Nadine took a breath and carefully wrapped
the athletic tape tightly across her meager bosoms.
Though she was in a hurry to get out of her dim room in
the Chattanooga boarding house, she passed the tape
around her chest three times, until she was flat, then
secured the ends with a metal clasp. Her hands
trembled as she slid into the white linen shirt, flipped
the ends of the blue silk tie into a knot, then yanked on
the cream cotton trousers. She splashed oily hair tonic
into her short-cropped auburn curls and combed them
straight. Nothing left but the jacket, hat, and shoes.
Where were the damn shoes? There, by the bed, next to
the high heels she probably wouldn't need, thank God.
She slipped on the beige and white wingtips and the
cream jacket, then grabbed her straw hat and a cigar.
Smelling of musk and cheap, rolled tobacco, she took a
quick look in the warped mirror. "Good enough," she said
aloud. She clutched her notebook and pen, re-checking
her assignment. Nobody had wanted it back in New
York, not even the cub. She had held back from jumping
at it. The sports editor had cajoled, fumed, but the men
bayed at him, at the thought of having to cover an
exhibition game between a hick minor league team with
a girl pitcher, of all things, and the mighty Yankees.
"Who wants to read about some she-man?" Joe, the star
columnist, had asked the editor, Sam.
"Well, a lot of people, if you look at how she draws."
Sam was tall, thick in the middle. He had shockingly
small hands for a man who used to pluck footballs out of
"A ga-dam publicity stunt."
"So they say."
"This isn't a carnival," Peter Ford said. We're talking
baseball, here." He cupped his groin. "Say, why we
wasting our time on some broad who should be making
the next Babe Ruth, not pitching to him! Hell, leave her
alone with Babe for about ten minutes and that'd be a
score worth writing about." He guffawed over the rest
of the men, who snorted and hooted. Except for Freak.
That's the nickname they gave Nadine though she had
told them her name was Nate. They called her Freak
because they thought that Nate, being so girlish and all,
must be one of those mistakes of nature. Sam had hired
her anyway, and, in fact, had a curious smile on his face
as if he could see past her masquerade.
She grew up playing ball in the empty fields behind her
neighborhood on the edge of Chicago. All the kids
played, though the girls pretty much stopped once the
boys started asking them out. But not Nadine. She was
good at it, so good, she got a reputation for being better
than any boy. She wanted to pitch for the White Sox and
talked about it all the time. Her father taught Nadine
how to throw a slider before she could braid hair. But
her mother put a stop to it.
"Don't be crazy," she had said, sweeping the kitchen
floor for the third time that day. "You go to college, find
a nice boy, get married and—"
"You're killing her, Martha," her father had said. He had
played first base in high school. Had the best glove in
the state. But he could never hit over .260, so the
scouts passed him up. He sold milk and ice cream out of
a truck instead.
"And you're ruining her," she shot back.
As if, Nadine remembered thinking, she were getting
knocked up. It was all the same to her mother, who was
relieved when the boys in the neighborhood banned
Nadine from the games about the time she turned
sixteen. She would have run off to join one of the
Bloomer Girls teams, but didn't have the courage. Not
after her mother finally laid it on the line. "If you play
with those girls," she had said, "people are going to
wonder about you."
Nadine wasn't sure she understood.
"Oh, for heaven sakes, sweetie. They're, you know,
Nadine couldn't stand up to that. It was worse than
being called a whore. The complete outer edge of the
universe. Instead, she went to a woman's college. After
two years of home economics, French, and English
literature, she quit, having learned, if little else, that she
had a talent for writing. She got a job at the Tribune
gathering recipes for the Wednesday Women's Page. But
she hated to cook as much as she loved baseball.
Six months later, a position opened up at the paper to
cover high school sports. It was the bottom of the barrel
in the sports department, but she wanted it. When she
asked about the job, the sports editor, surrounded by
three leering cronies, laughed her out of the room. "How
you gonna cover sports, girlie?" he had asked, scratching
his bulbous nose with his middle finger. "In the locker
room, you're going to be looking Tom, Dick, and Harry in
the face. Especially dick." They laughed so hard, she
felt their hot breath on her face. She backed out of the
room, her head down.
