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!

One of the Guys: A Novel

Chapter 13

I woke around six thirty. Paul slept soundly, his chest rising and falling with every breath. Some time during the night, Kyle returned. He lay splayed out on his bed, his face in a puddle of drool. I dressed quickly and left the room as quietly as I could. My original plan was a jog around the Dome, returning before Paul awoke; but the breeze carried the cold, sweet smell of the lake. I followed it to the shore, where silver fog threaded its way into the city. A grey mist blurred the line between the water and the sky. Only a month ago I sat on the opposite shore, gazing on the skyline. St. Catherines was invisible from Toronto, yet Toronto was so clear from St. Catherines. There was a metaphor in there somewhere.

I walked to the beach and sat at a lonesome picnic table. Joggers scrambled along the sand and sidewalks. A man stared and almost came up to me, but changed his mind. I must have been a frightening sight, in my ratty grey jogging clothes, hair a tangled mess, and an expression I assumed was as grey as the lake mist. I didn't return the gaze of anyone, my eyes were locked on the far shore, where I knew the bridge to be, the bridge over St. Catherines.

When I was sixteen we were stuck in a traffic jam on the highest point of the bridge. Dad was driving Kenny and I, Sid, Bob, and three teammates to Niagara Falls for the Provincial Championship. Ahead was Mike's van and we could clearly see him hammering his steering wheel in frustration.

"Yeah, that's going to help," commented Sid. "I guess we should get comfortable." He twisted the knob on his seat, making it recline.

Dad nodded and pointed. "Look guys, you can see the Toronto from here. I can make out the C.N. Tower."

Kenny nodded and shrugged. "Yeah, so?" Kenny got intense before big games. It was easy to mistake his intensity for rudeness.

"Remember the game I took you guys to see?" Asked Sid.

"Oh yeah." Kenny lightened up. "Remember how Gary and Dave dared Mark to eat as much junk food as they did? And remember how Mark barfed on the ride home?"

Sid grimaced. "Thanks for reminding me. Annie told us she was gonna be a pitcher there someday."

"I remember," answered Dad. "Still planning to play there?"

"I won't play anywhere if I blow tomorrow's game." I answered. Kenny's intensity was contagious.

Bob laughed loudly. "Hah! That'd turn those money sucking greedy bastards on their asses." He wiped his eyes. "I can see you there Annie! On the mound, giving it to them in the balls!"

"I just wanna get through tomorrow's game."

"You'll do fine," consoled Sid. "You've had the Fall's number all year."

"Except once," I reminded him.

"Yeah, but next time you shot `em down like ducks on a pond." Bob held up his finger like a six shooter, and blew the smoke from the barrel.

"Shot like fish in a barrel," added one of the kids in the back.

"Cool, I like mixed metaphors." We talked about other things as the traffic inched along.

The hotel had a tour of the city arranged for us when we arrived. We went to the caves under the Falls, rode on the aero car over the whirlpool, and went on the Maid of the Mist boat. We visited some of the tacky tourist traps, and finished off with supper at a restaurant across from the American Falls. I had never been to Niagara Falls before, other than the ball park. I couldn't stop staring at the water. It churned and roared endlessly. The water foamed blue and turquoise and green, billowing whiter than clouds, whiter than fresh snow. I could feel the power of the water. When I breathed I felt awake, alive, and aware. I felt the rush of power, the rush of the water; I could feel the roar of the falls and the torrents of the rapids and the fury of the whirlpool running through my body. It was intoxicating. I felt as powerful as the river itself.

Later at night, in the hotel room I shared with Dad and Kenny, I could hear the roar of the falls, endless thunder. The roar spoke to me that night. It whispered to me stories of power, stories of things that can't be stopped, and things like the eternal river. I fell asleep to the sound, and woke felling better and stronger than I had ever felt before.

In the stadium I could hear the roar of the water echoed in the roar of the crowd, almost eight hundred people, more than I had ever played in front of before. My warm up went well, I was throwing strongly. I felt like the falls, like I was power and I couldn't be stopped.

The first batter came up to the plate. He was fifteen, and more pimples than face. I threw the lazy curve ball that Sid told me was his specialty. His swing was a mile in front of the ball. "Hey you!" He yelled over.

"Yeah what?" I spat on the dirt in front of the rubber.

"You throw like a girl." He laughed at his joke, and his buddies on the bench laughed and nudged each other. Throwing like a girl is the ultimate insult in baseball.

"That's cause I am a girl." His expression froze, and he didn't swing at my next pitch.

"You really are a girl? You mean the stories are true?"

"Yup." This time he had the sense to swing weakly, and the ball bounced to the first baseman. I ran to cover the base. He was right beside me.

"Holy shit!" He said, holding his face in his hands. He squeezed almost hard enough to pop his zits. He repeated this several times on his way back to the bench. The guys had a laugh at his expense, until he told them that I really was a girl, and all the rumours were true.

Each one of them made a comment about my sex, or lack thereof, each thinking their line was the most shocking thing my poor little girl's ears had ever heard. When one of the boys made a particularly obscene comment, Mike went up to the umpire to protest.

The umpire just glared. His only comment was: "Well whattaya expect when you put a bitch in a man's game? If she can't take it then she should go home and knit." The other bench guffawed and shouted things.

Mike walked up and asked if I was fine. I told him I was fine. I wasn't the one swearing and making myself look like a bad sport. I was going to show them. I thought about the waterfalls, about the endless roar, and I was strong again. I could hear the roar of the falls in my ears. Later I realized I was listening to the sound of my own blood rushing in my veins, but at that moment, I used the sound to strengthen me. I felt like the mound was six feet high, and the batters in front of me were nothing more than insignificant rats. They weren't going to stop me from winning. I pretended I was in the tenth inning of the final game of the World Series, and I was pitching like Jack Morris. Or like Roger Clemons. Or Like Nolan Ryan. Nobody ever called any of them a pussy, at least not if they wanted to live. Nobody was going to screw me around. When I sat on the bench, I couldn't stay still. I had never felt so charged up for a game before in my short life.

