I stood in my backyard, wearing the clothes that I hid from my mama. A T-shirt and jeans, with a baseball cap atop my head. Boy, would Mama scream if she saw me wearing this. But I hate itchy blouses, skirts that are impossible to run in, and dresses that are like both of those combined. I threw my baseball up and caught it in my mitt—both of which I didn’t bother to hide from Mama because she would find out I had them, anyway. My late daddy gave me my baseball. I miss him. He knew about my jeans and T-shirt, but he didn’t tell Mama. He kept all my secrets. I looked at the writing on the baseball, so lovingly and carefully written on. It read:
For my Katie. Love you forever.
Those few words made this my most prized possession. I was winding up to throw the pitch, when I heard from a few feet away:
“Hey Parker, you throw like a girl!”
I whirled around to see Billy Archer. Billy Archer had his arms folded across his chest with, I noticed, his baseball mitt on. I didn’t panic when he saw me wearing my clothes I kept secret from Mama. He already knew, but he didn’t tell because he knew I could beat him up.
I crossed my arms. “Is that supposed to be an insult?” I asked.
“Does it sound like one?” Archer asked.
“No,” I told him honestly.
“Well, it is one, Parker. I’m heading to baseball tryouts. I would bring you along but they don’t let girls in the league!” Archer teased.
“Shut up, Archer. You better get out of here before I give you a bloody nose,” I said.
“Oh, all right... but what is that?!” Archer exclaimed, pointing at something behind me.
“What?” I asked, turning around. As I turned, I made the foolish mistake of letting my hand with my baseball in it fall to my side.
Archer grabbed the ball from my exposed hand. He looked at the inscription. “Aw... you miss your daddy?” he teased.
My cheeks burned. “Give it back, you jerk,” I said.
“No,” he said, “I’ll take it to the baseball tryouts.” He sprinted off.
“Billy Archer, you get back here!” I hopped onto my bike and pedaled after him as fast as I could. He ran a long time, then finally arrived at the shabby baseball field. He ran in. I hopped off my bike and ran after him. I tackled him the minute I got the chance.
“Billy Archer, you give me my baseball right now…” I looked up. All the boys trying out for the league were staring at us. The coach, who was in the dugout, watching the boys try out, looked at us. He walked over to us very slowly. It seemed like an hour passed before he got over to us. He took no notice of Archer.
He said, “What is a girl”—he scoffed out the word girl, like girls were the most repulsive things he had ever heard of—“doing here?”
The way he said girl made me want to spit on his over-shined shoes, but I controlled myself. I stood up with a hand on my hip. I lowered the brim of my baseball cap. “I, sir,” I said, “am here to try out for the baseball team.” While I was here, I figured, why not?
The coach laughed as if it was a joke. “I’m serious.” I snapped. That was enough to stop him from laughing, but it couldn’t wipe the stupid grin from his face.
“This is no place for a girl,” he said. “Go home and play with your dollies.”
Now that crossed the line. I grabbed my ball out of Billy Archer’s limp hand, then stepped on the coach’s toe. Hard. As he reached for his toe, I walked away to my bike. “By the way, I hate dolls,” I informed him, “and this won’t be the last you’ll be hearing from me.”
I mounted my bike and rode home. Then I took off my baseball cap and changed into a dress before Mama got home from work at five. She’s a saleswoman at Big Al’s Convenience Store, two blocks from here. It makes a meager salary, but at least we’re still eating three meals a day and keeping all our old luxuries, that’s what Mama says.
Mama has blond hair frayed with stress, and blue eyes that aren’t as happy as they used to be when Daddy was alive. “Hi, honey,” said Mama, bending over to kiss me as she walked in.
I stood up. “Hi, Mama,” I said, “how was work today?”
Mama hesitated, then slowly said, “It was all right.”
But I know Mama too well. “Mrs. Archer came to shop today, didn’t she?” I asked.
“Yes,” Mama admitted. Mrs. Archer thinks that she is the best person in the world, except maybe her son, Billy. “She came and talked about how her son was going to do great at baseball tryouts, and how she would come to every one of his games because, apparently, she had decided that he had already made it onto the baseball team,” Mama said.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “Mrs. Archer’s just... just...” I tried to think of the right insult to describe Mrs. Archer, but I decided that no words could express what she was like.
“Just horrible, terrible, and self-centered!” Mama raged. Mama was usually calm, but if one thing could make her mad, it was Jane Archer.
“Exactly,” I said, “but the good news is that she probably won’t come to shop again for at least a week.”
Mama smiled. “You’re right,” she said, giving me a hug. “Where would I be without you?”
The next day, after school, I walked down to the baseball field and looked at the team list for the league. Oh, no. There it was, in print, the name that I’d hoped wouldn’t appear on this list, but of course, it did: Billy Archer. The practice schedule was also posted. Weekdays from four o’clock to five o’clock, Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. I made note of this.
The day after that, I couldn’t stop squirming in my seat during class. When school was finally out, I bicycled home, changed into my T-shirt and jeans, and rode my bike to the baseball field, arriving at 4:10.
As soon as I stepped onto the field, all eyes were on me. The batter lowered his bat. The pitcher stopped winding up his pitch. It was deadly silent. The coach walked over to me, even slower than he did last time I saw him. “What are you doing here?” he said. He had a way of emphasizing every word that made it obvious that I wasn’t welcome here. Not that I cared.
“I’ve told you, I want to try out for the baseball team,” I said with my chin jutted out confidently.
He chuckled. “You know what? I don’t care,” he said.
I smiled. “Well, I’ll just show up at all the practices until you let me be on the team.”
The coach was no longer grinning. “Get out,” he said.
“No,” I replied defiantly.