Then, she heard that a New York daily needed someone
to compile numbers for the stats pages. She grew
excited, then soured. They would not hire her, especially
in the middle of a depression. There'd be dozens of men
vying for that job. She stayed awake all night, open-
eyed at the ceiling, hoping it might hold the answer to
her dilemma. It finally came to her the way ideas tend
to, in the seam of night and day, from pure ether. Her
thoughts, of all things, had shifted to Shakespeare. She
tried to chase him and his great plays away, but they
would not go. Especially the comedies. Especially, she
sat straight up in bed and crowed, her favorite heroine.
The next day, she quit the Tribune and headed to the
city dressed as Nate. Sam hired her on the spot when
she dazzled him with her ability to recall ERA's, batting
averages, won-loss records, and on- base percentages.
In July, after two months grinding out numbers, she got
her first assignment when Sam asked her to fill in for
Jack, the minor league reporter, sick with the flu. Before
she knew it, she was getting steady assignments,
earning a reputation as an accurate reporter with a hard-
hitting, fast-paced, at times even lyrical, style. She could
capture the suspense and tension of a squeeze play:
"The batter, in a lone face-off against a creeping horde
of infielders...." Or the sheer audacity of a grand slam:
"The single sweep of the arms that granted everyone's
wish." Ballplayers were human beings first. One first
basemen, she'd reported, whistled while waiting to catch
pop-ups. When the Toledo Mud Hen's clean-up hitter fell
into an 0 for 17 slump, she dug up the cause: his fiancé
had dumped him for a pastry chef.
At first the men didn't pay much attention to her. They
weren't even fazed when she wouldn't give their big-
busted secretary Ginger the time of day, a sure sign
there was something funny about the new guy. And,
what was that to them? It was one less man salivating
over the only woman in the office. But then, Nadine
committed the cardinal sin. Her work stood out. That's
when the faggot jokes started, the rude bumps in the
hall, the nasty notes on her desk with the crude
drawings. And the nickname. So when the assignment
to cover the girl ballplayer came up, she kept her mouth
"OK, I'm tired of fooling around. Which one of you
boneheads is going to do this, or do I have to break
some balls?" Sam let out a breath the length of his
body. Nadine wondered why men relied so much on
private parts for metaphor.
"What about Freak?" Jack said. After Nadine subbed for
him, Jack got switched over to pro tennis. "Send a man
to do a man's job. Send a pussy to cover a girl." She
wanted to ask him if that meant he was volunteering,
but she kept quiet. Sam didn't bother defending her,
never did. But his face flushed red.
"How about it, Nate? Could be big. She might be facing
Ruth and Gehrig. The wires are going to be there. Your
story could get picked up." Sam eyed her as if he had
wanted it to work out like this all along.
"Of course he will," Peter said. "He and the skirt can
have a tea party."
She took the job. As she hurried to the ballpark, she felt
a surge of adrenaline. She felt it again, more intensely,
the nearer she got to the stadium. She had already
heard about Jackie Mitchell from the press releases out
of Chattanooga where the Lookouts, a men's minor
league team, didn't care that the rifle of an arm they had
scouted belonged to a seventeen-year-old girl. They
claimed she was the first woman to sign a contract with
a men's team but Nadine knew that wasn't true.
Her father told her once about a woman named Lizzie
who'd pitched for a men's team in Reading at the turn of
the century. But she couldn't find anyone in the
business who knew a thing about her, as if she never
existed and this Jackie was making history all over
again. She wondered how many times that had
happened to women.
"Not this time. Not if I can help it," she said, so loudly a
man on the crowded street stopped in his tracks to look
at her. But her protest felt hollow, though she wasn't
sure why. Nadine had done her homework on Mitchell,
gathering the news reports off the wires and calling the
team manager, her parents, local reporters, the Chamber
of Commerce, anybody who had seen this phenom play.
And who could explain where she (a woman!) had the
balls—make it bosoms—to think she could pitch to the
greatest hitters in baseball history.
