|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!|
"Duh?" Dean looked at Garry like he was a form bizarre alien life. Garry shook his head in desperation and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Don't let your elbows stick out like that; you're not getting any power." Steve yanked Dean's arms into place. He took a swing at the ball and landed on his face. "Okay," sighed Garry, "Take a break, Dean." Next into the batting cage was Colin McMichael, the hot-shot kid from Rookie League in Alberta. He had arrived yesterday. Garry couldn't remember his name because he persisted in calling him fifty-seven.
I was throwing batting practice with Garry beside me behind the screen. Colin took a couple good swishes at the ball. Steve repositioned Colin's hands on the bat and said a few technical things. He began making contact with the ball.
In the weeks that followed Paul's return to Detroit I buried myself in my game. We had several roving instructors rove in and out of our lives. Some, like Bradley, stayed a few weeks. They worked hard with us, and I could see improvements in almost all aspects of our game. I could see my own control improving.
June had melted into July and July was hot. The people on the radio said that it was the hottest July on record. I thought it was the hottest July on record, cassette or compact disc. I could feel my brains frying in my head as I stood on the mound. The sun poured down on the field, it made my clothes cling to me and turned my hair into a salty, sweaty mess. Baseball is not for fashion models. For practice Garry allowed us to wear shorts and mesh jerseys, the guys with nothing underneath; me, with a tank top under. I wanted to be one of the guys, not an exhibitionist.
As I said, I was throwing batting practice. I think batting practice is the most mind-numbingly boring thing they can force a pitcher to do. It consists of throwing the ball so it can be hit. It went against everything I had been working towards. I threw the ball, picked up a ball from the basket, threw the ball, picked up a ball, threw a ball, picked up-
"ANNIE!" Garry called sharply.
"What?" My head jerked up.
"There's nobody up there any more, you can go to the clubhouse now."
I looked around. I was alone. "Sorry, Garry. The heat's getting to me."
"I see. Hit the shower before the game, cool off a bit."
"Yeah, sounds good." I peeled off my cap and wrung it out. We walked to the dugout as the Wildcats took to the field.
"So you're doing okay?" He grabbed a couple of gator-ades and tossed one to me.
I nodded while slurping down half the bottle. "I've learned more in the last two months than I learned in the previous six years. This is great. I love it."
He smiled and looked across the field and into the cloudless sky. "I played A-ball in Texas for two years. You wanna talk about hot? And if the heat didn't get you the dust would. When they promoted me to double-A I showered for two weeks before I got all the dirt and sweat scrubbed off." He put his hand on my back, like he did with all the guys. "You're doing good, kid, and I'll tell your Mommy that, too."
"I haven't heard from her since that night."
"Perhaps she's embarrassed," Garry speculated.
"Could be," I agreed. "I've talked to Dad once and Jake twice. There never seems to be enough time."
"That's part of the life down here." We walked down the tunnel to the clubhouse. Tom waited for Garry inside the door, and they vanished to Garry's office. I went to the shower and stood under it fully dressed for a moment before I stripped off my practice clothes and sudsed off the dirt and sweat. I towelled off, dressed in my game clothes, and read the newspaper. Some of the guys were arranging to go to Ziggy's after the game, while others engaged in an armpit-farting contest. Kyle, who was the king of crude, had found a worthy adversary in Colin.
There wasn't much in the newspaper. The commissioner was ruling on my status in a press conference on Wednesday, I was the top story in the sports section. Along with some speculation and crystal ball readings, there were interviews with some who were for me and some who were against me.
The people who were against me included a retired broadcaster who said if I wanted to get involved in baseball I should marry a player; a former Olympic athlete (female) who said if I wanted to help women's sports I should play a woman's sport and excel in that; and a pitcher from the show who said God made women to cook and clean and make babies.
The people in favour of me included Garry, Paul, Suzy's father, the American League president, the general manager of the Jays, an American Senator, the Prime Minister of Canada and a prominent feminist writer.
The writer had an interesting theory concerning my success against the men. She saw every win, every save, every strike-out, as a woman striking back for all the centuries of violence and oppression that women have endured at the hands of men. Every victory for me was a victory for the sisterhood of women; each victory made sweeter because I was beating men at their game and by their rules, or so this woman wrote.
She missed one important point. For every victory, there were eight MEN behind me. It was the first and most important thing I learned in single-A, you can't win by yourself. Every win was a team effort; my team-mates were as responsible for my wins as I was.
I have never seen men as bad, or as the enemy. I have been surrounded by men all my life, and I have got along with most of them, with few exceptions. Tom Bradley, one of the exceptions, returned from Garry's office. He may have been a good instructor, but he was an odious person. He made thinly disguised sexist comments, and pried into our personal lives in a most obtrusive manner. He never knew when to shut up. Dean said Bradley suffered from a dreaded social disease known as Yapatosis.