By the ninth inning we were winning two to one. The Falls came up for their last three at bats. I walked the second batter, which brought Mike out to the mound.

"Are you sure you can handle this, kid?"

"I'm going to play in the Skydome some day."

"Yes, but I mean now."

"I know what you mean Mike, and if I'm going to play in the Dome I gotta handle the pressure. They won't be nice to me just because I'm a girl. They'll expect me to win."

He nodded. "Just remember, they're at the bottom of the order. Keep changing the speeds, and you should be fine." He patted my butt, which brought a bunch of wolf calls and whistles from the other bench.

The Falls fell, and I got the biggest win of my life to that point. All my teammates ran on the field, and I got carried around on their shoulders. I felt like I was being carried on the top of the world.

After the game many people, reporters and fans came up to shake my hand and talk to me. Dad and Sid stood close on either side while I greeted everyone and for the first time in my life, signed a few autographs. I was in a daze, not the kind where you can't remember anything after, but the kind where the senses become sharper, everything becomes magnified, the smell of popcorn, the sound of voices, and the bright and hot August sun on my head.

A large man dressed in a plaid suit came up to me, and when Bob and Mike saw him they both turned white and sucked in their breath. He shook my hand warmly, and gave me a hug. Dad moved forward, but Mike held him back.

"Great game,” he said.

"Thanks," I said. I was feeling dizzy and giddy, like I had too much to drink, like at the parties at Jake and Ellen's.

"You know, from the stands, I couldn't tell you were a girl. All I could see was a kid playing his heart out."

"Thanks," I said numbly. The crowds were beginning to feel claustrophobic; they were all trying to get close to me. My arm was numb and in need of an icing down, and my dizziness was turning to nausea.

"I've seen grown men fall apart in smaller situations," he continued pumping my hand. "I'll be at a game next year, you can count on that!"

He turned to say hello to Mike. I leaned my head on Dad's shoulder. Everything was spinning out of control. "Are you alright, honey?" Dad spoke softly in my ear.

"I'm either going to faint or throw up." I was fighting losing battle to stay standing, and a sudden vicious sob gripped my stomach.

Mike cleared everyone away. "Stand back, she needs some air." The crowd parted in front of Mike and Sid. Dad took me to the van. I sat down and Mike pushed my head so it was between my knees. He sat beside me with his hand on my back. I was hyperventilating, and he told me to blow out hard a few times, and it would pass. I did as he said, and I began to feel better.

"What happened?" Dad was rather pale himself.

"Just a nervous reaction." Mike laughed. "Nothing gets you higher than a good shot of your own adrenaline! And nothing is worse than coming down from an adrenaline high! You'll be fine!"

"Think they'll say something bad about me, like leave to a girl to almost faint like that?"

"No. When I was on the Yankees it used to happen to the guys after big games all the time. It's just adrenaline. Bob and I could see you were flying out there."

We lost the next game, and the championship. Apparently they were so insulted at being beaten by a girl they pulled out all their offensive weapons to win the next one. Bunting, hit and runs, steals; they scraped out a rough five to two victory that left everyone battered and bruised. It didn't matter. To this day, nobody cares that the Falls won the championship; all they remember is my game.

The next year we won the championship, against Niagara Falls again. I was voted Series MVP, and I won the League ERA trophy. I made the national news, then the international news in the odd news reports, right after the real sports, just before the end of the news. When I went out, I was occasionally recognized on the street. Dad kept every article about me in a scrapbook, and he taped every news segment on television about me. My trophies were placed in a special lighted wooden display case in the hall, right by the door to the living room, where they couldn't be missed. And they wouldn't be in Mom's precious living room.

In the winters I continued cross country skiing. I entered into the Olympic qualifying circuit, and missed a spot by a tenth of a second. I aimed my sights four years down the road, and raced in as many meets as I could. I never attracted as much attention in skiing as I did in baseball. I never took skiing as seriously because of that.

I got a job in a sporting goods store when I graduated from high school. The manager recognized me from the news, and he figured that was more than enough of a qualification. I enjoyed the work, and I came out of my shell because I spent so much time working with people. Ellen encouraged me to be myself, to not hide who and what I was. I spent a lot of time with her and Jake. They lived in a tiny apartment downtown Kitchener on Queen Street above a comic book store named "Happy Harry's House of Heroes." It was a bit of a hang out for a lot of different people. A lot of them were like Jake, Ellen and I, people who weren't quite the same as everyone else. The counter culture in Kitchener often gathered at Happy Harry's.

Ellen and Jake were both becoming successful. They seemed to inspire each other. Jake couldn't paint enough of his dreamy landscapes, where sheep become clouds and clouds become wings of angels and doves and fantasy creatures, and Ellen's books became every woman's dreams of true romance. The ten plus years age difference didn't bother them. Ellen's newest book was expected to be another best seller. Her publisher wanted to send her on a book tour. She talked me into joining her in an image make-over through a local modeling agency. I had just turned eighteen, and had that chip on my shoulder that all teenagers had.

"You're crazy." I said to Ellen flatly.

"Come on, it will be fun." Mid may sunshine streamed through the window, and a cat chased the dust motes drifting in the light. "I'm going on a book tour, and I want to project a professional image, whatever that means, and you've got a job in a store, which means you're dealing with a lot of people, and you're also in the public eye with your baseball."

