|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 was very happy to put Burlington far behind me. I enjoyed the freedom of being a grown-up, and I certainly didn't miss the fights with Mom every time I made a move. It was night but not dark. The bus rocketed through a neon wonderland. I saw a giant neon hamburger, a neon dog wagging a neon tail, and a pair of neon dancers softly swaying to a silent song. Time and temperature signs flashed, and giant pixel screens advised me the best deals were from Mid-Town Auto Sales. We bus headed off to somewhere; I didn't know or care where. We finished our three games in Spruce Valley, and we were off to play six games somewhere in the depths of New York State. The towns weren't important; the only thing that mattered to me was that I was playing baseball, the only thing I ever loved.
I don't just like baseball, Daddy. I love it.
The neon faded and headlights flashed past in rhythm. Conversation was muted, most of the guys slept soundly. Garry discussed kids with the bus driver. I thought I heard him talk about my mother, but I was almost asleep. I felt myself sailing across a dark lake splashed with moonlight; I dreamed of soaring across the starlit sky, I opened my eyes to see the highway gliding past. In the distance I saw a car in a parking lot in a puddle of light, while a van filled with teenagers whipped past the bus. Farms bathed in moonlight unreeled past my range of vision. The dashboard clock read 2:38; the numbers themselves were made of moonlight and hovered in the darkness of the bus. I closed my eyes and fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.
I awoke when the bus began to bounce. We drove along a strip of motels and malls, burger joints and bars, and of course the ubiquitous doughnut shops. This strip was not unlike every strip in every town we had played in so far. The only difference was that the street was under destruction and reconstruction, which is why the bus bounced. We turned at a street marked with a large cartoon arrow and a sign covered in cartoon athletes. There was a cartoon swimmer, a cartoon jogger, a cartoon linebacker and a cartoon hockey enforcer. But in giant cartoon pride above all others stood a cartoon baseball player, complete with cartoon stubble on a cartoon cheek bulging with cartoon tobacco. The hair that hung out from his cartoon cap was long and red; a cartoon John Kruk.
I was awake enough to notice that my neck was kinked up and my head pounded. "UUUUUUUHHHHHHGGGGG!" I moaned loudly.
"What's wrong Annie? Thought about your boyfriend and made yourself come?" Dean may have been my friend, but the jerk part hadn’t yet changed.
"Screw you," I snapped at him.
"Touchy, touchy," remarked Robbie.
"My neck is all kinked up." I tried to massage some of the stiffness out when something at the player's entrance caught my eye. "Who are they?"
"Who are who?" Robbie peered out.
"All those large chested ladies."
"Oh, those whos." Kyle nodded with a crooked grin twisting his features. "Them's the cheerleaders."
"You know,” chipped in Chad. "They prance around during the stretch, shake their pom-poms."
"Hey," interrupted Dean. "Maybe you should join them as a joke."
I looked at my chest and pulled my purse over it. "My pom-poms aren't big enough."
"Neither are theirs," giggled Kyle. "Most of ‘em stuff their bras with toilet paper."
"And you know this from a traumatic personal experience?" I asked to a chorus of raucous laughter directed at Kyle.
After his face lost some of it's redness he continued. "They also go ga-ga over us guys. You wont have to worry about that unless one of 'ums bi- or something."
"Yuck." I stuck my finger in my throat and made a barfing noise. "I'm not interested in anything bi or something."
I jumped out of the bus and grabbed my bag. Garry put his hand on mine. "Okay, kid. What's wrong?"
"My neck is all kinked up and stiff." I rubbed my neck and twisted my head around.
Garry turned. "Hey! Larry! Over here!"
Larry walked up to us. "What's up, Gar?"
He pointed his thumb to me. "Kinked neck."
Larry moved around behind me rubbed my neck. "Kinked on the right side?" I nodded and he rubbed there. "Hurt right there?" He jabbed into my neck and I went:
He turned me so I was facing him. "Now close your eyes and relax." He grabbed my head and twisted it from side to side. It sounded like he dislocated every one of my vertebras. Little sparkles danced in front of my eyes and he kept a firm hand on my arm to keep me from falling. When the sparkles cleared my neck was unkinked and my head didn't hurt anymore.