Today Bradley was yapping about inter-league play. I liked it. There were always fireworks at the games, like when the Yankees and Mets played and a riot broke out in the third inning and Yankee Stadium was trashed. And who could forget the time the fans in the Skydome cheered the Expos more than the Jays? "It's diluting the game," he spouted. "There was a time the only inter-league play was the World Series and that was enough for the real fans." He emphasized the word real to imply that anyone who liked it was less than a real fan.
Garry's eyes rolled in his head as he tried to call the pre-game meeting. I could see him mouthing, “What did I do to deserve this?" ceiling.
"And look," he continued as Garry threw his hands up in the air. "It's dreadful how expansion has diluted the talent pool. It's to the point that they'll have to start signing--signing--signing--" His voice trailed off as I stood up and tapped his shoulder.
"Sign girls?" I asked icily.
"Horns in, Annie," Garry cut in. "This discussion is over." He made a slashing motion across his throat. We talked about the game, finally, and took to the field.
I made my second last bullpen appearance in that game. Tino took a line drive in the stomach and couldn't stand up. George and Garry called me out to the mound to warm up as Bernie checked out Tino. The home plate umpire waited with them.
"Annie, this is Stump Underwood, A buddy from my old neighbourhood in Florida." Garry held his arm towards the umpire. "Stump, this is Annie Weston, our pitcher."
"Pleased to make your acquaintance," I grabbed his hand and pumped it up and down several times. His mouth spread into a large, crooked grin.
"Take as long as you need to get ready." He walked back to the plate holding his hand in an odd position and grinning at it.
"Well, he's on our side now," Garry said as George smirked.
I warmed up quickly. I worked from the second to the eighth inning. I came up to bat twice, and I got my first base hit. Unfortunately, they left me hanging out to dry.
"I guess all that batting practice is paying off," I quipped to Garry as I grabbed my glove and returned to my normal place.
The next morning Garry called me into his office. It was office day. Fifteen got called in that morning, two left the team forever after their office time. I sat across from him. The ubiquitous binder with my name on it sat on his desk. It was much thicker than the first time I saw it.
"I received the word from the Commissioner's people," he began without ceremony. "You're in for the long haul, kid. The player's union came out on your side, apparently on the urging of Robbin's father-in-law, and that tipped the scales. The commissioner is terrified of the union. Lord only knows what the official position will be, although I can imagine it'll be with his thumb up his ass. Second,"
What second? I thought.
"I called the G.M. and player development about Bradley. He's not to pry into your personal life any more. He's not to make any sexist comments. If he makes any to you, or to anyone else, tell me immediately. He can be replaced by a good VCR. He's leaving after the exhibition game with the Double-A Dayton team and he will be gone for the year."
"Okay," I said, not knowing what to say. "He's actually a good instructor."
"Good instructor, lousy person." Garry closed my binder. "He'll be treading with a bit more care from now on. Anything else you need to talk about?"
I shook my head. "No, not really. Everything is mostly good."
"Just the heat."
"Well," he laughed, "Not much I can do about that."
"I guess I'll have to suffer like everyone else!"
"Oh!" He stopped suddenly and smacked his forehead. "I almost forgot! You received a fan letter!" He handed me an opened envelope. "We screen all mail for sick stuff. It's good, you'll like it." He stood up to signal the end of the meeting.
I sat in front of my locker and read my letter. It was from the little boy in the playground, written by his mother. He told me that he had changed his mind and wanted to become a pitcher for the Blue Jays. I wrote back and told him to keep practising and someday if he played in Burlington I would come to see him. I signed the letter, stuffed it in an envelope, and mailed it at the mailbox outside the park. I put the letter in my purse so I wouldn't lose it.
When I returned it was time for two more thrilling videos. The first had the catchy title of "Ten Common Defensive Errors and How to Avoid Them" and the second was the old chestnut, "Pitching is Physics, Not Physical."
The defensive video was quite informative, educational, very professionally made. It starred the first and third base coaches for the Jays, and they somehow made defending against the squeeze bunt sound exciting. When it was over we discussed what we had seen, the instructors answered all our questions.
Everybody, pitchers and non-pitchers, watched the second video. It explained the mechanics of throwing; that it is as much in the legs as it is in the arm, and that the best pitchers used their whole body to throw the ball. That's what I did. You see, in a piece of rubber is buried in the dirt of the pitchers mound, and it sticks out just a bit. I braced my foot against the rubber and launched my pitches from the rubber upwards. That's why I could throw so hard. My arms and shoulders were strong; but my legs were stronger.