"You know Mommy dearest went to church the Sunday after I told her I got a job in a store? All her prayers have been answered. She didn't even bat an eyelash when I said I was playing for the Stingrays again. All she said was, `At least you're facing the real world, dear.'" I pounded my fist on the table, making the cat skitter into the hall. "What a miserable bitch!"

"Can't argue with that, Annie." She poured herself another coffee from the pot. Ellen always had a pot of coffee on the cupboard. She drank about eight cups a day. She said it kept her skinny. I don't know if that's true, but it sure kept her hyper. "You know who she reminds me of?"

"Who?" I answered. Ellen's stories were always fun, even if they were seventy percent exaggeration.

"When I started senior public school, grade seven, the big thing was the Canada-Russia hockey series. It was so big they stuffed the entire student population into the gym to see the final game. There were some girls, all good straight A's, like Meagan Keller, your nemesis, you know the type. These girls thought hockey was a waste of good school time, and to stop classes to see a game was ridiculous and frivolous. The teacher told these girls that they could go and do homework in the library.

"There was one girl who didn't know what to do. These grade A's were sort of her friends but she also wanted to see the game. The school jock, who was a little sweet on this girl, told her to join the rest of the school in the gym.

"The grade A's said it was only a game and it wasn't important.

"The jock said it was the most important game in the history of hockey and if she missed it she would miss the most important game in the history of all sports.

"The teacher wanted to see the hockey game. He said to the girl, who was quite confused, `What do YOU want to do?'

"She held out her arms in an I-surrender gesture and said `I want to see the hockey game!' So we went to see the game. The grade A girls stuck their collective noses in the air and the school jock smirked in victory as they walked past. We then saw the greatest hockey game ever, and she's been a hockey fan ever since."

I was sure there was a point to the story. What it might have been; I hadn't the foggiest idea.

"That was me, Annie. That was the first time I was ever asked what I wanted. Not what my parents wanted, not what my friends wanted, but what I wanted. I discovered it was okay to express what I wanted. It was, in my mind, the first adult decision I made. I followed my heart. I know if I had gone to the library I would have regretted it all my life."

"So it was a hockey game and more?"

"Yes! Whenever I'm faced with a decision I always think; which one is hiding in the library and which one is screaming my lungs out in the gym."

"And this has an application to my mother?" I could see why all her books were at least a thousand pages.

"I sometimes wonder if those girls ever regretted going to the library. Your mother's decisions have always led her to the library. Your decisions have always led to the gym."

Leave it to a writer to use a thousand words to state the obvious.

She continued. "Many people take the safe route and do what's expected of them. That's why you and Jake and I get along so well. We do what we want. We aren't afraid to follow our hearts and stay true to our dreams." She grabbed my hand and squeezed it. "Always remember that, Annie."

I wasn't sure I understood what she meant. I thought she meant I was to do what I thought was right. Maybe she knew something and wasn't telling and wanted me to glean it from her little parable. "Dad thinks Mom and I are the same, but we're not. We're two different people."

She smiled like a sphinx. She could have been the cat sitting contentedly on the floor. "Sure. Now give this self improvement thing a try. You've proved to the world that you're a real ball player; now it's time to show that you're a woman, not a girl. Just come for r=the introductory session, if you aren't thrilled with what they can do for you, then you don't have to come ever again."

I agreed, and of course I was thrilled. They were waiting for me, and I think it someone planned a dual image make-over right from the beginning. I was set up, but it didn't matter. They showed me how I looked with make-up on, and they showed me how to French braid my hair and Ellen even brought one of her brightly coloured outfits for me to try. The difference was amazing. I felt like a million dollars. I agreed to continue and Ellen and I both came out the other end transformed, Ellen a bit less trashy and me a lot more feminine. That's where I developed my taste for unusual clothes. The stylist in charge said I was a distinctive woman, and I should dress distinctive. I also took retailing courses at the community college. It was like my eyes were opened, I was okay the way I was, I didn't have to feel guilty because I wasn't a clone of my mother. For the first time in my life, I had the same self confidence off the field that I had on the field. And I didn't have to spit.

When I was nineteen I moved up to the senior Men's division, playing on the Kitchener team, which Sid coached. I was the youngest on the team; most of the men were well into their twenties and early thirties. Some were like Sid, former pros, and there were a few on summer break from colleges in the States. The play was at the level of college or single A. One man had his tuition paid by the college, just so he could play baseball on the school team. He said it was known as an "Athletic Scholarship." After games, they would go out for beers, while Dad would drive me home. They didn't mind my presence, because we won the Senior Championship that year, and I won the award for best pitcher in the league. I went to the awards banquet wearing a low necked dress and a bra that pushed my boobs up so high I could almost rest my chin on them. My picture made every newspaper in the country, which brought center fold offers from two men's magazines. I asked Dad to turn both of them down.

The year I turned twenty was the best of my life, up to that point. I had been promoted to assistant manager in February, and in March I finished fifth in an international ski race. I competed against women who were in the Olympics, and I beat one of them. In April the owner of The Milton Rattlesnakes came to the house to invite me-no! To beg me to play for his team in the summer. He offered to pay for my gas to drive there, all my meals, any accommodation I might need on the road and an allowance for "Extra expenses" as he worded it. That meant I was joining a small group being paid to play amateur baseball. When I told Mike, who was now coaching Kitchener, he offered to drive me to every game; spoon feed me my meals and double my allowance. I decided to accept the Milton offer when they agreed to hire Mike as a coach. I didn't have to participate in any trials or registration days, I just showed up at the first practice.

At every Milton home game, a strange man sat in the front row seat behind home plate. I mentioned him to Freddie the manager, and he said he’d introduce us after the game. True to his word, the man was waiting in the parking lot, by Mike's car. The man was large, ample, in less sensitive terms, he was fat.

