|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!|
I won't go into detail about the last game of the season. We made a valiant effort, but lost in the last inning. After, in the locker room, we attempted to control our emotions, but failed there, too. By the time our lockers were cleaned out, we were all sniffling and leaking at the eyes. I took one last look at my locker. The only thing that remained was a wire hanger and the masking tape label with my name and number on it. I felt as empty as my locker. Although we would be together in Toronto in a week, it wouldn't be the same. The Skydome wasn't our home, this was; and today we were leaving our home and our family.
Garry wisely closed the clubhouse to spouses, parents, reporters and other outsiders. He told us some things were meant to be private, and this was one of them. We hugged and sniffed and promised to keep in touch through the winter.
While I worked on the last of my packing Robbie sat beside me. He gave me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. He held my hand in his. "I'll miss you this winter, Annie."
"I'll miss you, too. Thank you for being my friend."
He looked deep into my eyes. "I'm more than a friend, you know, and I always will be."
My eyes were filling with tears. "I know. You're very special to me."
We hugged once more. "Any time you need a friend, call me. I'll be there for you the same way you were there for me when I needed someone. No matter what happens in the future I will always be around for you." He picked up his bags and left.
I had my things by the door and ready to go when I was accosted by Kyle. His lower lip was quivering. "Oh, Annie,” he sobbed. "You've made this a year I'll never forget."
I handed him a Kleenex from the box Garry passed over. "I'll miss you too, Kyle, and all the things you've done to make the year so memorable. Like the unforgettable smell from your locker, the inimitable way you make armpit farts, all those pin-ups you hung over the urinals. I'll miss--"
"Oh, Annie!" He collapsed against me, crying. Several guys snickered. Being a more sensitive female, I didn't laugh until he was out of the locker room.
Dean and I left the clubhouse together, holding hands. He stopped at the curb in the parking lot and pointed to a green car and a man standing beside it. He looked like an older version of Dean. We walked up to him.
"Dad, I'd like you to meet my friend and team-mate, Annie Weston. She's the pitcher I told you about. Annie, this is my Dad, Dean Dahmer Senior."
I held out my hand and he shook it. "So you're the great lady pitcher? My son has spoken very highly of you."
I looked at Dean and he had that smile on his face, like while we were dancing. "We've become very good friends this year," I said, hoping I sounded proper and polite. "I hope we can be on the same team next year."
"I know Dean is planning on playing next year!" He smiled proudly at Dean.
"Annie is also signing on for another year on Friday, aren't you?"
I didn't realize my contract negotiations were public knowledge. "Yes I am," I said.
"That's good to hear," his father said. He glanced at his watch. "Dean? We have to go now."
Dean turned to me. "Are you going to be in Toronto on the weekend?"
"Of course! I wouldn't miss it for anything. So I'll see you then?"
"Yes, you will!" He gave my hand a squeeze and drove away with his father.
I spent the first three days of the week wandering around Burlington. I wanted to get to know the town that had been my home for the past four months.
Wednesday's wanderings took me to the beach. Summer had decided to put in a final appearance. The air was heavy and warm with no breeze. A pall of smog blanketed the entire Niagara region, from the Falls to the Mountain. Everybody was coughing and clearing their throats as they went about the day's business. I sat in the warm sand, Lake Ontario in front of me, the Skyway bridge towering behind me, a dragon roaring with its endless stream of traffic. From the Falls to St. Catherines, on to Hamilton, Burlington, Oakville and into Toronto, always going and never stopping. The dragon never slept. I let my mind drift in the last blast of summer warmth.
I was nervous about Toronto, in spite of Larry's admonition. It was one thing to play in a series of small parks in a small league, it was quite another to pass myself off as a real pitcher in the Skydome, the Cathedral of Baseball in Canada. I shouldn't have felt that way, but I did.
I fantasized about pitching in front of fifty thousand people. What would it feel like to be in the middle of it all, standing on the pitcher's mound? If you were pitching well, it would be the greatest place on earth. If you were throwing garbage and giving up hits and runs it would be the most horrible place on earth. I remembered how loud fifty thousand people could be.
Seagulls wheeled and dived overhead, screeching and gracking as they battled for french fries being tossed to them by a pair of young teens taking an unscheduled holiday. A large dirty grey gull perched on the rim of a garbage can, screaming for hand-outs.
