Sometimes you know what game you're playing, and sometimes you don't.
by Wanda Cunningham
Jimmy made as if he was going to kiss me and I turned my head away. I wasn't sure if he was serious or not but I didn't think I wanted to be kissed, at least not by him.
"Hold still, chiquita," he said. "I'm going to plant a juicy one on you."
"You damn well better not!" I shrieked, squirming to get away from him. He dropped me, still laughing and I ran to the backstop and picked up one of the chewed up old aluminum bats there. Someone had probably been playing rockball with it but it would make a good weapon if any of these idiots tried to kiss me again.
They laughed at me but no one came close, saying, "Cuidado," and "Easy, easy." They all had big grins and their eyes were smiling too, so they weren't being mean, just silly. People not on our team laughed, too. I had a good enough reason to get really mad but I wanted to play so I just gave Jimmy a mean look.
And that really cracked him up so I didn't look at him at all.
Everybody changed position, the Home team becoming Out, and our In's became Home. Tony was now the catcher and Julio would pitch to us. "Put la chiquita up first," he called out. Meaning me, I figured. I gave him a raspberry and he laughed.
"Go ahead, Drew," said Jimmy, grinning at me.
I frowned, they were making fun of me but I stepped up to the plate and waved the bat, ready to try to hit it. "Fast ball," said Tony but Julio lobbed one over, down the middle of the plate, and I popped out to the third baseman. I had to swing, it was a strike.
Jimmy shook his head but smiled at me and I glumly sat on the bench. One third of our inning gone, but there for a moment, I'd thought I might have a hit.
Jimmy batted next and beat the relay from center on a close play at second. The players on both sides, all three sides, made a lot of noise as Greg, our first baseman went to the plate. He hit behind the runner, like you're supposed to, sending a sizzler down the right field line. It rattled past the first baseman then bounced into foul territory where the right fielder dug it out of the yellow needles under the shaggy trees. Jimmy made it home and Greg was safe at first; we had a run.
I jumped around and hollered and screamed like everyone else until Jimmy crossed the plate and came running straight at me, then I grabbed up my rock-battered bat and glared at him. He just laughed but he didn't try to grab me.
Pete, who'd played third for us, hit a long high fly ball and the left fielder dropped it. Greg scored from first and Pete was safe at second.
Mathers, or Mattress, or something, I never got his name right, our catcher, came up to bat grinning like some sort of cartoon character. Julio scowled at him, Matty said something and Julio threw the ball and plunked him in the chest. Tony and Julio argued in Spanish while Matty took his base.
I realized I was up again, already, and walked to the box, feeling a little panicky. "Don't let them get a double play ball," said Jimmy and I nodded to him. It had gotten hotter and the bare dirt in the outfield looked all wavy. I wished I had a hat and I wished I had my hair cut shorter. The sweat ran down the back of my neck and under my shirt.
I wiped my face with my arm and then settled into the batter's box which was a sort of hole in the ground about six inches deep. People must have been playing baseball there before I started kindergarten.
I just stood crouched over, trying to make my strike zone small, while Julio tossed balls past me. The hole I stood in made my zone even smaller. No umpire; balls and strikes were called by agreement of the catcher, batter and the three or four spectators old enough to care who weren't playing. Another weird system, the catcher announced the call and if the batter objected, the spectators ruled on it. Anything reasonably near the plate and about waist high was usually a strike.
I took three balls, two of them over my head, before Julio managed to throw me a strike "She's so little," he complained.
"Just throw the ball," said Jimmy.
Tony agreed, "Throw the ball." He tossed it back to Julio.
I got back in the box and grinned at the pitcher. "Groove me one," I challenged him. Meaning, give me one like he did earlier and I would hit it and they could try to get two outs.
Julio wagged his head but tossed a soft one that bounced on the plate; he had walked me, loading the bases. No one said anything while I took my base; Julio was mad about that pitch.
Jimmy knocked the next throw almost to the highway for a grand slam, tying us with Julio's team, Six, Oh, and Six, weird score. We ran the bases laughing and trying not to look at Julio so we wouldn't make him madder. Jimmy caught up to me between second and third, his long legs covering almost twice as much ground as I could for each stride.
"Way to psych the pitcher," he said and I laughed. "You got a cute giggle, too," he said.