"Mr. Farian," Mike said with uncharacteristic formality. "I would like to introduce you to A.J. Weston."

I shook his hand, and noticed he had fish hooks in his hat. He had the slogan, "It's not the size of your worm it's how you dangle your bait!" Silk screened on a patch on the hat. "Pleased to meet you," I said.

"A.J. Hmmmm." He looked me up and down. "You're the girl, aren't you?"

I held out my shirt and looked down. "Last time I checked. . ."

A grin tugged at the corner of his mouth. "So what does A.J. stand for?"

"Just about anything, hunk!" I batted my eyelashes.

He laughed until tears were in his eyes. "I like you! When's your next start?"

"We can start her on Thursday in Newmarket, if you're going to be there." Mike interjected. The oddly dressed man made Mike tense and nervous.

He nodded; fishing lures bobbing and blinking in the bright sunshine. "I can be there. Mind if I bring a friend or two?"

"Just as long as they're as cute as you," I responded.

"Bring as many friends as you want. We'll have tickets for all your friends." Freddie was turning as hyper as Mike.

"Good! So what's your name, A.J.?" He tried again.

"My name is Annie."

"How long have you been pitching?"

"Since I was a kid." I launched into the entire story, you've heard it before. "This has been my best year since high school."

"Does anybody have trouble with you being a female?"

"Well, to be honest, that's one of the reasons I wear my hair tied back and use my initials on the team things. It doesn't draw attention to me, so I'm judged on my abilities, not my sex. That way I don't give anybody a reason to object because of my sex. It's less trouble if I have no sex, in a manner of speaking."

He nodded again. "Mike?"

"Like she said: She doesn't have no sex." Mike blushed when he realized what he said.

He nodded again. "Okay! I'll see you play on Thursday! Bring your best stuff!"

"Okay!" At that point I assumed Mr. Farian was a reporter. I figured he was going to do a story like the one that appeared in a magazine the previous year.

I pitched one of the best games of the year that Thursday. I gave up only one hit and one walk. One man walked back to his bench and smashed his bat on the ground after his fourth strike out. That was very difficult for him because we used aluminum bats in that league. When the game was over Mr. Farian came up to me, shook my hand, and told me to untie my hair so his friends could see I was a girl. They all made a fuss about me being a girl and throwing so fast and I was good pitcher and maybe they would see me again because it was an entertaining game.

Mike asked me what they said after they left. I told him, and he sighed in disappointment. Later, in July, he asked me if I ever heard back from them and once again I said no. He put his arm around my shoulder and said “Better luck next year, kid."

"There will be other reporters wanting to do stories about me," I said.

Mr. Farian was at all my starts that year; sometimes with his friends, sometimes not. Sometimes he wrote in a notebook, sometimes not. One of the men told me he was a reporter for Sports Illustrated. I said that he could do a story as long as I didn't have to wear a swimsuit. I never heard from him again until April, the next year.

I was helping my sister Beth with her homework when the phone rang. Dad picked it up. He started to call me over then he stopped. He listened for twenty minutes, silent except for "Uh-huh" and "uh-uh." He became excited as he listened. He jumped out of his chair at one point. Dad was given the opportunity to talk. "Yes, Mr. Farian, We'll be expecting you in half an hour." Dad hung up the phone and whooped. "ANNIE! Do you remember a Mr. Wallace Farian?"

"Yes I do, I was told he was a reporter."

"Wrong!" Dad sat beside me and grabbed my hands. "He's a major league scout, and he wants to talk to you about playing for one of the Blue Jays' minor league teams this summer."

A circuit breaker in my head clicked. I suffered from an internal overload. Dad said more, but it might as well been in Klingon for all I understood. The minute he said "Play for the Blue Jays” I didn't hear anymore. I dreamed about it, but I didn't dare think about it actually happening, but now it seemed like there was the remotest possibility that I might. I know that sounds confusing, but that's how my brain worked when Dad said I had been scouted. Reality slapped me in the face.

"Dad, I don't think girls are allowed to play minor league baseball."

"We'll ask Mr. Farian when he arrives."

He arrived exactly when he said he would. He brought along two other men, one in a purple and white striped golf shirt, the other in a shirt and tie. We sat around the kitchen table.

"First of all, stop callin’ me Mr. Farian. Everybody calls me Wimpey cause of the way I used to eat all the time. Second, you don't remember when we first met, do you? In Niagara Falls?"

I thought for a moment, and then it struck me. "Oh! You're the guy I almost threw up on!"

He grinned from ear to ear. "Yup! That was me!"

A light went on in Dad's eyes. "Oh yes, I also remember! Have you been watching my daughter since that game?"

"No, I was at a game last year to see an American college kid who was playin’ for the other guys. He struck out every at bat, and so did a lot of others. I made a note of the pitcher, and then the next time I came to watch her. I liked what I saw. So did my bosses." The other men at the table smiled.

He continued. "We're offerin your daughter a chance to possibly play for a single A level minor league team in Burlington. I'm not here promisin your daughter fame and fortune and all that crapola, I'm offerin her a chance to develop her talents with some of the best coaches in the bizz. It's not an easy life, but if you love the game, it's the best life in the world. We just drafted you."

"So when do I report for basic training? I’ll tell you one thing, though; I'm not getting one of those marine type hair cuts."

The three men laughed. Dad shot me a look, like the kind he used to give the boys when they would burp in the middle of communion in church.

Wimpey nodded. "Don't worry, this ain't the army. And we still haven't made a final decision about you."