My mind drifted back to another day when the air was full of the screeching of gulls. It was a warm morning in early May, and I was sixteen, days away from my birthday. I was playing catch in the park, and overhead a flock of gulls rode the stiff spring breeze. Their call made me think of beaches, as I tossed the ball back to my brother Kenny. Dad and Sid were in the house, talking to Mom. They were telling her that Kenny and I were going to try out for a spot on a summer league team, coached by a friend of Sid's. They had been talking for almost twenty minutes when I ran to the bench and sat down. I was so nervous my stomach hurt. Kenny sat beside me.
"She's gonna say yes, you know," he said. "Dad and Sid are gonna talk at her till she says yes."
"All I wanna do is play ball. Why is that so hard for her to accept?"
He gave the shrug that teenage boys are famous for. It said I don't know and I don't care in one simple gesture. "It's not baseball. That's just something she can use."
"I know," I said sourly. "She doesn't have any trouble with you trying out."
"Maybe she'll leave you alone because of that lady Jake is seeing. Mom hates her. Mom's already told her to go away." That lady was Ellen, a writer Jake met in university. She was at least ten years older than Jake. She had talked Jake into quitting school to follow his dream of becoming an artist. Jake confided to me that she didn't have to talk long to talk him out of school, he would have done it without Ellen. As Kenny said, Mom hated Ellen.
Dad and Sid came out the back door and motioned us over to the car. We pulled out of the driveway and into the spring sunshine. The buds on the trees were close to bursting. Tulips stood at attention in the gardens we passed, the flowers not yet opened. The spring air was filled with promises and anticipation.
I did very well in high school sports. I was good in softball, recording shut-outs in all the games I played, right up to the county championship. That earned us an invitation to a Tournament in Ohio, where we came in third out of ten. Mom was almost proud of that accomplishment. I won six races when I was on the school cross country ski team, and Mom almost congratulated me on that achievement. It was on boy's baseball that I excelled. Our team went all the way to the highest level, the South-Western Ontario Champions. I recorded my first no-hit game, but it didn't really count because our opposition was on the wrong end of three no-hit games that year. I received a ribbon from the television station for being the high school athlete of the week. Later in the year I received a trophy for being the school's outstanding athlete. Mom cancelled a business trip to Ottawa to see me get my trophy.
It was then that Sid suggested to my Dad that I try for Summer league. He thought I would find it more of a challenge. After some discussion with the league officials, they agreed to let me participate if I could pass the required try‑out for first year players.
The car pulled into the parking lot. Before we got out I pulled my hair up and tucked it under my cap. Dad looked puzzled. "What are you doing?"
"I'm makin myself look like a guy," I responded. "I wanna be picked cause I'm good, not cause I'm a girl. And if I'm not picked it's cause I sucked, not cause I'm a girl."
Dad was about to say something but Sid interrupted. "That might be a good idea, Mark. Let her do it." He turned to me. "If you feel more confident with your hair up then go for it."
Dad nodded in agreement. We got out of the car and entered the stadium. There were two tables set up. One had a sign that said "First year players register here" and the other had a sign that said "Previous players register here". I signed in as A.J. Weston, which is how my name appeared throughout my amateur career. Sid handed the people a paper with my high school record on it. A thirty-ish man in a red jacket came up to the table.
"Hey, Bob," called Sid.
"Hey, Sid," called the man I assumed to be Bob. "You bring those two super stars?"
"Yup!" Sid grinned. He pointed to Kenny and I.
Bob picked up our papers and glanced at them. "So he's a good pitcher?"
Sid's grin grew. "You could say that." I glared at both of them.
Kenny and I went off with separate groups. We demonstrated our skills in groups and individually. I had to pitch three simulated innings. Nobody reached base. They told me to sit on the bench and wait. They sent some boys home. They gave us and hour for lunch and we returned. I threw for another man and he told me to wait on the bench. The two men talked to the other boys and threw batting practice balls. They sent a few more boys to the bench and several more home. After three hours there were twenty-four guys on the bench. All others were gone.
Two men in red jackets stood in front of the bench. The one named Bob spoke. "Congratulations! You boys are the Guelph Stingrays! I'm your coach, Bob Raymond; and this is my assistant Mike Harrison. My other assistant, Lloyd McLeod, will be joining us at our first scheduled practice. I want you to return to the registration tables to order your uniforms and pick up your practice and game schedules. There are also a few papers for you to read. They're just the rules of the league. If you have any questions we can answer them at the first practice on Wednesday evening."