Three blocks from the ballpark she passed a Dodge
sedan, a flashy red convertible and a Ford pickup stuffed
with three generations of family, all lined-up to cram into
the few remaining parking spots. Dozens of fans jostled
for position on the sidewalks to get to the ticket window
first. Mothers and fathers held their young children tight
in one hand and a picnic basket or blanket in the other.
Boys and girls swung stubby mitts and walked double-
time to keep up with their parents.
Smoke from cigars, cigarettes, and pipes laced the air
like an acrid perfume. It was a male scent, as strong as
any animal's. Her father had smoked nothing but Prince
Albert cherry tobacco in his pipe. It smelled the best
outside, strong and sweet at the same time, like her
father who every year took her to at least three White
Sox games, always in the upper deck on the first base
line. She closed her eyes and breathed in the thick
She passed the vendors, grizzled and bleary-eyed,
hawking felt pennants, low slung caps, miniature
baseball bats, and autographed baseballs. Then she
entered the small stadium, dim against the bright
sunlight outside, but filled with a confounding bouquet of
cotton candy, warm flesh, buttered popcorn, spilled beer,
franks and sauerkraut, roasted peanuts. A rush of
emotion closed up her throat and stung her eyes.
She hustled down the concourse with the motley crowd,
electrified by the ancient spectacle of the game. Only
after she passed through the tunnel, dark and narrow,
and out again into the magnificent emerald expanse of
the ball field, did she let out a soft cry, as if she had
been slapped by the sublime. Even at this place, a shed
compared to The House That Ruth Built, she was moved.
The dark green stadium formed a horseshoe around the
infield. An overhang protected the fans behind home
plate from rain. Beyond the infield, down the first and
third base lines, people stood, as there was no seating.
A wooden fence, cluttered with signs advertising Winston
cigarettes, BC powder, Country Biscuits, and Stroh's beer
curved around the perimeter of the outfield. Usually,
only a few souls, the ones who preferred a more potent
liquid refreshment during the game, moseyed out behind
the outfielders. But today, a half hour before the game,
an overflow crowd streamed into the grassy area behind
centerfield, craning their necks backward, over their
shoulders as they shuffled ahead, hoping to get a
glimpse of Ruth, Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, and, of course,
Nadine looked at the ballplayers on the field too,
straining to pick out Jackie. It didn't take her long. She
was warming up with a Chattanooga catcher down the
first base line, wearing the get-up that someone at
Spaulding had made special just for her. It didn't look
too different from the men's—a white cotton V-neck top
with a large "C" embroidered over her heart, and white
baggy knickers designed to disguise her ample bottom
(childbearing hips, Nadine's mother would have said).
She did not seem too inconvenienced by either hips or
bosoms, though she had to adjust her windup and
delivery to accommodate both, pitching the ball side-
armed instead of overhand.
Except for that, and her short, wavy hair, Nadine would
not have been able to tell her apart from a man,
especially when she pitched. She could throw a fastball,
all right, hard and straight, but it was her curveball that
was show stopping. That ball was programmed to cut
toward the heart of the plate, but then, right at the last
second, plunge as if it had rolled off a table. The catcher
had so much trouble with it, he resorted to resting on his
knees, so he could block the ball, just in case he couldn't
field it cleanly on the one-hop.
Nadine heard someone shout, "There she is!" and saw
three boys dart from where she was behind home plate
over to the first base side. She watched the boys zigzag
between rows of seats, then fold themselves in half over
the fence in front of Jackie. They were stretching out
their arms like elephant trunks, begging her to autograph
their balls. She stopped her windup, tucked her mitt
under her arm and signed two balls before an usher
shooed the boys away. Others came after them in small
waves and the usher stayed put to fend them off.
Nadine wanted to go over to her as well, to see up close
what she still could not believe. But she stood, frozen in
her spot. Her exhilaration had evaporated as quickly as
the ubiquitous cotton candy into something akin to a
stomachache. She wanted to be happy for her, to revel
in this groundbreaking moment. But she had not
prepared herself to see this person do what she would
not. Nadine had compromised herself twice—first by
choosing journalism over baseball, then disguising
herself into oblivion just to write about it. She gave
herself credit for the risk she was taking, the shame and
humiliation she might suffer if found out. But she was in
hiding, all the same. This Jackie woman lived her dream
out in the open, perched in the bull's eye of the national
pastime. What must that courage feel like, she
wondered as she tugged at the tie that choked her. The
sour feeling that was gripping her belly, she realized,
was envy. It made her feel small.