“Whoa! You should bottle and sell that…whatever it was!"
He smiled. "In the winter I'm a chiropractor; baseball doesn't pay the bills." We found the visitors clubhouse. It was modern and large. It would have been the nicest one that we had visited all year if not for the repulsive aroma. We opened the lockers slowly; trying to find the one that held the corpse. George found a phone and called the stadium people to complain. They came in, sniffed and said they would take care of the smell. Fifteen minutes they returned and sprayed the room with something that smelled sweet and rosy and lavenderish, like my grandmother's perfume.
"I don't know which is worse, the lavender or the dead meat," Garry grumbled while holding his nose shut.
"Well, it reminds me of the smell of my uncle's funeral parlour," George remarked, his eyes watering from the combating aromas. "The flower smell, not the rotten carcass smell," he suddenly clarified. He then wisely exited to the field.
"I don't know which is worse," muttered Blake. "The smell in here or the smell of what George just said."
We all started to laugh. "I'll never be able to keep a straight face at a funeral again," said Garry as he wiped his streaming eyes.
I came out in the sixth inning so I got to participate in the seventh inning tradition. The cheerleaders came out, did their little dance, shook their pom-poms and jumped around saying woooo-woooo-woooo. When they finished they went to the opposing players, us, and one girl gave one player one kiss. I was curious to see how the girls would handle a female player. Most of them were my age or a bit younger.
Dean got a tall brunette, and he wouldn't let go until she bopped him with her pom-pom. Robbie was kissed by a girl who had to stand on her toes to reach his cheek. Larry got a very beautiful dark-eyed girl who had corn-rows and beads in her hair. She didn't need make up or toilet paper in her bra. She made me look like a real man. When they finished off the men they came up to me. Then they shocked me. The dark eyed one was first. She hugged me and said she was my biggest fan. The next girl came up and did the same thing. In fact, all twelve of them did the same thing. The last girl introduced herself as Terri and requested I autograph a poster of myself. One of them leaned over and I propped it on her back to sign it.
"Oh boy! We're going to hang it up in our change room. Most of us play softball in college! You're living our dream! We're all behind you!" Terri jumped up and down excitedly. "I'm a pitcher, too!"
"What's your best pitch?" I asked her.
"The Riser," she said shyly.
"That was my favourite when I played softball in high school." I took the ball I was holding, signed it and tossed it back to her. She looked at it wistfully.
"Maybe some day," she sighed.
“Maybe someday you'll see me in the Skydome!"
They all hugged me at once and ran off the field going wooo-wooo-wooo all the way back. Steve, at third base, appeared as if he had witnessed a scene from the twilight zone. He wasn't alone, most of the guys were shaking their heads, looking mystified.
On the trot back to the dug-out, at the end of the inning, I called over to Kyle. "You're right! They do go ga-ga over ballplayers."
I sat beside Dean on the bench. I threw my jacket over my arm to keep it warm. HAH! It was at least ninety and humid, so my arm was nice and warm without the jacket. However, they taught us to keep our arm covered between innings so the muscles wouldn't get cold and cramp up on us. So that is why, no matter what the temperature, pitchers keep their arms wrapped in their sleeves. So there I sat, my arm covered to keep it warm and a refrigerated towel on my head to keep cool. "So how's the infield?" I asked Dean.
"Awesome. I like first base. I also like second. Shortstop agrees with me. Third base is totally cool. The change is massive. Y'know I was doing drills at seven-thirty in the morning with Steve and George back home? And I was loving every second of it! Un-fucking-real! Massively un-fucking-real." He nodded and tapped the end of a bat on the floor while talking. "I gotta work hard at this y'know. If you want to make it to the show you gotta work hard." He looked up at me. "God, I'm feeling philosophical."
I smiled at him and he smiled back. He pronounced it fill-ossa-fickle, like George. Judging by the change of attitude fielding wasn't the only thing being drilled into him at seven-thirty in the morning. "Do you miss pitching at all?"
"No way. This is cooler. Girls like second and third base better. Looks more heroic to them. Girls like heroes."
"You're probably right," I said. "I like big, strong men."