The man in the blue, white and purple striped golf shirt spoke up. "We're holding a mini-camp in two weeks to get an idea of the talent out there for the next draft, and we would like you to be there. If, and only if, we feel you have the talent to compete at the minor league level, we can sign you on and decided whether you play in rookie league or single A.”

"So where did I go in the draft? Don't worry, I have no illusions."

The man who had said nothing so far finally laughed. "Last round with our last pick!"

"Thanks," I said, attempting to sound insulted, "That makes me feel so important."

"Like you said," he continued, "We didn't want to draw attention to you."

"I have one question," I said when he paused. "Do your bosses know I'm a female? Or did you just tell them you're visiting an A.J. Weston?"

The striped golf shirt smiled again. He was but I didn't know back then, the head of Player Personnel. And the other man was the General Manager or G.M. for short. He laughed. "We know all about you and your little gender problem. We see potential in you, and that's what we want in a player, it doesn't matter to us if you're female, it's not your sex we're interested in, it's your talent."

Dad and I looked at each other. I personally would have signed my life away at that point; fortunately Dad was a little more clear headed. "Annie's never been out on her own before. I'm sure she'll be fine, but there are a lot of sick people out there. Will my daughter be at any risk from anyone? Can you guarantee her safety?"

Wimpey held up his hands. "I understand your concerns about your daughter, Mr. Weston. Single-A teams are tight groups, they’re together almost all the time. The coaches are responsible for all the players and watch them carefully. Not just your daughter, but all the players. Many of them are out of their home countries for the first time."

"When is this try out?"

Wimpey had everything arranged, right down to a motel in Burlington for Dad and I. Dad sat in the stands for the three days and watched everything. The best part of the try out was when Garry, who wasn't told about me being female, realized that I was a girl. It was a joke that I was part of, arranged by Steve, as revenge for an earlier practical joke involving rubber bands and a weed whipper; I won't go into the details here. That is where the story, the real story began. I had less than a week to arrange a place to live in Burlington. Garry directed me to the apartment building where some of the men lived in, and my boss was so thrilled, he waived the two weeks notice requirement.

Mom, needless to say, was a different story. The word Ellen has given me to describe my mother's reaction is apoplectic. I don't know what it means, but Mom got so angry she darn near had a stroke! I told her when she got home from work. Her face turned red, and she slammed her briefcase on the table. I don't know where Dad was. There was only her and I in the kitchen.

"What the hell do you mean you're moving to Burlington to play baseball? There isn't even a team in your league down in that little trash heap of a city." (Sorry Burlington, my Mom's words, not mine. I loved your city.)

"Apparently there is a team in my league; it's affiliated with the Jays. I'll be playing there until September."

"What makes you think I will permit you to go?"

"What makes you think you have any right to forbid me? I turn twenty one in two weeks. I can do anything I want, and that includes moving to Burlington. You keep telling me that when you were twenty one you were working on your MBA and pregnant with Jake. Grow up mother, I have." I went up my room and began packing. After an hour Dad called me downstairs.

My entire family, minus Mom, waited for me. Gary was there, with his very pregnant wife, Karen. Kenny came bounding in, with the news that he had moved up to the senior division and playing in Kitchener. Jake came without Ellen, who was in Toronto editing a book. When we were all seated in the kitchen, he turned to me.

"Kids, Annie has some news she wants to share with us."

Kenny jumped up. "She got herself a man?"

"Actually, I got myself about thirty men. I just signed on to play with the Burlington Blue Birds; a farm team with the Blue Jays."

Everyone whooped and yelled and patted my back and hugged me. The only one who didn't was Beth, who didn't understand what had just happened. Kenny spoke first. "So what happened? How did they notice you? Did they say anything about me?"

"They were there to scout some guy with the Woodstock team, except he struck out every time he came up to bat. Then the scout noticed that everyone struck out a lot. So he came to Milton to see the person who was striking everyone out, which happened to be me. He said he saw through my disguise right away."

"So that's where you and Dad were last week?" Asked Mark.

"Yes. I had to show off my stuff to the coaches of the team."

"So they signed you on? How much are you getting paid?" My brother the accountant, always interested in money.

"Not a lot. I get twelve hundred a month, plus nine dollars a day for meal money during road trips. They pay for accommodation on the road."

"How often will you be on the road?" asked Jake.

"About half the time I'm there."

"How did the coaches react to you being a girl?"

"Not a girl, Kenny. Everybody has been very careful about calling me a woman. That's politically correct. The one coach didn't realize I was female until he introduced himself to me. He was shocked. But fortunately the decision was out of his hands, and I start in the first week of May."

Mom came into the room as we were planning where to go to celebrate. Dad stared at Mom. "Do you have something to say?" His words fell like cold November rain.

She poured a cup of tea with her back to him, stirred in some milk and sugar, and turned. "No. Are you going out?"

"Yes. We're going out to celebrate Annie's news. Are you coming with us?"

"No, because I feel that Annie is making a mistake."

"Then it's Annie's mistake to make, not yours. You should be happy for her. It's quite an accomplishment."

"If I go then it will appear that I'm giving my approval to this baseball nonsense. I thought we were finished with all that when she got a real job and started the Olympic qualifying ski circuit. I see no reason to celebrate the fact that Annie is throwing away her future."

"Annie is the first woman to play in the minors, the first to play professionally, the first to be drafted; in twenty one years she's accomplished more firsts than most people accomplish in a lifetime."

