“Do your best Ang, that’s all we can ask of you and that’s all you can ask of yourself,” said Alvin Danger as he pulled up to Prospect Field. “I’m going to be thinking of you whiffing those loud mouths and,” Alvin paused for a second before saying “throw one past Coach Larry if you have the opportunity.” Angie laughed and took a moment to visualize striking out Coach Ferguson and then nodded as she exited the passenger seat of her Dad’s car. “My arm feels good, my head feels good, I’m good Dad,” stated Angie reassuring her father of her well being. “See you at 12,” and with that Angie grabbed her baseball bag and headed inside. The Westfield Little League District All Stars were set up on the far left of the building. Angie saw them as she walked in and then heard a loud scream from the far right of the building. “What’s up Ang? Good luck Lady K!!!” The enthusiastic cheer was coming from a group of players who appeared to be walking towards her. As the group got nearer, Angie could make out the faces of 15 girls about her age – all dressed in uniforms and hats that read “RedWings.”
Angie thought “softball team?” Getting out of the rain like her District team? She looked around at the faces and uniforms and long hair tied up in ponytails coming out of the backs of their hats. Then, she noticed the bucket of baseballs one of the coaches was carrying. She looked over the girls to see if she recognized anyone. Not one, no one from Westfield that is for sure. And then she heard an adult’s voice from just out of her field of vision to the right. “Wow, Lady K in the flesh. Hey Ladies, you all know Lady K right?” The girls all chimed in “Yep” “Oh yeah” “Lady K in the house.” Angie knew she was a Westfield celebrity of sorts, but this was sort of overwhelming. 15 girls, about her age, and a coach all saying this nickname she had never been called or heard of. “Sorry, am I Lady K?” asked Angie. The girls laughed and the coach, now in full view, smiled. “Tammy Heffner, I coach this great group of ball players. We are the RedWings.” Tammy extended her hand and said “Nice to meet you Angie. We are all so proud of what you are doing.” And with that the girls formed a circle around Angie to meet her and congratulate her and the circle started jumping up and down around her like a tribal dance for the village hero. Larry Ferguson, watching the entire scene play out, yelled out “Danger, if you are done braiding your girlfriend’s hair and break dancing, we have practice starting in 5 minutes!!!”
Tammy Heffner emerged from the group dance and shot a stare at Coach Ferguson. “Jeez, what a rude piece of” Heffner was cut off by her daughter Erika “Mom, let it go.” Tammy patted her daughter on the top of her baseball cap and nodded. “Let’s go girls, we are done for today. Bye Lady K, hopefully our paths will cross again someday.” And in a smooth motion, Coach Heffner slipped her business card into Angie’s hand as they shook hands good-bye. Angie, just as smoothly, slipped the business card into her back pocket of her baseball pants. “Coming Coach Ferguson,” and with that Angie sprinted over to the far left of the indoor facility and the RedWings chanted and cheered their way out of the building “Lady K, Lady K, Lady K.”
“Sorry to break up the slumber party,” started Ferguson again and this time it was in front of the entire team. “Did you want to go play with those girls because I can arrange that.” Angie, once again had gone from the euphoria of being respected as a baseball player to merely a girl playing baseball on a boy’s team. She took a deep breath and exhaled then stated “Coach, I don’t know those ball players, I was just…” “Can it, team split up and start your warm-ups.” The boys ran out of the circle they had formed around Coach Ferguson to form two lines and began their warm-ups tosses. Angie looked around to find a throwing partner and started getting a little dizzy from the anxiety. She moved her head back and forth, searching for a player not yet partnered up. She started jogging the length of the field of players, looking and looking. She stopped and took the baseball out of her glove and pitched it back in with some aggression. “Tommy is down here, are you blind or something?” yelled Coach Sawgrass, who was happy to play the villain to impress his head coach. Angie spun around to see Tommy Sawgrass waving at her with a viscous smile on his face. “What to play catch with me, Angie?” yelled Tommy sarcastically and the boys around him started to laugh. Angie sprinted down to where she was about 15 feet across from Tommy and fired an absolute laser at his chest. Tommy put his glove up just in time, or else he would have gotten a straight fastball right at his cold heart. “The World Series is in August, Ang, why don’t you calm down?” yelled Coach Sawgrass. Tommy and Angie resumed playing catch.
After warm-ups, Coach Ferguson called out 3 names for pitchers and 3 names for catchers to join him in the indoor bullpen area. The rest of the team was to work with Coach French on base running drills with the team’s third catcher, Henry Gasper. Angie’s name was not called, thus without any hesitation she sprinted over to Coach French’s group. The indoor facility was large enough to create a mock infield with the exact dimensions of their Little League field. Home to first was 60’ as was first to second base and so on. The mound had a white strip in the turf and was exactly 46’ from home plate, just like the field specs outside. This allowed teams to practice simulated infield drills, baserunning, and situational play indoors in any weather condition.