"Hey! I got to touch third before you do!" I reminded him, then between third and home, he sort of grabbed me and tossed me at the plate without letting go of me, then stomped on it himself.
"Lemme go!" I said after we had scored the runs but he spun me around, kissed me square on the lips and sat me on the bench, plopping down beside me. I stared at him.
I wondered if I dared wipe my face. I was afraid he'd cream me if I made a scene about it or anything. "Don't do that again," I said, not really knowing what else to say. I didn't say it very loud.
I hadn't tried to tell anyone I wasn't a girl which they obviously thought I was because I just wanted to play and I'd had enough of teasing about being too pretty to be a boy back home. Now I thought it might be dangerous to insist on it; he'd already kissed me. What would he do if he knew I was really a boy?
I thought I should probably head back to the motel before he or I did something really stupid. But Mom probably wasn't asleep yet, and I still wanted to play. And the game was tied.
I decided to stick around, I liked playing and if I left it would mess up the teams. But I decided to keep a close eye on Jimmy. I didn't want to get kissed again.
"No more kissing," I told him but he just laughed.
I went all the way over to the other side of the group of kids behind home plate. Jimmy just grinned at me and winked. I pretended not to see that and watched the game.
Twice at school back home, bigger boys had grabbed me in the boys' bathroom, carried me to the girls' bathroom and threw me in. The girls didn't like it much better than I did and I got teased about it a lot. Now with the long hair I hadn't had cut in six months, well, maybe I did look a little too much like a kid version of my mom.
I wiped my face a couple of times because of the head and I pinched my lower lip between my thumb and forefinger. That hurt and made me mad enough I didn't worry so much.
I still wanted to play so I just sat there and ignored Jimmy making goo-goo eyes at me. For crissakes, he was fifteen; he ought to leave me alone even if he did think I was a girl. I knew he was just teasing me, like my dad's uncles sometimes teased Mom, but it really made me mad. I shouldn't have told him I was eleven, if he thought I was only nine maybe he wouldn't have kissed me on the mouth.
Our team was still up. Greg knocked a little bouncer to centerfield and beat the throw at first then Pete hit one into a tree in the outfield, a ground rule triple, scoring Greg. Matty stood in against Julio to a count of three-and-oh, then Julio switched places with the third base man and the new pitcher plonked Matty in the arm, the second time he'd been hit by a pitch.
"It's deja-vu all over again," said Jimmy. I laughed but I wasn't sure why. It wasn't the same, Pete was on third this time.
Jimmy gave me a lighter bat as I took the batter box. He grinned at me and mussed my hair again.
"Jeez," said the pitcher, a big red-headed kid. "You're too small to pitch to. You're just a little girl."
"Am not," I said, getting a little mad again. And I couldn't make a point about being a boy now, it wouldn't be safe. "I'm eleven!" I said. I shut my mouth and glared at him.
He sneered and I swung the bat to show him where I wanted it. "Just pitch," said Jimmy.
He pitched, a slow looper that would likely bounce on the plate but I shifted my grip, reached forward and bunted it down the first base side. I took off running, careful to swing wide of the ball. The pitcher cussed and ran over to get it, he took a swipe at me and missed then threw to home to try to get Pete. He threw wide by more than the catcher could jump. The ball headed toward the street between the field and the motel as I ran for first. Pete scored.
"Ball inna street! Ball inna street!" somebody was yelling.
"Ground rule double!" shouted Jimmy. That started an argument. Matty ran all the way home in front of me and I followed him. The ball had rolled under an old derelict car and two kids were arguing about who was going to brave the black widows and crawl in after it.
Jimmy was laughing. "You dorks should have taken the ground rule double, 'cause now it's a homerun." That started another argument as the fielding teams tried to retract their opposition to a new ground rule that would have kept me at second and Matty at third.
They finally compromised and I ended with a "ground rule extra base" plus an error and two runs batted in. Not like anyone kept a scorecard but they seriously knew how the game is supposed to be played. Jimmy patted me on the butt as I headed back to third. At least, he hadn't tried to kiss me again.
Julio grinned at me. "You can bunt, chica." I think he was glad he hadn't been involved in any part of the bonehead play. I grinned back at him, pleased all over again. It really had been a beautiful bunt.
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