I had never seen Dad and Mom shout at each other in front of us kids before. I had never seen Dad in such a rage before. "If you don't come along this evening, then things are going to be different. I've personally put up with a lot of crap, and turned my back on a lot of more crap when it came to the kids, but this is the last straw. This is the greatest thing to happen to Annie, or any of our kids. You should be thrilled for her. And you should be thrilled for Jake, he just sold out all his works in two weeks. And Gary and Karen have the busiest garage downtown Kitchener. You wanted our kids to become successful, and they are, in spite of your best intentions. Even me," Dad stopped for a moment, and his voice turned hoarse. "I know you think I should have taken the chairman of the School board position, but someone had to look after the kids and you think that makes me a failure, but I'm not. I see what our kids have accomplished, and I'm proud, damned proud, and I feel more success in my children than all your money bought you." he stopped and took a deep breath. "I don't know what your problem is, but you better change before it's too late."

Mom didn't say anything, she just went upstairs. A few of us sarcastically applauded Dad. "C'mon guys, this might be the last time we'll see your sister until September."

I finished packing after we returned. I went downstairs to get a few old dishes that Dad said I could take with me for my new apartment. As I wrapped them in newspaper and placed them in a box, Mom came into the kitchen. She poured herself another cup of tea.

"Where's your father?" she asked to the teapot.

"Watching the hockey game with Beth and Jesse."

"What are you doing?"

"Dad said I could take some old dishes and pots and pans and stuff for my new apartment in Burlington."

She turned and stared at me. "Why? All I want to know is why."

"Why did Dad tell me to take old dishes, why is Dad watching a hockey game, why have we been put on this planet or is it some other why?"

"Why can't you just stay here and be happy with your life?"

"Oh, that why. Well, for one thing, you're here."

She stared, unblinking. I could tell by her eyes that my comment cut deep. "Why? Why do you do this? Why do you rebel? Why do you treat me like an outsider in your life?"

I turned on her. I couldn't help myself. "Why have you never accepted me? Why have you never been happy with my accomplishments? Why do I have to make you happy, when what you want is so different from what I want? Why can't you want what I want? Why do you always treat me like I'm still a child? Why do you question my every move? Why do you hate me, mother? Why? What did I do to make you hate me?"

Her face was calm, but the hands that held the teapot shook as she poured. "Annie, I--"

"I don't care anymore!" I screamed. "I don't care!" Dad came running into the kitchen. He looked at me, then Mom. He stood there, frozen. "I don't want to talk to you anymore, Mother. I've never done anything to make you happy. I don't even try anymore."

"I don't know what to say to you. I can't say anything without it turning into an argument." Her voice shook.

"Then say nothing." I said flatly.

She moved to the kitchen door. Her eyes stared at me, unmoving. "Maybe I won't say anything to you ever again."

"Maybe I won't say anything to you, either."

"Is that what you want?"

"No, Mother; but obviously it's what you want."

She ran upstairs. Dad didn't move. He was in the middle of an inner turmoil. He felt like he had to choose between Mom or me, I think. He did the only logical thing. He grabbed his coat and retreated to Sid's.

My closet was empty. Everything was stacked on my bed, or lying across chairs. All my drawers were stacked on the floor. I had seven suitcases, borrowed from Ellen and Dave and Mark. I filled them with my clothes; taking everything that was ripped, poorly fitting, or just plain ugly, and putting them in a separate box to be thrown out. My brothers listened sympathetically when I told them of my fight with Mom, and Gary and Dave told me of their own personal battles with Mom. Jake cried right along with me when I told him, so did Ellen. I promised that I would call him once a week, and that I loved him more than anyone else in the world. He said that no matter what happened, he would always be my brother, and he would be there for me.

I packed everything. I had no idea if I would ever come home again. Jake agreed to move everything in his van. I had too much stuff to fit into my little car.

As I folded my things, Dad came in and sat by the window. "Are you ever coming back?"

"I don't know." I shrugged. "I don't know."

"Are you driving?"

"No, Jake is going to take everything in his van, and then stay with me the first night."

He nodded. "What happened?"

"I don't know. I just don't get it. She just turned on me. I had to fight back this time Dad. She doesn't have the right to push me around just because she's my mother. I'm going to be twenty-one and that means I'm an adult and I can make my own decisions."

He began folding things. "She feels like she's losing everyone in the family."

"If she is it's her own fault. She can't work all day and then come home and spend the few hours before bed yelling at us and bossing us. We're her children, not employees. Somebody should explain the difference to her."

"She feels you've grown up too fast. She says you've been a stranger to her since you've been fifteen." I realized that Dad was being a go-between for my Mom.

"Maybe she forced me to grow up." I could feel my temper straining its leash again. "Maybe it's her own damn fault. Maybe if she would have let me play ball in high school without yelling at me we wouldn't still be fighting."

"Annie! "That was years ago! Long gone and over with."

"Not for me, Dad. For me that fight goes on and on; it's never stopped." I sobbed. I had done so much crying in the past few hours. What should have been the happiest time of my life had become the saddest. "Some hurts never go away."

"She loves you and wants you to be happy. She sees how your ambitions are controlling your life."

"She has one hell of a way to show her feelings. My feelings for Mom are dead. Long gone and over with."

"All she wants is what's best for you."

"Yeah, I said bitterly. "What's best. The best house the cars the best furniture, the best kids. . .lord help us if something or someone doesn't live up to her lofty standards.

"What has happened to you?" he cried. "You're a stranger, even to me."

"Dad, now I have a chance to live my life for me! Not for you, not for Mom, or anybody else. You don't know what it's like when I play ball. When I hold the ball in my hands for one small space of time, I control the destiny, the fate of everything. And the people, they're good people. I get praised when I do good, and when things are bad I get support, not criticism. If I screw up, I get help, not yelled at. I got things I never got from Mom."

Dad appeared to be close to crying. "I've always been behind you, Annie, you know that."

"Then why, why does it sound like you're on her side right now?" I wasn't angry, just sadder than I had ever been in my life.

