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Just To Play Baseball PART ONE
Leah K. Oxendine
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“BY JOVE, IF IT’S NOT TEN TIMES MUGGIER THAN YESTERDAY, I DON’T KNOW WHAT IT IS.”
Elspeth Yager, a tall, 15-year-old tomboy of a girl, swatted a mosquito off her arm as she bent to retrieve an old, soggy baseball.
The date was 1904--August 5th, to be precise. To be even more precise, it was practice time for the Reddick High school Diamondbacks… and for the only female on the field, the only kind of practice gotten was “ball duty.”
This girl’s name, well, no one called her by it. Most locals called her by a more casual nickname, Elsie. She was a girl born into a family of all boys; she had 4 brothers. Citrus growers, the Yagers were.
For all of her life, Elsie had been a lover of the great outdoors, never touching a doll or tea-set, and always around a slew of boys. Some people, especially the other girls in town, seemed to think Elsie was a bit at a loss because of this.
Yet, it was of no matter to Elsie. She was thankful to God for the situation He’d put her in, and loved the adventure given her. And baseball, well, it was one of the most wonderful adventures she’d got herself into.
And now, we find her congratulating her eldest brother as he strolled into the dugout. “Emil! Fine hit there, if I’ve ever seen such a curveball.” 16-year-old sophomore Emil grinned at his sister. “You just wait till’ my next turn at bat.”
“Yes, yesss… we ALL know about what you’re gonna do at that next turn at bat… well, what if it never comes?” The jeers of fellow teammates Thaddeus Judson and Alastair Hoover carried over from the other side of the dugout, making Elsie shake her head in disgust. Thaddeus, called Thad, continued on, pretending to be a game announcer.
“OHH MYYY… LITTLE YAGER JUST STRUCK OUT FOR HIS UMPTEENTH TIME IN A ROW! WHAT ELSE WILL WE SEE TONIGHT!”
Emil didn’t get mad when he was taunted. In fact, unkind comments seemed to have as much effect on him as water did rolling off a duck’s back. Elsie, however, took criticism fine herself but always stood up for her brothers. But unfortunately, it was real easy for her to go overboard on doing so.
Straightening her posture, she said in a tone quite bold and unfeminine (by standards of the current day),
“Emil can hit better than either of you. And you talk of striking out? I’ll call Wally over and he’ll be striking you out right good. I’ve a mind to do the same thing, myself!”
At that moment, freshman Joe Curry stood up, shaking his head.
“Elsie, you’ve got no future of being on this team,” He paused for effect, looking at her a minute.
“You know it’s not even fit to be in your wildest dreams. Girls have NEVER joined this here team, and teacher, principal and coach would never let them, either. You’re the only one I’ve ever seen who’s actually thoroughly interested. Still, how’re you planning to do as your brothers do?”
Elsie had an answer she’d loved to have told Joe, but didn’t. The truth was, she had just gotten a wonderful idea concerning a way for her to play baseball… but no, she couldn’t tell the boys. The boys would immediately blab it to the girls and then the girls would tell the teachers and so on and on. Why, she was already seen as tomboyish and quite unruly for a young lady. But it was really only her interest in playing baseball which made her so.
And also, no one except Wally, Emil, (plus their dear parents, of course.) and a few loyal friends and cousins knew how Elsie wanted to join the Reddick High Baseball team. So she was left a bit answerless. Thankfully everyone’s attention was temporarily shifted from her to a new figure approaching the little crowd. This new figure was none other than Elsie’s younger brother Wally; 14-years-old and a not-half-bad pitcher.
Elsie sighed with relief as the blond-headed boy strode into the dugout. Having him there brought up more topics for conversation, which were not concerning his sister.
“Say, Wal,” Raymond Price, an upbeat fellow Emil’s age, came over to Wally and looked at him. “Wouldn’t you like to be a real pitcher for us? And I do mean real. Not just practice, or a boring old fill-in. Goodness knows, we need more players on the team and especially now that Jock Fermoll is graduating. What do you say, Walter? You’d be a slew of good as pitcher replacement for Jock.”
This brought quite a bit of talkative ‘uproar’ from the other boys. Wally wasn’t sure of how to respond; he was quite shocked to have been asked to join the team… although truth be told, all he wanted to do in the world was play ball, and to do so on a team that actually needed him would be simply terrific.
Thad, now deciding he needed to step into the heat of the debate, said in a very grown-up way,
“Both Wally and Ray have forgotten an important piece of information, it seems. How old is our dear new prospective pitcher? Not yet 14 and a half, even? Nope, can’t be a highschool baseball team pitcher then. Facts are facts.”
Yet another little uproar began, making Elsie sigh. Wally would be 15 soon enough, in less than a year. She knew, and so did both her brothers, that Thad just wanted to get a word in, not caring whether it mattered or not.
But no matter how much debate and unkind comments flew through the heavy summer air, practice had to resume as usual, or coach would get at them all, and rightly so. Time couldn’t be wasted on little unimportant tidbits of squabble.
After the game, (Which both Wally AND Elsie did participate in as non-official players.) there were a few trips back to the school well to get a drink of water and refresh oneself. Then, for all of the boys who did not have jobs to be worked at around Reddick, it was time to go home.
Emil, Wally and Elsie did not do any particulars around town; (If you could actually call it a town, that is. It was more of a community.) there was just too much to do at home for any other work. Raymond and another boy, Bert Merle (who was Elsie’s age) lived down the street from the Yagers and took the same way to get there, so they accompanied the 3 siblings on their way home.
It was usual to have at least one of the team members walk home with the Yagers. Light, jovial chatter was common among them, but this time, there was more to be said than jokes and prank ideas. Raymond poked Emil and whispered in his ear,
“Hey, your sister isn’t that bad of a batter.” Emil poked Raymond back and said in disgust,
“I know, but why are you trying to keep it secret?”
Bert apparently figured out what they were talking about, because he put in quickly, “Sure thing, why keep it so, when we need new players?” Even though Bert thought Elsie a jolly good player, he didn’t like to compliment her to her face… everyone knew what he meant when he talked, anyway.
“Yes, yes, and there are no other boys in town old enough… Half of everybody is graduating all the sudden, too!”
Wally was quick to get his rather excited thoughts out, but he was thinking more of himself joining the team than Elsie; who by this time had become rather amused by the ideas of the boys.
It felt nice to be needed; but reality’s truths overpowered her hopes and notions. There couldn’t ever be a way for her to join the team; even if Wally got on it, which he probably would despite his age.
The excitement of the little group soon faded off when everyone began to consider the reality as well, but Raymond spoke up again, and this time it certainly wasn’t in whispers.
“Well, by George, if we can’t have Elsie on the Reddick Diamondbacks, why not start something else, quite of our own? What would stop us from making our own team?”
Elsie’s mouth could have dropped several inches, if she had not kept it from doing so.
She was thoroughly amazed at Raymond… how did he concoct this? If only he knew, this was not the first time such an idea had come around in the area!
And it wasn’t from any of the other boys, either!
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