“ Brett, “ I panted, “slow down.”
The hot Iowa sun beat down on us. I was half walking, half running trying to keep up with my older brother.
I have always been a tomboy and enjoyed the changing seasons and the sports that went with them. Football and soccer in the fall, basketball and ice hockey in the winter and my favorite, baseball in the spring. As soon as Brett and I felt the warmth of the spring sun, we got out our trusty bat, ball and gloves and started limbering up for the season. We played pitch and catch and practiced batting. We even studied up on the rules of the game. By this time, some of our friends had shown up to join in the baseball fun.
After a while Brett said, “I think we have enough for a game. Let’s go over to Baker’s Meadow and choose up sides.”
Mr. Baker was a good neighbor. He had been letting kids play in his back meadow for years. Of course it was not a real baseball field so there were some special rules that applied. There were no foul lines so there were some arguments about foul balls. There was a rule against sliding into second base because second base was a rock. And any ball that was hit into the duck pond was a ground rule double and an automatic time out while we fished it out. But duck ponds, rocks and arguments didn’t bother Brett, me or any of our friends. We chose up sides and started the game.
I had done some growing since last season and when I went to bat, I whacked my very first ground rule double. My knowledge of the rules came in handy when Charlie forgot to tag second base on his way to third. I called for the ball tagged second and declared him out. He made a big fuss, but I pointed out that was the rule.
“Isn’t that right?” I asked Mr. Baker who was watching.
“Right as rain,” said Mr. Baker.
Everything went fine until Brett hit a ball all the way into the next field and Mr. Baker’s goat got it.
“Kat, hurry up,” Brett said impatiently. He was still sore about loosing.
“You know my legs aren’t as long,” I panted. “It’s not my fault you fed our baseball to the goat when we were still two runs down. I am soaked with sweat and thirsty. And you think I wasn’t hurrying?”
When Brett uses my full name, I know I had better shut up.
“Back so soon?” asked Dad when we trooped back home.
“Yep,” I replied. “Game called off on account of Mr. Baker’s goat chewing the cover off the ball.”
Dad was pretty impressed when he heard about Brett’s hit and my ground rule double.
“Seems to me, you kids might want to think about playing some real baseball. It says right here in the newspaper the Quad City Kids League is going to be holding tryouts pretty soon. You might want to sign up.”
“Now, just a minute,” Mom cut in. “There will be a lot of other kids you will be competing against and not everyone will make the team. But you both play pretty well, so it’s up to you.”
The Kids League field was a real field with fences, foul lines, real bases and grandstands. And the teams wore uniforms. Brett and I decided to sign up right then and there.
For the next couple of weeks, wepracticed fielding and hitting. Dad showed us how to choke up on the bat against fast pitching. We also practiced bunting and base running. But as the tryouts grew closer, we began to get a little nervous.
“Try and calm down,” Mom said. “It’s only a game and besides the worst that can happen is you won’t make the team.”
“No, that’s not the worst that can happen,” said Brett looking gloomy. “The worst that can happen is if Kat makes the team and I don’t.”
“I consider that a sexist remark!” I snapped.
“Well, not completely,” Mom said gently. “After all, Brett is older than you and he’s very proud of his baseball ability.”
The day of the tryouts came. I missed an easy ground ball. Brett swung too hard at bat, missed the ball completely and fell down on the seat of his pants. But as the tryouts continued, we both settled down and did much better. Brett remembered to choke up on the bat and hit a good single and went to second base when the fielder bobbled the ball. I fielded some grounders well and once while I was batting, the catcher dropped the ball on the third strike and I ran to first base even though I had struck out. There was a big fuss, but a coach was watching and said I was right.
When we reached the field the next day, Brett and I ran to the bulletin board. After a while a shout rose from the crowd and Brett and I came running back. We had made it! There were four teams in the league: The Cougars, The Aces, The Bulldogs and The Warriors. We both made The Aces.
Practicing was different than just getting together and playing a game. Whenever I was up to bat, the coach made everyone stand back behind the fence since I was left handed and I would let go of the bat in the direction the next batter would be coming from. Being left handed, I also tended to hit the ball toward first base or it was a foul. If I hit a fly ball, someone would usually catch it. I hardly got to run the bases. If you threw the bat, you were automatically out. I learned that pretty quickly. When we got fitted for gloves, they just assumed being a lefty I would need a right-handed glove. Wrong. Even though I do most things with my left hand, I throw a ball, cut and cast a fishing pole with my right.
It always seemed the person before me in the line up would always strike out and it would be the third out. So when it was our turn to bat again, I would be up first and I hated that. One time, I actually made it to third base and decided to go for home, but it didn’t count since one of the fielders had caught the ball on the third out before I was able to make it home. The one time they let me pitch; the batter hit the ball right to me. I picked it up and threw it to first base. I thought I had done a good thing by getting him out. It was then I realized he was one of my own teammates. I did catch a few fly balls hit by the opposing team. This one guy on my team who I had a crush on, told me I had done a good job. If we hit a homerun during one of the games, the coach would give us a dollar so we could get a milkshake at Dairy Queen after the game.
Mom came to all the games. At first, I was proud she was there to watch us. But after a while it got to be a nuisance, or so it seemed to me. Brett was up to bat against The Cougars. The pitcher wound up and threw a fastball. Brett watched it whiz by.
“Strike one!” called the umpire.
“That was no strike!” called Mom from the stands. “It was wide by a mile! Call yourself an umpire!”
Other times when I was up to bat or out in the field, I would hear from the stands, “All right! Whoo hoo! Go, Kat!”
“Your mom sure gets into the game,” one of my teammates said. “It’s like having your own personnel cheerleader.”
“Yeah, well sometimes I wish she would stay home,” I admitted. “It’s awfully embarrassing.”
“You should feel lucky your mom cares enough to come,” my teammate said. “My mom hasn’t been to a single game. She has never seen me play. I would be happy even if she only came to one game.” Then she walked away.
I guess I never realized how fortunate I was to have my parents come to everything I was ever involved in. Whether it was baseball or some other kind of community or school activity.
After the game, I walked over to where Mom was standing.
“Thanks, “ I said and gave her a hug.
“What was that for?” she asked.
“Nothing,” I replied. “Just thanks.”