Coach Armstrong could pitch the ball at about 70 miles per hour. Underhand. She was about five foot four and 120 pounds, but could form bruises the color of deep purple cabbage on our thighs and upper arms. Batting practice was brutal. The imprint of softball stitches on our skin were commendable alternatives for the tattoos our parents scoffed at — the markings of a true warrior. But even a field of Joan of Arcs gets tired and, frankly, over it. And just when we thought we had reached our limit, practice was over.
When all the balls were picked up and dusk dropped the temperature to the low 90’s, we would wobble to the parking lot hoping for some matronly sympathy, but even our mothers were merciless. Mine would scream as she rumbled up in her clunker of a Volvo, “it’s good for you!”
“The frailest creature on the diamond is frequently the male umpire.” –The Saturday Evening Post, 1942
Things that can happen during the time from which the ball leaves the pitcher’s fingertips to when it thwacks into the pocket of the catcher’s glove (this moment lasts for approximately one second):
Someone, somewhere, blinks.
An ‘i’ is dotted.
A calm heart thumps twice.
A knuckle is popped.
A kiss is ended.
The top to a pen is snapped back on.
Lipstick is smeared by a bump in the road.
A grey hair is plucked out.
The knees of a toddler buckle.
Someone says yes.
A gun is fired.
The breath before the music starts.
[A baseball field in a small town or a big city.] The stands are not full enough to produce the familiar clamor of ball fans. The spectators that are there are hot. They are sweating through their linen shirts and wool slacks. They wish they were not wearing suspenders. The sun is fire, and the glare off the green grass heats up the wire rims of sunglasses. They are not there to watch the game. They are there to keep their minds off of Nazis on a beautiful summer day. But every so often the wooden slats of the stadium rattle against the roar of airplanes.
“Even today, when spring comes around, I think, ‘Gosh, years ago I’d be getting ready to go to spring training.’ The smell of the earth coming alive again, it just brings back memories that make you want to go get out your baseball mitt.”
South Bend Blue Sox
My mom was, and still is, my biggest fan. She played ball with me whenever I wanted to. She always asked me if I wanted to shoot hoops before dinner. She never missed a game. I knew mothers, certainly mine, hold an importance that is embarrassing to admit when we are young. But now, when life is real and your mother is far away, we cling to what we can, we try so hard to remember what they told us that fateful day the game didn’t go our way.
Casey Candaele, former Major Leaguer who played for the Astros, the Expos, and the Indians, learned how to be an outfielder from his mother, Helen Callaghan, who played five seasons for the All-American Girl’s Professional Baseball League. The athleticism in my family has been passed down through three generations of women, starting in the 1920s, when photography was far from accurately capturing sports and made everyone look the same* until you looked twice.
My grandmother sits in front of her television for 12+ hours a day. Once a renowned tennis player, she now chooses to shuffle her still-able feet. Sometimes she will get up to walk a few feet to the computer, sit down again, and start up another game of solitaire. She doesn’t even garden anymore. She says she is too old.
This woman is not too old to do anything. This is a woman who could do anything.
1. By the summer of 1943, 10 million men had joined or been drafted into the United States military, female employment in defense industries had grown by 462 percent since 1940, and 280 women were invited to Wrigley Field for the final try-outs for the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. 60 were chosen, all white.
2. Dottie Schroeder was the only ball player who was a member for all twelve seasons of the AAGPBL. Dottie had a lifetime batting average of .211 and a face you could fall in love with.
3. 1953, Mamie “Peanut” Johnson becomes the first female pitcher in the Negro League.
4. J. Howard Miller’s “We Can Do It!” poster is often thought to be Rosie the Riveter. The original Rosie, created by Norman Rockwell, is using Mein Kampf as a footrest.