"Is that why you like Morrison so much?"
"No way hair-ball! He's just a groupie! I have my groupies, too!" I elbowed him in the ribs.
"Hey! That tickles!" He dropped his bat and tickled me in the ribs. We tickled each other until we were both hysterical and out of breath. It was then time to go back to work.
The first thing I threw was lifted high and away and beyond the centre field fence. Dean laughed so hard he fell on his butt. I tried to sober up. I threw hard into the dirt, twice. Third pitch sailed over the umpire's head. The fourth pitch was a perfect screwball, spiralling twice and dipping under the swinging bat. The next pitch spiralled right out of the strike zone. The batter, who looked like my brother Mark, beard and all, walked.
"Hey, You!" I called over.
"You look exactly like my brother."
"Oh. He's a ball player?"
"Nah. An accountant."
The manager and coaches were tapping things into a laptop computer in order to figure out who to send up next. One coach looked up at me and shook his head. I guess I didn't compute. The umpire marched to the dug-out and broke up the geek party. The computer decided to send up a guy who was about six and a half feet tall, with shoulders half as wide as his height. Blond braids trailed from his batting helmet and a gold ring glimmered from his nose. Wrestling meets baseball. He got into position.
I threw a lollipop that wouldn't have fooled a twelve year old but he lunged at it and almost fell as it bounced foul. I looked back at the guy who looked like Mark. He was shaking his head while the first base coach signalled furiously.
I tossed another lollipop, but this time he smartened up and didn't swing. The ball fell on the plate and rolled back to Robbie. The guy on first smirked. Robbie took the ball and trotted up to me. "Try not to humiliate this bastard too much, okay?" He put his arm around my shoulder to make it look like I was having trouble.
I looked to the ground. "I have to make it look good. My fan club is watching."
"The cheerleaders. I'll explain later." Robbie signalled for Garry.
"Something wrong?" Gary trotted up, a look of deep concern etched in his furrowed brow.
Robbie put his glove up so the clown on first couldn't read his lips. "We're faking out the nose ring."
Garry pasted a worried expression over the rising smirk. He motioned to Bernie. "Problem?" Asked Bernie.
"See the nose ring?"
Bernie nodded. "Yes, I do."
"How would he blow his nose? Would it hurt?"
"Geeze, Garry, I don't know. Are you okay, Annie?"
"Oh yes. I'm just faking out the nose ring."
Bernie grabbed my elbow and wiggled it. Garry and Robbie watched carefully. I looked up to see the umpire coming up to our happy gathering.
"Injured pitcher?" he asked.
"I'm okay, honestly. I can keep going." I talked loud enough for the nose ring to hear.
Garry rubbed his chin. "Are you absolutely sure, Annie? I can have Santinos warmed up in a minute."
"Okay, then break things up, children. Play Ball!" The umpire chased everyone away. The batter tried to remain expressionless, but the corner of his mouth kept twitching. He thought he had me beat.
Robbie called for a hard fastball. The wrestler tried to check his swing and grounded it to Dean. Dean tossed to second for the first out and then took the ball back at first for the second out. I hoped that screwed up the computer.
The computer wasn't finished, unfortunately. The next batter it sent up was a sad sack that appeared to be mostly Adam’s apple. He went down swinging in three. They slammed the lid shut on the number cruncher
I liked working with Robbie. He had a set of signals with each pitcher and helped us work out a way to signal him without cluing in the batter. He did the standard one finger fastball two finger forkball stuff, but he also did more. He could signal paragraphs by the way he touched his mask, rubbed his chest pad, hammered his glove; he signalled where Garry wanted the fielders to position themselves by different motions with his hands. Just about everything he did was a signal, even where he spit on the ground was a signal. When he touched his shoulder that meant I was to go to first. When he held up his hand and wiggled his fingers that meant everyone was to move inwards. When he spit on the plate in meant move out. A quick shake of the glove at the end of a signal meant I was to duck out of the way because he was throwing to second. If he held his hand up in a hook it meant I wasn't on top of my slider.