"I'm not. I'm on my side. I don't want you to leave like this. I want things to be --I don't know --back to the way they should be."

"Then tell Mom to say she's sorry for all the years of hurt. Tell her to say that she's behind me in my pursuit of my dream. Tell her to come to one stupid game and sit in the stands and cheer for me, not be embarrassed by me." I buried my face in my hands. "Tell her to let me live my own life."

"Annie, sometimes growing up is a hard lesson, it doesn't matter if you're almost twenty one or if you're fifty one. Life is a hard lesson." Dad gave me a hug and a Dad kiss on the cheek, and helped me take my stuff down to Jake's waiting van. The drive to Burlington was quiet, and he helped me take everything up to my tiny apartment. After, he dropped me off at the Ball Park, where the story begins.

I snapped out of my reverie. My family should be in the Skydome to see me! I had twenty five tickets in my name at the "Will Call" window. I wondered if there would be enough time for everyone to make it to see my big debut. There was one more little detail to take care of first. I found the Motel and found the room. I knocked on the door several times until I could hear footsteps beyond.

Dean opened the door, his eyes squinting in the bright hall lights. “Annie? What are you doing here?”

“Can I come in?” I asked as I walked in and sat on the end of his bed. There was no couch or chairs, aside from the ones covered in clothing.

“Sure, come in. Is there something wrong?” He sat beside me and took my hand in his.

“I –we—Paul—I don’t know where to begin…”

He smiled. “Start at the beginning. You— are likely quite nervous and tense. I can see that.”

I sighed. “Yes. I am. I have a thousand things going through my head, and a thousand things to worry about.”

“Let me be one thing you don’t need to worry about, okay? Whatever you need to say, I understand. If your gonna tell me to take a flying leap off the CN tower…I understand. If you wanna sleep with me…that’s even better, but I bet it’s something somewhere in the middle.” I nodded. He smiled broader “Let’s not worry about any of that now, okay? Let’s just get through the game.”

“That sounds good. I now have one less terrible problem.”

He squeezed my hand. “Good. We’re all on your side, like Garry says. He’s a smart guy for an old dude. Oh yeah! He’s first base coach! Wanna know why?”

“Sure. That’s odd. I didn’t know he could do that.”

“It’s a bet he won…about his girl pitcher. Now the first base coach has to wear a skirt to a Blue Birds game on opening day next year to complete the bet.”

I laughed. “I gotta go, Deannie-weenie. I got a hundred brothers and sisters to call. I hope they can all make it. Later!”

I returned to my hotel and called everyone while I ate breakfast. Kyle sat on the bed and ate quietly while I phoned. Paul was no longer there. Gary and Karen couldn't make it because of the kids, but they promised to videotape my big debut. Mark, Dave, Kenny, Jake and Ellen decided to come together. Jesse and Beth were going to come with Mom. Dad was coming with Sid, who was going to skip a cousin's wedding to see me. Everybody important would be there, and my Mom.

I drank the rest of my coffee, while watching the news on TV. Kyle said something, and I didn't hear. He poked my shoulder. "Did I hear you say your Mom was coming?"

"Yes. She’s bringing a brother and a sister."

"Why'd she come, so she hit you over the head and drag you home when it's done?"

"I dunno. Maybe she's making some kind of effort. Maybe she's also out to exploit my fifteen minutes."

"My Mom told me that men feel satisfaction from their personal success, women are supposed to feel satisfaction from leading others to success. She said that's why you're different, because you're out for your own satisfaction and success."

"Does that make me wrong?"

"No. It makes you different. She thinks more girls should be like you. She said it's not wrong to be different. I mean, I'm different. . ."

"Yeah, but if you would take your medication. . ."

He stuck his tongue out. "Maybe your Mom is realizing that."

"Kyle, you’re not as stupid as everyone says." He threw a pillow at my head. "Would you ever date a girl like me?"

He almost dropped his coffee. "No, because girls like you usually say no to guys like me. You belong with a guy like Morrison, one who can take care of you."

"What about Dean?"

"Dean? He's also different. He's not the same guy who arranged those hookers back in Spruce Valley. He's changed." His hand flew to his mouth. "OOPS! I wasn't supposed to tell you about the hookers."

"I know he's changed. And I knew those were prostitutes."

He shrugged. "So are you going to marry him or dump him?"

"Morrison or Dean?"

He laughed. "So you caught on to Dean, huh? And he thought he was being mister smooth! Both!"

“So how come none of you big hunky studs has ever tried anything with me?"

He turned bright red. "Um um Garry said if so much as looked at you the wrong way that he'd bring out his shotgun and turn us into geldings. Then he very seriously told us that if he heard about any impropriety is that the word?" I nodded. "He said that it would cost us our position on the team. We would be on a bus going home."

"Yikes! Is that why everyone said Robbie was in such shit?"

He nodded. "Yeah, but Garry never counted on you you know-” He blushed again.

"My willing participation? That also explains why Dean has never formally asked me out on a real date."

He pointed to the television. "Look, Annie! It's you!"

I was the sports feature on the national news. They dug up some of Sid's old home videos, taken when I was about ten, the cable coverage of the Junior Men's Championship when I was seventeen, an interview with Sid, and interview with Mike. The GM for the Jays called me the face of the future, and the reporter cracked that the face of the future wore eye shadow and blush. It was sort of hollow to see my life reduced to a five minute news segment.

"That wasn't funny." Kyle said when it was over.

"What wasn't funny?"

"The eye shadow joke."

"Maybe he was expecting me to be like Elmo thought I should be, like the old east germans that used to win all the medals in the Olympics."

"Yeah, but if he knew that you were for real about playing, he wouldn't be so nasty."