Angie was instructed, along with 4 other boys, to put on her helmet and head to first base. Henry headed over to home plate and Coach French walked a bucket of baseballs over to the mound. Paulie Fernandez jogged out to the second base bag as the lone fielder in the drill. One by one, the players stood on the first base bag, waited for Coach French to pitch the ball to Gasper, then take off for second base when the ball crossed home plate. Coach Fernandez took his place as the first base coach to help guide the players. Angie was fast and loved to steal bases and she was very good at it. When it was her turn to steal, she would focus on Coach French, keeping her back foot securely on the base per Little League rules, then pivot, and take off for second when the ball would cross home plate. After sliding into second, Angie would pop up and jog enthusiastically back to first base and await her turn. After about 10 steals, Coach French called out Adam Prince to replace Paulie Fernandez in the field. Another 10 steals, and French called Jimmy Woods to replace Prince. Soon, every runner had taken a turn in the field, except for Angie. She was the sole player who had literally been sprinting for 30 minutes straight. “Water break and players need to switch stations after break,” yelled Coach Ferguson. Angie was in good shape, but even by her standards, she was exhausted from the anxiety and stress and sprinting.
Angie slipped her water bottle into the sleeve of her baseball bag and grabbed her hat and glove. She along with the other baserunning drill participants jogged over to the bullpen area. The set-up included 2 portable and one (actual) dirt mound positioned 46 feet from a plate. Angie waited her turn as Coach Ferguson called out the pitcher and catcher battery mates. “Danger and Woods, down here,” shouted Ferguson as he looked over at Coach Sawgrass and winked. Sawgrass nodded his head motioned Angie and Jimmy to follow him down to one of the portable mounds. Sawgrass handed Jimmy his catcher’s mitt and said “Hey Jimmy, you are going to need a big time glove for Lady K over here,” and handed Jimmy a glove that had recently been stripped of several laces, potentially exposing it to break upon the impact of a fastball. Jimmy grabbed the glove, unbeknownst, and thanked his coach. He put on his mask and jogged over to home plate. Angie took her familiar spot on the mound and started getting pumped up emotionally. It only took 3 tosses from Angie for the glove’s mid section between the thumb and the padding to break. Lucky for Jimmy Woods, he was wearing a throat guard. Coach Ferguson sprinted over to check on his injured catcher and instructed him to go sit this one out and get some water. “I’ll take over,” yelled Ferguson as he grabbed his catcher’s mitt out of his baseball equipment bag. Then, proceeded to smear a good size dab of Vaseline on his baseball pants just under his knee.
“Is Jimmy ok, Coach?” asked Angie. “Yeah, he’s a tough kid, let’s get back to work here,” replied Coach Ferguson and he assumed the catcher’s position. Angie nodded and focused on her new catcher’s mitt and position over the heart of the plate. She took a small step back, planted her right foot securely into the mound, lifted her left leg high in the air, then fired a perfect strike down the middle to Coach Ferguson. Ferguson tossed the ball back with a flip, like a tennis lob, and set up again over the heart of the plate. Again, Angie was pinpoint and fired a perfect strike. 8 more of those and Ferguson stood up to throw the ball back to Angie. “Ok, follow me now. Inside, outside, up, down, watch my signals.” Ferguson then crouched down, ran his fingers over the back of his pant’s leg, and set up in the middle of the plate. He flashed his index finger in the space between his knees and then tapped his right knee with his hand, indicating “Fastball, Outside Corner.” Angie nodded and then threw a perfect strike to Coach Ferguson’s glove. Ferguson took his throwing hand, now moist with Vaseline and rubbed some Vaseline on the seams, then flipped the ball back to Angie. Then Coach Ferguson crouched again, grabbed some more Vaseline, and set up in the middle of the plate. The unsuspecting Angie caught the ball and waited for her sign. Ferguson flashed his index finger and tapped his left knee, indicating “Fastball, Inside Corner.” Angie nodded. She placed her hand over the baseball in her glove, got into her windup, drew the baseball out of her glove, then released the ball 3 feet over Coach Ferguson’s head. The ball whizzed by Ferguson who neglected to even attempt to catch it. “What was that?” asked Ferguson sheepishly. “Not sure, let’s try that one again,” answered a very surprised Angie. Ferguson walked over to the netting area to retrieve the baseball, rubbed some Vaseline on the baseball, and flipped it back to Angie. He set up again, fastball inside corner, and once again Angie threw it about 3 feet over Ferguson’s mitt. “Ok, let’s try the other side.” Ferguson set up and called for a fastball, outside corner. Once again, Angie’s hand slipped on the baseball, now greased up on the seams, and the ball sailed out of the strike zone. “Heck, let’s try down the middle.” Coach Ferguson set up right over the heart of the plate, put one index finger down and waited. Angie, not sure of what to make of her wildness, took a deep breath, went into her windup, and threw the baseball so far outside Ferguson had to dive for it to catch it. “Ok, we are done here.” And with that Coach Ferguson gave Angie the thumb “heave ho” out of the bullpen area. “Better luck next time, Lady K” muttered Ferguson as he reached in his baseball bag to grab a towel to wipe his hand and the back of his pant’s leg.
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