Robbie was my room mate for this road trip. In the evening we would sit and watch television and talk. He was from Cleveland, played little league, high school, and college baseball, and was drafted in his second year of college. He moved from shortstop to catcher after one year of rookie league. It was his second year in Burlington. Steve was an all star catcher for the Giants, and he taught Pete and Robbie everything he knew.
"Is that why both of you are so good?" I asked.
"Yup! Pete's only been here for a year, though."
"Who's been here the longest?"
"Larry. This seems to be more like a hobby for him." Robbie rearranged the pillows on his bed and leaned back. "Did you enjoy getting your picture done? The guys are still buzzing about that."
"I didn't realize he was the man who does those high fashion pictures for those fancy magazines. He was good." I giggled. "Think I'll be on the cover of Vogue next?"
One of his pillows was flung in my face. "No way! Besides those girls aren't real. They're just plastic dolls. They stop eating at twelve years old so they can be skinny enough. Then when they're skinny they get put on a rack and they're stretched so they're tall enough."
We were both getting silly because we were both very tired. The game went fifteen innings, and every player and every pitcher appeared in the game. Even Garry made an appearance at the plate when the bench was empty. He popped out to shallow right field. The air conditioner in the window chuckled and hummed in a futile attempt to keep the room cool.
"I don't like girls that are too skinny, like that," he continued. "I like girls who are you know, there? Not like hippos, but not like sticks. I like girls with a shape, you know, meat on the bones, so when you hug them you know there's something there. I would worry about hugging and breaking some of those really skinny models."
"You know, Robbie, most girls diet because they think guys want them to be skinny like that. They think guys won't like them unless they're the shape of a pencil. I had a friend in school who was sure my brother Kenny didn't like her because she was too fat, but she was only about ninety pounds. It turned out Kenny didn't like her because she giggled all the time and acted like a six year old. You want to know something funny?"
"Funny ha-ha or funny sheesh?"
"Funny sheesh. I've always found that girls are much harder on each other than guys are. If a woman dresses fashionably then they call her stuck up or shallow, but if she doesn't wear all the latest styles then she's accused of being a slob and not caring about herself. I never hear guys saying that about other guys. I'm in the unique position of being able to see both worlds. Sometimes women can be so critical of each other."
Robbie nodded. "Suzy says the same thing. She tells me that some of the other baseball wives think she shouldn't be so involved in my career the way she is. They say she should be supporting me, not managing me. I know she's always got my best interests uppermost in her mind. Some of the guys don't understand how I could marry a woman that strong, but then they turn around and say they wish they could meet someone strong and not a weak hanger-on type."
"I don't think I could even pretend to be weak or coy."
"What do girls like in a guy?"
I humphed. "Some girls like guys who are jerks and treat them like dirt."
He looked at me like I was crazy. "No, seriously."
"Really! Have you ever noticed that Dean and Kyle are never alone? Why do girls keep going for guys like that?"
"What did you first notice about Paul?"
"His butt!" One of Robbie's pillows found my face.
I thought a moment. "His eyes. I always notice a man's eyes first. Some have dull blank eyes; some have hard glittery eyes. He had deep warm eyes. I could see there was something behind them." I looked towards Robbie. "What did you first notice about Suzy?”
"Her boobs!" I threw a pillow in his face. "No. She was in the cafeteria at college talking about inter-league play and how it would be good for baseball. I had to meet a girl who knew so much about my favourite sport. Physically, the first thing I noticed was her hair. After lunch we walked back to classes, and the wind was blowing her hair around, but it didn't bother her, she seemed to enjoy it. The other girl with us was upset, but not Suzy. To me it meant that she was natural, not hung up on herself, self confident." He was quiet for a moment, with a slight smile on his mouth and in his eyes. He turned back to me. "Do girls ever look at a man's you know his his "
"Penises? Dicks? Dongs? Cocks? Willy worms?"
"Yeah." His face was bright red.
"Sometimes," I laughed. "First I look at the eyes, then down. You can't see too much, unless the guy is really hung or deformed or it's hard or he’s wearing a protector. That's why girls like baseball; those plastic cups make it look like you're hard and bulging all the time."
He grabbed himself. "EEEEWWW! Now I'm gonna be embarrassed every time I'm on the field. Those things are damned uncomfortable. They're always slipping and digging in where they can do damage."