When the organist pounded out the first chords of "Me
and My Gal," Nadine jumped, startled out of her thoughts
by the deep vibrations of the small pipe organ. She
glanced behind her at the press box, which was already
filled with smoke and cross men. She jogged up the
steps and pulled out her press badge before the usher
could ask for it.
"Sorry, no room in here," the old man said. He eyed her
like he wasn't sure what to think, then rubbed his dry,
scaly hand across his cheek. "We didn't expect all this
press to show up just for a broad. You from that big
shot New York paper?" He was disbelieving, as if only
brawny men with an abundance of body hair would cover
sports. "We got seats for the rest of you'se down by the
"Hells bells," she said, trying to sound deep and gruff.
But her voice cracked. She should have spit out
something stronger, but it was still hard for her, to
swear. Ladies, her mother had drummed into her, just
didn't do that.
Nadine scampered back down the steps, making it to her
seat in time for the national anthem. She put her hand
over her heart, forgetting about her hat until a big, bald-
headed man in the next seat nudged her and pointed to
it. She whipped it off, scared that she had given herself
away. When the music finished, the Lookouts took the
field and the crowd roared. But, when Clyde Barfoot
sauntered out to the mound he was met with a
smattering of boos. They came to see the girl, not that
rag of an arm Barfoot, who'd been sent back down to the
minors from the Bigs more often than a repeat offender
goes to jail.
She looked for Jackie in the darkened interior of the
dugout across the field, but couldn't make her face out.
She wondered if her heart was racing, or if her hands
were cold and sweaty at the same time. Maybe she was
starting her period. Nadine winced. Her own cramps
were so intense it made her sick. Aspirin didn't do
anything. She just had to wait for the pain to go away,
which could take hours. She wondered what she, herself,
would do if she felt those tell-tale spasms in her
abdomen, knowing the blood was soon to follow, leak on
her white uniform, in the dugout lined with men, just as
she was about to make history in front of an overflow
crowd. She imagined it so vividly her legs were quaking.
Jackie probably never worried about those things, which
is why, she thought, she's over there, and I'm here.
The leadoff batter slammed a single up the middle.
When the second batter careened a double off the
shorter, left-field fence, the manager, Bert Niehoff
trudged out to the pitcher's mound, head down, as if
weighted with much graver concerns than the outcome of
a ball game. He appeared to listen more than talk to
Barfoot, then patted him sadly on the shoulder and took
the ball out of his hands. Barfoot, used to being fired in
the middle of his job, bounded off the field, happy-go-
lucky, as if he were going fishing. The little sprinkle of
applause he got from the more courteous fans turned
into a torrent of cheers when Niehoff signaled for his
replacement, Jackie Mitchell.
Nadine felt her heart go into her throat. That should be
me, she thought. Jackie walked fast, in short choppy
strides, swinging her arms hard, as if she couldn't get
there quickly enough.
"I knew it," declared the bald-headed man next to
Nadine. His mouth was full of half chewed popcorn. "A
bull dyke." He spewed wet popcorn bits on her.
"How would you know?" Once again, her voice spiked out
of the gruff, hoarse range she struggled to keep it in.
"Awh, c'mon. Look at her," he said, his black eyes wide
with conviction, his bald head gleaming.
"I'm looking." She cleared her throat and ratcheted her
voice back down. "And all I see is a gal playing ball."
She wanted to say more, revile him for his utter
stupidity, but she held back. Maybe she wanted to hear
what he had to say, needed to know that in giving up
ball she had protected herself from this persecution.