Tom led the discussion after the film was over. He was quite civil and professional to the extreme until he came to the part about using the legs to throw. "The player here with the best legs is Annie. Not the best legs in a sexist way but the best in a physical way but not physical in that way. She uses her legs to push off. It's part of getting physical, being physical, not physical in that way because you're a girl, but physical in a non-gender specific way, because you're a girl." Tom leaned over and muttered to Garry, "There! That wasn't sexist, was it?"
Garry grimaced, pulled on his collar, and wiped his mouth hard with the back of his hand. "NNNNNNnnnnooooo," He said excruciatingly slow, "No more or less than usual."
After the game, back in my closet, I watched the late news for the commissioner’s statement. A reporter asked my opinion on his statement after the game, but I had none to give because I didn't know what he said. The sports came on and I was the top story. They showed a video clip of me, a couple of statements by each side, and then the commissioner.
The gist of his statement was that just because I was good enough for a minor league team didn't mean that I would ever be good enough for the show. He remarked that only two people on an A-level team ever make it to the major league level, and if I wanted to play on a minor league team, then there was nothing he could do to stop me. He said he had no jurisdiction in the affairs of the minor leagues. He also said that if any other women wanted to play minor league ball, he couldn't stop them, provided they were good enough. Garry got that one perfect; his thumb was firmly up his ass.
To be honest I'm still not sure how I should have reacted to that statement. It seemed to be a sideways insult. At the time I did the only logical thing: When asked I would say nothing. Someday, I thought, I would show all of them. Tom Bradley could snicker at me behind my back, and the commissioner could make his brainless official statements and the media could make all their stupid theories and commentaries, but one day I would show them. One day I would pitch in the dome and I would win. I would win and shove it down everybody's throats.
The exhibition game was on a sunny and cool Thursday afternoon. A thunderstorm raged through the night, and when the clouds cleared in the morning, a cold wind swept in from the north. Eighteen Celsius was the predicted high for the day, but it never got that warm. By noon the sky was brilliantly blue and the sun dazzlingly bright. We wore sunglasses on the field, but our eyes still got sore and tired by the end of the game.
Garry introduced the manager and coaches of the Double A Dayton Dragons in the clubhouse before the game. The field manager was Bill Hogarth, a sour looking fifty year old who chewed on an unlit cigar. His coaches were Alfred Fosworth, who had a strong Boston accent, and Jim Gillray, who stood seven feet tall and appeared to wear size sixteen shoes. Not one of them said, “you really are a girl," or anything stupid like that. The pitching coach re-introduced himself as Fozzy and told me he was looking forward to seeing me in action. "Your reputation has preceded you," he said formally. "Maybe we will work together next year."
"Yes, I would like that very much," I said, trying to match his formal tone. "I would enjoy playing in double A next year."
I bet," he laughed. "Show that asshole commissioner a thing or two, eh? He's spent so much time on the bubble all that air's gone to his head." He patted my shoulder. "Ignore him and work hard and someday the asshole will be eating his words." After some small talk he left for the visitors' clubhouse. Garry called us all to order. "Hogarth just told me some people from Toronto are here. I don't want you guys getting nervous on me, just play as well as you usually do and have fun." He clapped his hands three times and we trooped onto the field. I wasn't nervous about the people from Toronto, I was nervous because a stadium employee brought me a note.
Dear Annie, Hi. Dad, Ellen and I are here for the game. Mom isn't. We locked her up in the basement. Ha-Ha. We would like to see you after the game. Okay? Jake (Your favourite brother)
I asked Garry for his advice. The Toronto bosses arranged a large gathering for the two teams after the game and Garry said there would be enough room for three more. He suggested I invite them along. "I'd like you to introduce me to your father,” he said. "The first time we met the circumstances were less than ideal."
"Sure, Garry! I know my Dad would like that!" I scribbled a note and sent it off with a stadium employee. I searched the seats for them, and when I found them Jake gave me the thumbs-up sign.
I pitched two innings, giving up a walk, a hit and a home run; while striking out four. In spite of my less than sterling effort, we won 8-7 in the last at-bat with two out. Pete blooped one over the head of the sleeping shortstop and Dean scored from third.
At the restaurant we sat in a characterless banquet room. Garry, Bill Hogarth and the other coaches sat at the head table, while the players sat along two long tables. Dad, Jake and Ellen got stuck at the end of one of the long tables. A bowl of tasteless soup made up the first course. After they brought each person a plate with soggy turkey with glue gravy; mashed potatoes doled out with an ice cream scoop; and orange, yellow and green things that were allegedly carrots, corn and peas. The dinner finished with the most delicious chocolate cheesecake I have ever eaten. The other food was forgotten after the second helping of the cake.