"Yes, I am for real. It doesn't matter what any of the others think, I know I'm for real, and so do the people who are important! I can show the others I'm for real, and if they don't believe it after today, then fuck them!"

"Right! Now let's go, Garry's gonna think we're late cause we're screwing or something!"

When I arrived at the Dome Paul was waiting outside the clubhouse, with player’s girlfriends, wives and assorted groupies. His eyes glittered sadly in the harsh fluorescent lights.

"Where were you this morning? Why did you leave?"

"I'm sorry Paul. I woke early and couldn't get back to sleep. I went for a walk to the lakeshore to clear my head."

"I could have gone with you."

I shook my head and rubbed his arm. "No, I've got a lot of junk in my head. About my Mom and what I'm doing here and why the hell I'm here. . .and other stuff."

He smiled and put an arm around me. "I'm part of the other stuff." It was a statement not a question.

"Yeah, you are." I leaned against him. "I have to go now Paul. I got the game of my life ahead, and I've never been so nervous."

He touched my chin and tilted my head up so I was staring into those dazzling blue eyes. "Annie, no matter what happens today, I will always love you, and I will always think of you as one of the greatest players I've had the privilege to play against." He kissed me quickly and left.

I went to my cubby hole, stuck of in the lonely corner of the locker room and changed. There were only a few others there, nobody I recognized or had been introduced to. I sat and tied up my shoelaces. When I stood, Bugsy O'Hare was standing behind me.

"Why the long face, kid?"

"Last night I told Paul Morrison I wouldn't marry him. The newspapers called us the most romantic couple in the city, and I turned down his proposal."

Bugsy sat beside me. "Can you tell the ole rabbit man why?"

"Because I want to play here full time, every day, not just this one big grandstand play. I don't want to be a baseball wife, I want to be a baseball player. I don't want to be distracted."

He smiled warmly. "You look pretty distracted right now."

"It's not just that. I see my face on every news stand and on every television, and all for the wrong reasons. That's not me, that's some creation of the mass media."

He slugged me on the arm. "Get used to it kid. That's been my life for the last thirteen years. Stick with us. Stick with your own kind, kid."

"My own kind?"

Yeah, us, your teammates, we understand, we know what your going through. We know how the media monster works." He patted my back and left. "From now on we're the only ones you got."

My own kind?! As far as I knew, I was one of a kind. I heard Suzy and C.J. coming in, calling for me. Suzy ran over when she saw me. Today she wore a grey suit she stole from my Mom's closet. Only my Mom would have worn more than a just a black leather bustier underneath.

She stuffed a bank book in my hand. "Open it!" she said. C.J. struggled to keep from giggling.

I opened it, and sat heavily in my chair, reeling from shock. "What'd you two do? Rob a bank in my name?"

"No, silly," gushed C.J. "Those are your royalties, from trading cards, posters, and t shirts and jerseys bearing your name and number. You're one of our biggest sellers."

"That also includes your signing bonus, and a few other things you've collected along the way, like the TV appearances and commercials, licensing, endorsements and an advance on the television appearances I have lined up. I thought it was for the best if you got it after the season. The others wouldn’t have accepted you as one of the guys had they known you were already a millionaire several times over." Suzy's demeanor was much more business like. "So how did the date go?"

"Fine," I said as I stared at the bank balance. I had never seen so many zeroes. "He asked me to marry him and I said no."

"What?" they squealed in unison.

"Suzy, I signed a contract for two years to play ball, not to be Paul's wife. I can only do one at a time."

Suzy sat in the chair beside me. "Good decision. While a wedding would have given us the type of publicity you can't pay enough for, I'm not sure it would be wise in a long term business sense."

"I didn't turn down Paul just because of that. I also have some other questions in my head."

Dean came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder. "Bob wants to see you in his office."

I left Suzy and C.J. and went with Dean. “I heard. It's traveling both clubhouses like a virus." We stopped at the office door. "I think you did the right thing."

I smiled at him. "Yes, but your interest in me is a little more personal than the others."

He stood very close, leaned against the door and touched my cheek. That was the moment that Bob decide to open his door. Dean fell in, and I landed on top of him. My hand ended up on Dean's male anatomy, and his face lined up with my breasts. Bob shook his head and picked me up by the neck of my shirt. "Dahmer!" he said sharply. "Report to Sam at once. You! In here."

Dean sheepishly sulked away, and I went to the chair in front of Bob's desk. Garry was sitting on the other chair, and he smirked. That was too much for me, and I laughed. Bob sat in front of us and began talking.

"Annie, today is your first start in the majors. I'll be brutally honest. You're ready yet. However, the decision was not mine to make." He leaned forward. "How do you feel?"

His question took me by surprise. "How do I feel?" I thought for a moment. "Honestly Bob, I haven't been so nervous about a game since my first championship game when I was sixteen. That was when everybody realized that I was a girl. This game is a lot like that one."

He nodded. Garry spoke up. "I'm not going to insult your intelligence and say it's only just a game, because we all know what's riding on it. But I'm going to tell you it doesn't matter how you do in this game, there will be others. Don't let your whole life ride on this game. This is a grandstand play. Someday Annie, you'll be more than a grandstand play, you'll be here because you're good."

"Garry, and Bob, I know I'm here for all the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, I'm going out on my terms, not theirs."

"Good," said Bob. "Remember, losing today doesn't condemn all women to a life of servitude in the kitchen." He smiled broadly. "My wife told me to tell you that."

I smiled in return. "Say thanks to her for me. It's funny. Some of my harshest criticism has come from women."

"Just go out and play your game your way. Garry will take you out. Sarge and George are waiting for you. First is the pre-game press meetings. There's a few reporters out on the feild waiting for you."

All contents copyright 1993-2005 Linda Leis Soeder

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