"I know! That's the reason that you guys are always grabbing at yourselves, right?"
He giggled. "Our secret is out. You have been around men too much. You know, I've never talked to a girl like this before."
"Like this, how."
"You know,” he made circles in the air with his hands. "Like one of the guys, like a friend."
"What does everybody think about me? The guys on the team? Do think I'm weird or that I should go home and knit or something?"
He shook his head. "Nah. Some are still a bit nervous, but most think you're okay. They like that you don't mind if they swear or spit or burp or other guy things. We thought that we would have to stop. Garry told them no, that if you got upset he would talk to you. He held a meeting the day before you came. He told us to treat you like one of the guys."
"Yeah, I told him that's what I wanted the day I signed."
"Most of the guys think you're okay," he repeated. "When you parade around in your underwear, though -that gets some of the guys."
"Gets them how," I laughed. "Hard?"
Robbie tossed his last pillow at me. "You throw like a man, spit like a man, and swear like a man; but you are still cursed with a woman's body." He pointed at one breast then the other.
"Am I pretty?" I asked him. "I don't know. I think I'm funny looking."
"I think you're very pretty. So does Suzy."
"I'm not convinced."
"Do you think any of us guys are good looking?"
"Yes. You, Pete, Larry, Chad, Dean would be cute, too, if he would do something about that personality of his. His face is sure clearing up now that he’s taken an interest in personal hygiene."
"Would you go out with one of us if we asked you?"
I thought for a while. "Well, I want everyone to think of me as one of the guys and I don't think the guys date each other or anything like that. It might be awkward if we were to get in a fight or break up."
"You're probably right, although Pete has some interesting stories about guys dating. It's sort of funny and sort of sad."
"There's a lot in baseball that's sort of sad and funny. We really live our lives in a world that a lot of people know nothing about; unless they've lived it themselves."
"Yeah," sighed Robbie. "People go to a big league game to see the big name batter stand at the plate and the millionaire pitch the ball and the running shoe spokesman make the shoestring catch but they don't see the years that even the millionaires must spend down here in sleazy motels trying to live on your nine dollar meal allowance playing and practising every day until your so stiff and sore and tired that you can barely drag yourself back to your sleazy motel. They don't see the tears and the years involved in becoming good enough for the show."
"Very true. Who can live on nine dollars a day for food, especially when we have to eat in restaurants? And without dying of salmonella or ptomaine poisoning?" We sighed in unison. "So, are you going to quit?" I asked him.
"No way, how about you?"
"Uh-uh. I love this too much. Not the motels and starving, but the baseball. I love it more than anything else in the world."
"Me too. So you're not in it for the fame and fortune that goes with being the first female player? Or the glamorous life of single-A?"
“No," I laughed. "If I were in it to become famous or for the honour of being the first I wouldn't last a second." Nobody could survive this unless they loved baseball. That's why I'm here, not to be the first, but because I love the game and I want to play every day."
Robbie re-gathered his pillows and leaned back into them. "Suzy loves the game as much as us, but because she couldn't play she learned the business end of it." Robbie reached into his suitcase and pulled out a couple candy bars. He tossed one to me and chomped in silence for a while.
"I like Suzy. Usually, my mom…”
"The pinstriped executive from hell?" he interrupted.
"Yeah, her." I smirked. "Usually my mom tried to pick and choose our friends. They had to belong to the right church, their parents had to be in the right income bracket, and the girls themselves had to get school marks over a certain grade. I never fit in with them. I didn't have too many friends until I got out of school and started working."
"Where was your father? Didn't he see what was going on?"
"Yes, but he and Mom had this secret power war going on. And I wonder if he bought into the high status lifestyle in the beginning. When we moved into town Dad quit his job as a school supervisor to stay at home with the kids. That's when things started to go bad. Mom became obsessed with work and Dad—I don't know, maybe he resented that. Maybe he saw the shallowness of the lifestyle.
"Mom would come home and rant and rave and lecture us, while Dad would be the one to praise us and make us feel good about ourselves. He was the one who taught us to follow our dreams. All my best childhood memories are of my Dad and my brothers Kenny and Jake."