They cleared away the dirty dishes and everybody changed seats and broke into groups to talk. I introduced Dad and Garry and they went over to the bar. I introduced Jake and Ellen to Kyle, Larry, Pete, and a few others. We talked of many things. The conversation turned to books and Ellen revealed that she was a writer of romance novels. She told the plot of her new book, which was an allegory of good versus evil, as two men vied for the affections of a sweet innocent peasant girl in fourteenth century France. Ellen was working on her third vodka martini and getting a little silly.
"The hardest thing to write is the sex," she said huskily while tugging at the waist of her sweater, lowering the neckline another inch. She leaned over the table and stared deeply into Kyle's eyes. "Don't you think sex can be hard?"
"H-H-H-Hard in what way?" Poor Kyle was quite taken by the wiles of Ellen.
"You know what I mean by hard," she whispered scant millimetres from his lips. Poor Kyle couldn't take any more and he fell sideways off his chair.
I had finished my fourth beer and was feeling a bit silly myself. Jake laughed right along with me. Ellen's outrageousness no longer shocked us after knowing her for so many years. She was in heaven, surrounded by forty young, leering men. She did not want to be one of the guys. When she had them drooling and panting and eating out of her hand she would tell Jake it was time to go, and then she would write about what happened. This, she informed me, was Serious Research. Writers did a lot of Serious Research, because, as she said, sex can be hard to write about. Jake assisted her in all her Serious Research. They were both crazy; but what do you expect from a writer and an artist?
"Is she always like this?" whispered Larry.
"Oh no," I whispered back. "She's holding back this evening. I guess she doesn't want to embarrass me."
Dad and Garry returned. Dad chased away Pete and Garry moved Kyle by the back of his neck. They sat on either side of me. I was surrounded by paternal figures. "Did you have a pleasant talk?" I asked.
"Yes we did, sweetie." Dad gave me a kiss on the cheek and draped his arm around my shoulder. "Garry tells me my little girl is a real man now."
"What else has he told you?" I asked. Garry was giggling and making funny noises into his mug of beer.
"He told me about the -um -the -you know."
"Jock strap?" I enquired, keeping a straight face.
Dad blushed. "Yes, that. I never thought I would be discussing my daughter's athletic supporter in a bar."
Garry laughed and snorted beer out his nose. "She hangs it proudly from her locker, right beside her bra." Garry slurred the words of the last sentence.
Dad's demeanour changed, like a storm cloud passing over the sun. "He told me the real story about the incident in the bar, the stuff that wasn't in the papers. You didn't tell us he threatened to kill you when he was taken away."
I sighed. "It wasn't that bad. All I got was a bruise. He was drunk. His threats were meaningless. Mom didn't want me to come here to begin with, and I didn't want her to overreact and do something stupid, like drag me home. So all I told you was what was in the papers."
"She's your mother and she has a right to know what happens to you."
"Do you know how humiliated I felt when she did her little locker room scene? I don't want her to try that ever again."
Dad put his hand on mine and squeezed. "I know how much that hurt you; she will never try a stunt like that again. She admits that she panicked. You had grown up so much and that surprised her. It surprised me. I don't know. She won't do that again, I promise."
I looked up from the table and into Dad's eyes. They were very sad. I hugged him and felt myself sob. "I'm sorry, Dad. I should have told you everything. I'm so sorry." The five beers were making me heavy-headed and remorseful. "I should call more, but there's never enough time. I play and practice all day and when I get back to my apartment all I have time for is a quick meal and all I have energy for is sleeping. I spend so much of my time on the road. That's my life. I eat, sleep, and play baseball."
"But we're your family!" Dad exclaimed.
"Oh Dad! The only ones I have time for are my team-mates. They know how I feel, what I'm going through. They're the ones I turn to when I'm lonely, the ones I lean on when I'm weak, and I do the same for them. We're the only ones who can understand what we go through, how hard this life really is, and we all share the one thing that keeps us going, the one thing that makes everything worthwhile."
"And what is that one thing, Annie."
"We all love the game of Baseball, Dad. I know that sounds so stupid to the ordinary person, but we love the game more than anything or anybody else." I took a deep breath. "I've always felt that way."
"I know," he said quietly. "I think I've always known. I think I understand. It's like -I don't know -basic training, I suppose." He lifted my head so I was once again looking into his eyes. "Are you sure this is what you want to be doing?"
"Yes Dad. This is what I want more than anything else in the world."
He smiled, but he didn't look happy. There was a look in his eyes I had never seen before. He let go of my hands and moved back from me. "I guess my little girl HAS grown up."
|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!|