Kenny and I walked out together. My head was getting hot and sweaty so I pulled off my cap and shook out my hair. Dad and Sid ran up to us. "Did you make the team?" Dad asked.
Kenny shrugged. "They want us to pick up our schedules and order our uniforms so I guess that means yes."
We returned to the registration tables. Dad and Sid were beaming with pride. I forgot to pull up my hair up again. Mike looked at me, then Sid, then back to me, with my hair all long and hanging down.
"Sid! Sid Mossman! How the hell are you?" Mike slugged Sid on the arm. "So are these the two star players you told me about?"
Sid wore his best poker face. "Remember what I told you about my starting pitcher?"
Mike's chin dropped to the grass. He looked at me and held his head, I assume to keep it from falling off. "Shit! Is this revenge for the time I hit the home run off you in the championship?" He pulled his chin to its normal position. "Oh man, Bob get your ass over here!"
Bob swaggered over.
"What's wrong, Mike?"
"Do the rules say anything about the sex of our players?"
"Yeah, they can't have it on the field during a game."
"Sure, smart ass, but is there anything that specifically says we can't let someone of a different- um- gender play?"
"Oh, Geeze," he looked thoughtful and blank-eyed at the same time. "We have to let different genders play or we'll have one of those civil rights lawsuits, like the football people did." He scratched the back of his head. "So what gender is this guy?"
Sid shook his head, stifling a laugh. I pulled off my hat, shook my hair and stuck out what little bust line I had. "She's a girl!" exclaimed Sid. "And she's not here for revenge! She's here because she's damned good and deserves the chance to develop her talents. She whipped the tails off the guys last year and she's doing it again this year."
They both regarded me seriously. "Pull your hair up and under again," said Mike. I did and he nodded. "We can't let you have your hair all long and loose, it might be a-- you know a--" he nudged Bob in the ribs. "You know what I'm saying?"
"--a safety problem!" Bob blurted suddenly.
"Good recovery!" laughed Dad.
They both smiled. "You do know what we mean, don't you?" Mike asked me.
"Yeah. You couldn't tell I was a girl when I had it up. I guess I can make small sacrifices to play. I guess my sex can be one of them."
We drove home in a warm spring shower. The grass and tree buds were very green and the roads and tree trunks were very black. There was nothing in between. Sid dropped us off in front of our house. Kenny went off to brag to his friend.
"I guess I have to tell Mom." I said.
"I can tell her if you want," said Dad.
"No," I shook my head. "I'm going to tell her and I won't let her bully me."
"If that's what you want." He gave me a small hug. "I'll stay in the room with you."
"All I want is to live my own life and play baseball. Why is that so hard for her to accept?"
He didn't answer me; he just held the door open. "Let's get this over with."
Mom was in her usual spot at the kitchen table with the contents of her briefcase spread in front of her. I sat in the chair opposite to her and started talking before she could say a word. "I tried out for a pitching job on a summer league team and I got picked. They only invite the best to try out and only the best of the best get picked for the team. I got invited and I got picked. They sent away almost fifty guys. I'm very proud of myself and I'm gonna play in every game and I'm not letting you stop me."
She set her pen down, took off her glasses and polished the lenses. It gave her time to think without appearing that she was at a disadvantage. She only did this when she was nervous. "I can see that your father and his friend have conspired to turn my own daughter against me. I know there is nothing I can say to convince you to stop this. Just remember that one day you will have to face the real world, and throwing a ball will not get you very far."
Dad looked at me. "That's as much of an approval as you'll get from her, Annie."
She placed her glasses on the table and turned to Dad. "Jake is upstairs packing his belongings. He has informed me that he is moving in with that woman and she will support him while he chases his delusions of artistic grandeur. He, like his sister, thinks he knows all there is to know about life. I want you to go up and stop him, Mark. I try to talk and he yells at me."
Dad ran upstairs and I stood there for a moment. Mom placed her glasses on her face with shaking hands. "Your brothers are in the family room, waiting for you. As usual I was last to know your plans." She returned to her work, dismissing me. I went to tell my brothers the good news.
