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Perfect Catch(9)

By:Sierra Dean



She knew she’d never get to call plays in a major league game, and that was fine with her. But someday—hopefully someday soon—a woman might get further than her and be able to make their mark on a real MLB field. If Alice could make things easier for another woman by slowly getting the men in the field to accept having ladies around, well…all the better. Most of the guys were cool about it. She wasn’t sure if Karl was going to be respectful or difficult, and that might prove tricky. Ground crews rotated fields, but not umpire crews, so it would be her, Donovan, Karl and Heath for the rest of the early season.

Sadly, it seemed these days for every Donovan there were three or four Karls out there to treat her like she didn’t fit in. But there were other old-timers like Donovan. Men who had taken her under their wings and treated her like a daughter. Those guys had taught her tricks for blending in on the field, and helped train her how not to take player barbs seriously.

Players, and more often managers, had a bad habit of making their displeasure known when they didn’t approve of a particular call. Dumb bitch was hardly the worst thing Alice had had yelled at her in the past. She’d been physically threatened, sworn at and belittled in every possible way. In the beginning she’d let it get to her, often leaving the ballpark in tears at the end of the night.

Since then she’d toughened up. She’d learned to let the nasty words slide off her back and get her revenge in the calmest way possible. On the field, her word was law. And it was within her power to throw players or their managers out of the game as she saw fit.

Karl sat across from her in the small office they were waiting in—enjoying some air conditioning before the midday sun would make them all sweaty and grumpy—and he chewed his gum while staring at her.

Alice pursed her lips, crossing her arms over her chest, the padding under her shirt pinching awkwardly. The longer Karl stared at her, the more she kept matching his gaze, until he seemed to realize he’d been busted.

Getting defensive, he sniffed. “What?”

“You tell me ‘what’. You’re the one who can’t look anywhere else.”

He rubbed his nose, his cheeks ruddy. “Whatever. Get over yourself.”

Gritting her teeth, she tried to overlook it, but Donovan wasn’t in as forgiving a mood. “You got a problem, kid?” he growled to Karl.

“No.”

“I dunno, seems to me you’ve got some attitude. Ballplayers got enough attitude. There’s no room out there for yours, you got that? So if you got a problem, spit it out or shove it up yer ass, got it?”

Donovan’s abruptness clearly rankled Karl. He shifted in his chair, and his gaze darted from Donovan to Alice and back, trying to assess which of them was the more apparent threat to him. Donovan, while old, was an ex-college football player and still seemed beefy enough to tackle someone.

“No problem at all,” Karl said again, his tone flat.

“Good. I ain’t got room for whiners and pussies on my crew.”

Karl might have wanted to say something about pussies, but Alice shot him a look cold enough to make snow shiver. “Don’t.”

He raised his hands in surrender and sat back in his metal folding chair. “You do your job, I’ll do mine, and we’ll be fine.” But it didn’t sound like he was going to be fine. It sounded like he wanted to make something of it, and Alice made a mental note to keep her eye on Karl. And on her own back.

“Enough of this dramatic high school bullshit,” Donovan huffed. “Let’s go call some ball, shall we?”

“My pleasure.” Alice made sure her words were spoken directly to Karl.

The day’s rotation had Heath on first, Karl on second, Alice on third and Donovan at home plate calling the plays. Alice loved being the first- or third-base ump. It put her in a position to judge whether someone was safe on base, and it meant Donovan would turn to her or Heath to decide if a batter had checked his swing or not. It could be a high-stress position, especially if the crowd didn’t agree with a safe or out call, but it was way less stress than home plate.

The schedule had her at home plate for a game three days later. When she noted it was a Felons-Twins game, her heart gave a little stutter. It was nerves over being responsible for the plays and had nothing to do with seeing Alex again. Sure.

When she’d confessed to Emmy she’d invited the catcher over for dinner, her old friend had teased her mercilessly for it. Emmy and Alex were close, now that she and Tucker were engaged, so Alice hadn’t missed all the wingman moves Emmy had tried to pull on Alex’s behalf. Emmy casually mentioned what a great guy he was about a hundred times during the twenty-minute phone call. Alice suspected if her friend had been able to hype up Alex’s sexual prowess without it sounding ridiculous, she would have found a way. As it was, she’d had to settle for his great sense of humor, his wonderful personality, natural charm and a mention of his charity efforts.

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