© Amalie Silver 2014
The first thing you need to know about the Beavers is that we’re not quitters.
We live the game.
We breathe the game.
We own it.
Win or lose, it brings a spontaneous rush of adrenaline. A reflex. Something our bodies were designed to do.
Fast-pitch softball was our way of life. And we aimed to perfect our game.
I’d spent three seasons with these ladies, and none of us would ever turn our backs on each other.
79 degrees Fahrenheit
“Everybody in!” I called, taking off my catcher’s mask.
One by one the ladies jogged toward me, ceasing their warm-ups and stretches. Ponytails flopped loosely behind red caps, cleats crunched over the gravel, and gloves were taken off and tucked into armpits.
“All right. ladies. The game starts in five minutes. Up until last week, we were undefeated. So there are a couple of things I don’t want repeated.” I panned the field, looking for any stray red uniforms.
“Kelly, get your ass over here! And fix your pants.” She walked over, and I lowered my voice to a rumble. “Your camel toe is so obvious I feel like I should lead you to water.”
The ladies snickered.
“Okay, like I was saying… We made some obvious mistakes last game. So Lilah,” I looked to my left, letting my chin drop and my brow rise, “if I catch you checking your manicure during a game when your eye should be on the ball, I’m going to rip every one of those things off your fingers with a needlenose. Understood?”
She shamefully nodded.
“Good. Jessy.” My eyes shifted to the blonde standing at Lilah’s side. “I understand that we all have our personal problems. But you are to never again bring a breakup onto the field. Leave that shit at home.”
“Sorry, Jacky,” Jessy said, twisting her hair and looking down toward the grass.
“If you’re going to date during the season, that’s up to you. Just don’t let it affect the team,” I said with a tight nod.
“And Becky,” I added, finding her at my side. “Get a sports bra. This isn’t a striptease.”
She went to defend herself, but I put up my hand. “I don’t want to get into another discussion about the poor craftsmanship of our uniform’s buttons.”
Becky chewed the inside of her cheek and dropped her shoulders in defeat.
“Tonight is a doubleheader,” I continued. “Back to back, same team. We gotta show them who’s boss right out of the gates. Remember,” I pointed to my head, “this game is ninety percent psychological and twenty percent skill. I want to see everyone’s one-hundred-and-ten out there tonight.”
They all swiftly nodded.
“Good. Hands in!”
We piled our hands over each others’. “On three. Ready?”
In unison, we shouted, “One. Two. Three. Beavers!”
Home team had its advantages. Being first in the field meant we’d close the game batting. Which would be necessary if we were behind by the ninth inning, but I had no intentions of letting it get to that point.
That evening we were playing the Cougars.
They were tough.
But we were tougher.
We’d played them in the Division Championship last year, and we handed them their asses. We took the College World Series, too. But a lot of our seniors graduated last season, and a slew of freshmen and sophomores were added to our starting team. And although we had a strong team, we’d still need a lot of work if we stood a chance at winning it all again this year.
Now, more than ever, it was vital that we stay focused and committed.
Our coach’s name is Marny. She chews tobacco, wears cologne, and walks like she has a pair of testicles. She’s not much of a talker and only pulls one of us aside if she notices a flaw in our technique. Otherwise she usually sits quietly keeping score on the bench.
The team took their positions on the field. I was catcher. Izzy stood on the pitching mound, while Jessy jogged over to first base. Wanda stopped on her way to second base to pull up her sock, and Lilah was in the infield at shortstop tightening the knots on her shoes. Becky sat at third, smoothed the wrinkles from her uniform, and winked at a group of guys in the bleachers.
But even with the hustle onto the field and the sounds of nearby traffic, birds chirping, children laughing, and the pings of aluminum bats at surrounding fields, I knew that as soon as the umpire walked onto the gravel, the girls could morph into fast-pitch softball killing machines.
Once the outfielders got into position, I surveyed the team. The umpire walked from behind the backstop and I watched as each lady put on her game face. The heat of the evening was still bearing down, but I could feel a slight lift to the humidity as the sun began to set.
The Cougars were dressed in their bright orange uniforms, and each one stood behind the backstop rooting for their first up to bat. Cleats were perched between the fencing, and fingers gripped the wire. They all chewed big wads of bubble gum and gave us the stink eye. Those girls looked a lot tougher than they were.
I squatted behind the plate and nodded to Izzy. Her eyes flickered toward the umpire and waited for his words.
“Play ball!” he shouted.
My insides flipped as I wiped the sweat from my brow just before sliding on my mask. I took one last look at the ladies, ensuring they were all in position.
Each one of them crouched; their eyes remained glued to the batter walking into the infield.
Kayla was the first up to bat on the opposing team. Not that I didn’t already know who she was, the position she played, and her batting average, but her teammates were behind me calling her name.
I took a deep breath and signaled the pitch. Izzy nodded and stood straight, keeping the ball and glove close to her chest.
With a whip-like arm, she pulled it swiftly in a circular motion and took one step toward me, releasing the ball. But before I could feel it hit my glove, I heard the plinking echo of the ball making contact with the bat.
Kayla had hit a line drive straight to Lilah at shortstop.
Unfortunately for Lilah, she didn’t move her glove fast enough.
I heard the crunch of her kneecap from behind home plate just before I watched her fall to the ground.
“Holy fuck!” I yelled, running toward her and flipping off my mask. Lilah lay in the dirt, gripping her knee with both hands, as the ball rolled off into foul territory. She screamed, and then choked on her own vomit.
“Call the fucking paramedics!” I shouted and looked around at the stunned crowd surrounding the field.
When no one moved, I screamed even louder, “Now!”
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