excellent, but I wouldn't expect less from a party arranged by Suzy. Mark started drinking before the food arrived, and didn't stop all evening. Judging by the way Ellen and Jake rolled their eyes, I gathered my perfect brother had a problem.
After the waiters and waitresses cleared away the dinner, it was time for some speeches.
The owner and General Manager was first. His name was Jefferson Leeman, a locally prominent businessman, and part owner of the Blue Jays. He took care of the financial and marketing end of the team. The only contact I ever had with him was his signature at the bottom of my paycheques.
He congratulated us on an excellent year and told us we deserved credit for the success of the team. Behind me I overheard Suzy whisper, "In other words, the books finished in the black."
While he spoke reporters set up cameras and microphones by the door. When the owner finished the financial statement, he passed the microphone to Garry. We gave him a
standing ovation as started speaking. He held up his hands to quiet us down.
"Well kiddies, we come to the end of another year. This has been the most diverse bunch of guys I've coached. From first year rookies like Dean and Kyle, to grizzled veterans like Jamie and Larry. And let's not forget how we made history with the first woman to play in the minors. Stand up, Annie. Let the guys see what you look like in girl's clothes."
I stood to a few wolf whistles, did a mock curtsey, and sat down.
Garry stroked his chin thoughtfully. "You know, when they sent me a girl I called the Toronto people and said `What are you people doing to me?' They told me to trust them. I did and everything worked out fine." He looked right at the television cameras as he talked about me. My impression was that the speech was for their benefit. I could imagine what some were going to say about that "girl's clothes" line.
"You guys are the greatest, and I'm going to miss you this winter. I'll miss the togetherness and the good times we had this year." He was getting misty‑eyed. "You know, they talk about team spirit and the bond that guys, and girl, develop when you work and play and ‑I don't know ‑just stay together all the time," He wiped at his eyes. "They talk about it but you don't always get that closeness. Words come easy, but the feelings ‑‑the emotions ‑‑don't. I will remember this year forever." He walked away from the microphone blowing his nose and wiping his eyes. I had never seen Garry turn mushy like that. Hell, I had never seen ANY man turn mushy like that before.
He came up to each one of us and gave us a guy-type hug; the one that starts as a hand shake then turns into a hug. I think we all felt misty eyed.
When Garry took my hand and hugged me, I got a big kiss on the cheek. I gave him a kiss, also. "Thanks Garry," I whispered in his ear, so it stayed private. "You've been like a father to me this summer." That started his water works again. He went back to his table and sat down for a good cry.
George stepped up to the mike next. "Geeze, how can I top a gut wrenching speech like that?" We laughed a bit. "I'm just gonna put in my two cents about you bein a great group. I really enjoyed workin with you kids. Thank you." He walked back to his table.
Robbie grabbed the mike next. He held up his catching hand. "See? I told you it was purple. You know I have to wrap it in ice when I get home? And I'm gonna miss every day that I don't have a purple hand, and I look forward to the day I have to wrap it in ice again!" We gave him a standing ovation for his speech.
Everyone got a chance to say something. I said my bit half way through. "I would like to thank everybody for the privilege of playing this year. I met so many new and interesting people. Like Cindy in Kingston, Amber in Albany, Kiki from that town in Ohio, and who could forget Melissa from the Flamingo Palace in Spruce Valley?" Dean's face was bright red, while Larry moaned loudly.
"I know I would," he called out.
"I've had a chance to be part of a world that very few people know about, and fewer get to be a part of. This has been the best year of my life, and I have you guys, my team‑mates to thank. Thank you for letting me be one of the guys." I felt misty eyed myself. I returned to my table and tried to get my emotions under control. When I sat down both Larry and Pete squeezed my hand.
After we had our chance to speak, Suzy took the mike. "Look at you guys!" She made funny whimpering noises and wiped her eyes. Her voice went deep and masculine. "We're big strong men. We don't have emotions. They get in the way of the game." She shook her head and her voice returned to normal. You guys are all emotion! So many highs so many lows, so little in-between. If you didn't feel so much you wouldn't be competitive, you wouldn't be able to play the game." She shook her head again. "You guys, and girl. You're quite the group." She cleared her throat. "Now that the impromptu speeches are over we can get to the serious partying." She gave the mike to the impatient disc jockey and he started the music.
I danced with almost everyone, including the mascot. George introduced me to his wife, Clarissa. She travelled all the way from Missouri. I met Garry's three girls and his wife, who was large with another child. I met a lot of people who travelled a lot of miles to be at the party. Yet, because they were the family of my team‑mates, they felt like my family, in a way that I didn't understand. It was a transition night for us, from our baseball family to our other family.
Even Ellen seemed unusually restrained. She sat at the table and observed everything quietly. She had a pencil in hand and scribbled in the notebook she carried everywhere. Ellen the Vamp was on vacation. Ellen the writer had taken her place.
I sat with her, catching my breath after dancing to a fast number with Pete, when Dean asked me to dance to the next slow song. He took my hand and led me to the dance floor. The music was slow and sensuous, the words hypnotic and romantic. One arm went around my waist and the other hand held my hand against his chest. I felt his heart beating and we danced while staring into each other's eyes. The arm around my waist pulled me closer, closer, until I felt his body swaying against mine. He didn't say anything; he smiled and gazed into my eyes. The dance went on forever, but ended far too soon. Before he walked away he took my face in his hands and kissed me long and lingering on the cheek. When Dean grew up he would be devastatingly sexy; he was already half-way there.
I retreated to the ladies room to cool off. When my breathing returned to normal and my hands no longer shook I decided to return to the party. I didn't make it. Suzy got to me first. She led me back to the ladies room, quickly scanned the stalls for shoes and legs, and when she was satisfied we were alone she started talking.
"Robbie told me."
"Oh," I said. I knew what she meant and I felt sick to my stomach. I swallowed a strange lump in my throat. It might have been fear. "T-t-t-told you what?"
"What happened on that long road trip, at the beginning of August." Her expression was unfathomable.
My eyes found the floor fascinating. They wouldn't look up. "You must really hate me!" My hands flew up to my face and I sobbed. "I'm so sorry, Suzy."
She stood beside me and put her arm around me. "No, I don't hate you. I understand how it happened. I'm almost glad he was with a friend instead of one of those brainless teeny-bopper-groupies." She shuddered involuntarily.
"I was so sad and lonely. Robbie offered me a shoulder to lean on."
"That's not all he offered," she said dryly.
"You must be mad at me."
"No," she sighed. "I understand the hardships you guys go through. I know how it drains Robbie. It would have been worse for you because it's your first time away from home and you've lived a sheltered life and you're a girl. If I should be mad at anyone it should be Robbie." She sighed again and shook her head. "But I can't because I understand how it happened. You guys hold in your emotions so much that they come out at inappropriate times."
"You're the most understanding person on earth," I spluttered out, realizing after I said it that I sounded like an idiot.
She smiled warmly. "Thanks. Now dry up those tears and let's get back to the party."
I dried my eyes and fixed my make-up. "It was meaningless, you know."
"I know. That's what Robbie said, too."
"It will never happen again. I promise."
"Good. Next time I won’t be as understanding."That night I vowed never to flirt, date kiss or have sex with any of my team mates ever again. My life would be much simpler that way.
|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!|