"That's my point. It ain't natural. You know it, I know
it, every man in this joint knows it." He coughed up
phlegm, as if the point were settled. Nadine laughed at
the irony. The man misunderstood and smiled, satisfied
Jackie took to the mound like a gopher in a hole, kicking
up dirt, tossing the chalky rosin bag into a cloud of dust,
then settling in on the rubber. With each warm-up pitch,
the crowd went wild at the novelty of a woman throwing
a ball. Nadine felt the intoxicating effects of sweeping
change. She swallowed air to keep her head clear. For a
sweet few moments, she forgot herself as Nate and was
buoyed by the swell of their approval.
Then, the Babe strolled to the plate. Nadine's spirits fell
like a velvet curtain. He would demolish her before she
even got started. The papers had said Jackie had
pinpoint control and an "uncanny knack" of knowing
batters' weaknesses. How puny those weapons seemed
now compared to the Babe, who needed a stadium the
size of a Roman coliseum to accommodate his great
talent and overbearing personality. He was a big man,
for sure, but pudgy, with wide eyes, a fleshy nose and
mouth. He looked to Nadine like a cartoonish hippo. He
wagged his bat a few times to get the crowd going and
purposely avoided stepping into the batter's box until he
was good and ready. Jackie didn't seem to mind, even
waved at the jovial legend.
The crowd enjoyed the display. One woman shouted,
"Hey, Miss Jackie, time to send Babe to bed without his
supper." The Babe sauntered up to a small, bony man a
few seats over who had been hollering for him. Ruth
cupped his hand to his ear as the man whispered
something. He let out a coarse laugh and nodded. The
bald-headed man next to Nadine let out a howl, as if he,
too, had heard the joke.
Finally, Babe stepped into the batter's box. For just an
instant, the crowd got quiet. Nadine focused on Jackie,
who zeroed in on the catcher's fast-moving fingers. She
nodded in understanding, then went into motion, rocking
forward, glove meeting ball, then pausing, eyeing the
men on second and third. She cocked her throwing arm
back, swung one leg up over the other and let the ball
It should not have been this momentous, Nadine
thought, this business of a woman pitching to a man.
But it was. Because it had happened only twice in over
thirty years, might not happen again in her lifetime.
The pitch broke a good foot before the plate and hit the
dirt. The catcher used his body to blanket it. The crowd
laughed. The men on second and third grinned. Babe
shrugged his shoulders at them in a way that said "Well,
Nadine felt the blood rush to her face, as if she had
thrown the errant pitch. She was certain now that the
girl pitcher was going to fail. She would disappear,
become a joke. But Nadine would still have her job,
undercover, safe. She felt sorry for Jackie, but she
should not have overreached.
Then came the next pitch, this time breaking just as
Ruth took a big swing. He missed by a good half foot.
On the next pitch, he missed again, just as badly.
Nadine cried out with the crowd. Her arms instinctively
shot skyward. She jerked her rebellious arms down, then
wrapped them tight around her waist. Jackie, she had
already decided, was going to fall on her face.
"Stop foolin', Ruth," the bald-headed man yelled above
the crowd, which was at fever pitch. "Hit the dad-gum
ball. She ain't got but one pitch!" He slid to the edge of
his chair as Ruth dug in the batter's box, all business
now. Jackie, who looked almost serene, knowing,
delivered another curve that bobbed and weaved before
kissing the comer of the plate. Babe watched it all the
way, then cut his eyes to the umpire like a naughty boy.
The crowd went to its feet. Ruth threw a tantrum,
kicking one foot at air and slinging his bat. He baptized
the ump in spittle with every unholy word he could think
"Awwh! It's a fake," the bald-headed man shouted.
"Wha'd they pay ya to take a dive, Babe?"
When the Babe got close to the dugout, Nadine could
see that his face was deep red. Nothing phony there.
She didn't know if she wanted to laugh at him or shake
him for not putting to rest the nagging possibility that
stood poised out there on the mound.
"Dang," she said aloud, shocked and frustrated at the
same time. "That was a fluke. She won't get Gehrig,
"Not on a bet," the bald-headed man said and nudged
her in the ribs. "Ruth got caught being a jackass. That
won't happen to Lou. "
Nadine nodded and looked at the man, grinding the
popcorn in his large jaw, leering at the woman pitcher.
She looked at Jackie, too. She was almost humble as
she waited for Gehrig, her hands behind her back, her full
hips pushed forward, cocked at an angle. A shy girl
posing for a picture she didn't think she was worthy of.