The problem that year was not Mom. She had enough to worry about with Jake moving out and eloping two weeks later with Ellen. Also, Dave got married to a girl Mom sort of didn't mind. Karen and Dave met at the spark plug display in Canadian Tire. They met and there were sparks, as they told us. If that isn't true romance then I don't know what is. No, the problem that year was from within myself. These guys were much better than the kids I faced in high school. One guy on the team came all the way from a college in the states. Many more people paid attention to these games, including a number of reporters and a few big league scouts. My first outings went all right, but as interest in me increased, my confidence began to waver.
Who am I kidding, I thought. These guys were the best in the province, some from out of the province. I started walking more batters. The sexist questions from some of the reporters rattled me. I lost my confidence and got the first loss of my life. Three games later I got pulled after only two innings trailing four nothing. I ran off the field and broke into tears. Mike, who played for the Yankees long ago, tried to pull me out of my slump. He sat beside me on the curb in the parking lot.
". . . forget about those losses, they're over and done with, and they're not the end of the world."
I stared intently at the dirt at my feet. "I've never lost before, ever."
He smiled. "Well I guess it was about time. Who's your favourite pitcher?""Tom Henke," I told him.
"Shit! He threw away lots of games! He threw away a World Series game, I think. But he came back the next year and got a truckload of saves. You'll come back okay, too." He pulled a pack of gum from his pocket and offered me a piece. I took a couple and he stuffed four pieces in his mouth.
"So what do I do?"
"Just tell yourself, `I was good enough to win in high school, I was good enough to make the team, then I'm good enough to win against Waterloo.' Hell, you've faced most of the Waterloo team in high school so you've got the edge over them."
I sighed heavily and loudly.
"Remember -it's a game, it should be fun. You don't look like you're having a lot of fun out there. Get out there and have fun. Don't be intimidated by the guys. Challenge them. Play cat and mouse." He squeezed my shoulder. "It's a game."
"Why?" I looked him straight in the eye. "Why are you doing this. What is it about me that makes it worth it to you to do all this for me? Why not just send me home and tell me to take up crocheting?"
He stared right back at me. "I see a lot of potential in you, A.J., as a pitcher and as a person. I want to help develop that potential. I can tell you haven't received a lot of encouragement, and I want to give you what you deserve. I think you really are worth it. You're good and I want to see you get better."
"I thought I was good already. How do I get better?"
He lit a cigarette. Bubble gum and a cigarette?! Yuck! "You were good, but you're in a whole new league now. You have to work harder. You have to learn new things. Do you want to work at it? Learn some new things? Get better?"
I thought carefully. A whole new league, work harder, his words echoed in my mind, like the sound of the seagulls, at the beach, at the park back home, and at the park where Mike and I sat in the bright June sunshine; where gulls picked at the garbage in the parking lot beyond the chain link fence. A whole new league.
"It came so easy before, but not anymore." He shook his head and patted my back.
"I guess it's either work harder or marry a lawyer or get a job in Mommy Investments Corp."
"Oh god," he recoiled in mock horror. "Then the choice should be easy." He gave a hearty laugh. I finally managed a smile. "That's what I wanted to see." He patted my back again.
"A whole new league," I said.
He nodded. "A whole new league."
A whole new league certainly described how they played in the Skydome. That place turned more than one nobody into a superstar in the place, and how more than one superstar became a nobody.
I overcame my slump back then. I learned how to throw a slider and a curve ball. I learned how to speed up my fastball. I learned how to spit. After two solid outings I felt my confidence return. It didn't come easy, but Mike Harrison spent hours with me, talking about both my baseball problems as well as my personal problems. He even drove me to Kitchener to see Ellen and Jake in their apartment above the comic-book store. He told me in all the years that he played baseball, he never stopped learning. He said it is a deceptively simple game, filled with infinite variations, and a person could never stop learning infinity. I worked hard, and with Mike behind me, I overcame many on and off field problems. He gave me something I didn't have before, he gave me confidence in myself.
The shadows grew long across the beach. A breeze picked up and the haze cleared. The air was perceptibly cooler. Thunder grumbled in the distance, from the clouds that gathered on the top of the mountain. It was time for me to return to my apartment and prepare for my visit to Toronto. I felt good, more confident, like I did after my talks with Mike. The most important preparation was finished.
|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!|