"I have one brother and one sister. Suzy has one brother,"
"The one who plays for the Phillies, right?" I interrupted.
"Good! You remembered! She's a real Daddy's girl, just like you."
"I'll probably end up marrying some guy much older than me."
"You mean someone like your Daddy?"
"Yeah, since incest is frowned upon." I tossed a pillow at Robbie.
He flung one at me. "So we're back to pillows, huh?"
"What did Suzy say about me being your room-mate?"
"Not much. She knows that they couldn't make an exception to the room arrangements since they were made in April, back before they knew about you. She thinks it’s okay. She thinks you're safer with me than with the hormone twins, Dean and Kyle."
"Good. I would hate to have my agent hate me."
There was a knock at our door. Robbie peeked out the window and opened the door. Garry came in. "Are you two okay?" He asked.
“Yes,” we said together.
“How are Dean and Larry enjoying each other's company?” I asked.
Garry sat on the end of Robbie's bed and snickered. "Larry's been laying it on thick for Dean’s benefit. When I checked them a minute ago they were studying Revelations."
"Good!" said Robbie, tossing a candy bar to Garry. "Dean deserves it. He's a jerk."
Garry talked with us while he finished his snack. "You know, I feel like an idiot for doing these checks, sometimes. I mean, some of you are married with kids. But if I don't I have guys staying out all hours and coming to the park hung-over. It's the ones who are on their own for the first time who give me the most grief."
"Like Dean?" I asked.
Garry stood to leave. "Yes, like Dean and his endless collection of girls." He opened the door to leave. "Good night guys."
"Night Garry," We said together. I went to the bathroom to change into pyjamas. When I returned Robbie was on the phone with Suzy. I fell asleep to the sound of Robbie's voice and the rattle and hum of the air conditioner.
We hopped to another town for two games. The park was a dump. Bernie told us not to take off our shoes and socks in the locker room; there was black stuff growing in the showers. The second morning the field erupted in mushrooms. Not cute things like Fairy Rings or something delicious like Morels; but things that looked and smelled like dog dicks. A botanist from the local college came in to analyse the unnatural phenomenon. He took one look at them and told us they were "Mutinus Caninus," which is scientific for "Dick of a Dog."
After the lesson in mycology we took to the flagrantly fragrant field for our practice. George kept reminding me about balance and releasing the ball at the right time and keeping my elbows pointing the right way and to stay on top of my slider. There was so much to remember.
We played two games that day. The first was in a steady drizzle that soaked us to the skin. But it didn’t rain hard enough to call the game. Between the games we straggled in, cold, wet, and sniffling. There was nowhere for me to go for privacy, so I wrapped two towels around myself, stripped out of my wet clothes and changed into a dry uniform. When I finished all the guys stood and applauded. I took a bow and asked why.
"We're amazed at how you got undressed and dressed under two tiny towels without showing off any parts that you didn't want to show." Kyle leered while speaking.
"It's like George says; if you really want to do it, you can."
George started laughing. "That's not quite what I meant by that."
The next game was considerably drier. The sun came out and the air turned warm and sticky. I was almost asleep on the bench when Garry called on me to be a pinch runner.
"A what?" I asked incredulously.
"Run,” He said while gesturing with his hands. "Steal second. Steal third. Get home. Do it fast. Let's go!" He clapped his hands three times.
I stood at first, feeling like an invader in alien territory. George leaned close and whispered in my ear. "Hit and Run, Take off on the pitch, slide into the base in case Dahmer forgets to hit."
This was the first time I ever stood at first. I took a small lead off the bag and watched. I ran when the pitcher threw the ball. I slid hard into second, but Dean fouled it into the seats. The ump sent me back to first. I took another slight lead and ran with the pitch. This time Dean made contact with the ball. It dropped in right field and the person had to run for it. As I rounded second the fielder dropped the ball. When I saw that I put my head down and ran as fast as I could. At third Steve waved me home and Garry signalled to slide. I slid over home plate, beating the relay by a split second. Dean made it safely to third. I scored the tying run and Dean scored the winning run. That turned out to be the only time they ever called on me to pinch run in a game in all the years I played.
|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!|