“Get out,” he repeated.
“No,” I said again.
Suddenly a man walked in. “Sorry I’m late, Phil, I lost track of time.” He paused as he saw me. “What are you doing here?”
“Her? She was just leaving!” said the coach.
I glared at him. “No,” I said, “I’m trying out for the baseball team.”
The man looked at me as if I was a miracle. “ I like it,” he said.
“What?” the coach asked, alarmed. I smirked at him.
“Phil, think about the publicity. .Everyone will like this team,” he said, then turned to me. “I’m Carl, manager of the league. We’d love you to be on the team!” He shook my hand.
“We would?” the coach asked, bewildered.
“Of course. What do you say?” asked Carl.
“Shouldn’t you see if I’m any good first?” I asked.
“I’m sure you’re great. Do you want to be on?” said Carl.
I knew they just wanted me for publicity now, but later, that might change. “Sure, Carl,” I said.
He chuckled. “Great,” he said, “you can start now.”
He left after that. Things were awkward at that practice. I could tell nobody wanted me there. But they couldn’t kick me out. And I loved it.
I hopped onto my bike after practice. I biked home slowly. “You’re only on the team for publicity!” I heard a voice say. I didn’t even need to look to know that it was Archer. I smiled at him. “I know,” I said, “but I’m on! Thanks for your congratulations, Archer.”
I pulled my bike up to the front of the house at 5:15. I swung the door open and immediately wished I hadn’t. Mama got back from work at five o’clock—how could I forget?
“Katie, where were you? I was so worried!” Mama said before turning around. I closed my eyes. Mama turned around and screamed.
“Katie,” said Mama, only slightly recovered, “why are you wearing that?”
I thought about everything Mama did for me, and how I had been keeping secrets from her, and guilt flooded me. I burst into tears and slid down the wall, in a miserable heap on the floor. “I wanted to tell you,” I sobbed as Mama ran to comfort me, “but I didn’t know what you would say. I didn’t want you to take away these clothes.”
“Katie,” Mama said, “it’s OK. Just explain this to me over dinner, OK, honey?”
“Of course, Mama,” I said, calming down. Then I looked at her, and I knew I couldn’t possibly keep the baseball team secret, and I didn’t want to keep it secret, either. “Mama,” I began hesitantly, “I’ve got to tell you something.”
“What is it?” Mama asked.
“I’m on the baseball team.” I forced the words to come out.
Mama looked shocked, but the shock faded. I looked down. “Katie,” Mama said gently, “look at me.”
I lifted my tear-stained face. There was understanding in her eyes. “It’s OK. You love baseball, and I want you to do what you love,” she said.
“You mean you’ll let me stay on the team?” I asked.
“Honey,” she said, “if you didn’t play baseball, you wouldn’t be my Katie.”
The next day at practice, Coach told us our first game would be Saturday against the Daleville Eagles.
“How are we supposed to win with a girl on the team?” Billy asked.
“I don’t know, Billy,” said the coach, looking right at me. “If it was up to me, there wouldn’t be a girl on our team.” It didn’t matter. They would be glad they had me on Saturday.
It seemed to me that the week couldn’t possibly have gone slower, but finally, Saturday came. Mama drove me to the game, then found a seat to watch. Everyone laughed when they saw me, but I didn’t care. The coach gave us a pep talk in the dugout that ended with, “We’ll all try our best today, that’s what matters.” Then, looking at me, he added, “All of us.”
Our team was first at bat. Billy Archer, the coach’s favorite, was the first to bat. The pitcher threw the ball hard, but Archer hit it. Archer ran to first base and stayed there. The next boy went up holding his bat so high his elbow hardly bent, and his legs were far apart. He struck out, as did the next person.
As the third person struck out, I walked over to the coach and said, “You aren’t ever going to let me bat, are you?”
“Not unless it’s my only choice,” he replied.
I looked at him with annoyance as he turned to the team and said, “Now that we’re the outfielders, I can only send nine of you out there right now, and there are ten players on the team.”
“Coach, there are eleven players on the team,” I pointed out.
“No,” said the coach, “there are ten players and one publicity manager.”
Archer snickered. “Archer, you’re pitching,” said coach. Then he called out eight other names that weren’t mine.
Archer struck the first and second batters out. Then the third batter actually hit the ball, far. He ran very fast, and our outfielders ran very slow. The batter got a home run, and by the end of the first inning, the score was six to zero. Then we were up to bat again. I didn’t get to bat, and by the end of that inning, it was twelve to one.
The third inning, I watched two people strike out. The coach turned to us, looking annoyed. “Parker,” he said, “you’re up.” I shrieked with excitement and ran to the bat, then looked at Mama to see the beautiful smile on her face. Her eyes sparkled with happiness, like they did when Daddy was alive. And I knew that I couldn’t mess this up, not only for the team, and for my pride, but for her, too.
The pitcher threw the ball. “Strike one!” called the umpire. Archer put his head in his hands. I bit my lip and adjusted my stance. The pitcher threw the ball again. “Strike two!” called the umpire. I had to do this. I took a deep breath and got ready. The pitcher threw the ball. I swung the bat, and it collided with the ball, which went soaring through the air. I dropped the bat and ran. The whole team was screaming my name, except for Archer and the coach. I ran, and an outfielder had the ball by the time I reached third, but I had to reach home, I had to keep running! “And it’s a home run!” shouted the umpire. Mama jumped up and screamed. I smiled. I was so happy!
That inning changed things. My teammates didn’t make fun of me, except for Archer and the coach, but I didn’t mind them. We won that game, but I wouldn’t have cared if we had lost, because what mattered was that I was part of the team now. I even became pitcher at the next game. I was finally accepted just the way I was!