Gehrig crossed the plate and stood ready. There were no
theatrics about him, just a quiet intensity. He was
Nadine's favorite, a man who was comfortable in his own
skin, whose work ethic matched that of the thousands of
blue collar New Yorkers who paid his salary. She might
get Ruth, but she wouldn't get Gehrig. Too much was
riding on it for her. The Iron Horse would deliver.
He swung at the first sinker and missed. The roar of the
crowd quieted to a hum on the next pitch. Another tight
swing and another miss. Gehrig stepped out of the box.
Children, eyeing their rapt parents, spoke in hushed,
excited tones, aware that something big was in the
making. Nadine wasn't ready for it, not yet. She closed
her eyes and prayed that Gehrig would drive this
impending moment high, long, beyond the short fence
into the Chattanooga River. Any less and she might
never find peace again.
"Knock her flat on her ass, Lou," the bald-headed man
whispered only loud enough so she could hear. Then he
growled, "Drive it up the freak's cunt."
Nadine's eyes flew open. Hatred set up in the man's
face, like cement. It made her sick. She wondered how
she had come to this. Dressing like a man had put her in
league with one. Worse, it made her think like one. No,
that wasn't fair. They didn't all think alike, certainly not
the squalls of men in the stands cheering wildly, or her
father, who had wanted this glory for her. She was
thinking more like, well, like the worst kind of woman,
one she had turned into. The bald-headed man's rage
paled in comparison to her own passion to see this
woman denied, just as she had been.
Gehrig dug in. The crowd stretched to its feet. Jackie
dished up her trademark pitch. It dipped and swerved,
like a mosquito, then dropped dead just as Gehrig took a
swat at it. He hit nothing but air.
The standing ovation went on for five minutes. Jackie
beamed, waved demurely. The Yankees sulked in the
shadows of the dugout, squirting tobacco, spit and, most
likely, curse words between clenched teeth. Reporters
dashed to the nearest phone like ravenous children at
the lunch bell. A newsreel, perched on the roof, had
caught it all on camera, for the ages, so that there would
be no mistake.
After a joyous tumult, the game resumed. Jackie walked
the next hitter, Lazzeri,then got pulled fast, as if Niehoff
were waiting for any excuse to get her out of there.
"Wassa matter, Bert?" one man shouted from the angry
crowd. "Your little sideshow gettin' out of hand?"
But Nadine didn't stay long enough to see Jackie
dismissed. Just as the stupefied Gehrig went down
swinging, just as the crowd exploded, the women in the
stands throwing out their chests and stiffening their
necks, and the men howling at the sky, Nadine headed
for the exits. On her way out, she flung her hat into the
crowd, then slipped off her necktie, balled it up, and
tossed it too. She left the way she had come, back
through the darkened tunnel to the deserted concourse,
out into the now overcast day and past the napping
vendors. She handed her cigar to a toothless beggar,
and her notepad and pencil to a tough looking kid who
had been peering though a crack in the stadium wall.
"Hey Mister," the kid hollered as Nadine hurried away,
"What am I supposed to do with this? Confess?" The
In her haste to escape, little did Nadine suspect that
Jackie's career would begin and end on that day, voided
by Judge Landis, who deemed the game "too strenuous"
for women. But it wouldn't have mattered to Nadine.
The damage had been done. She would never again go
back to the place of her better self, her greatest
aspirations. Or write even a single word about the
woman who had dared to fulfill hers.
Denise Heinze is a Teaching
Assistant Professor of
English at North Carolina
State University. She has
written and published
scholarly articles, fiction,
memoirs, and book reviews.
Her work has appeared in,
among other publications,
the Raleigh News and
Literary Journal, Thought
and Action, and Reunions
Magazine. Her memoir "The
Transplanting" was one of
the cover stories for the
2007 issue of Now and
Again: The Appalachian
Magazine. Currently in her
creative writing, she is
focusing on a novel.
This story was inspired by
the real-life Jackie Mitchell
who did indeed pitch against
the Yankees in an exhibition
Short Story Contest