Summer 1958: Girlish Teenage Dreams
Not one of the dozens of scouts and recruiters responded to my letters of request. I’m not one to cry sexism on the first strike—I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they’d never been summoned to see a girl before and maybe were so shocked they thought it was a joke and didn’t take it seriously—but considering my record, and the personal trainer who coached me and vouched for my skills, I was suspicious.
By baseball season’s end, no one had showed up to watch me play.
When I graduated high school, there was no signed contract to assure me of my future.
When people asked what I was going to do now, I didn’t have an answer.
For years I’d been telling folks that I was gonna play for the Major Leagues. That vow was now dead in the water. Dad was getting itchy and kept dropping hints that it was high time I found a job. Mom suggested I beg and plead my way into college; it could increase my chances of getting an MRS degree.
After an angry afternoon of weightlifting, my personal coach and I sat down to map out which open tryouts I would attend in the coming months. We settled on seeing how well I was received by other farm teams before trying the Yankees’ Triple-A. I felt the coaches couldn’t not accept me once they saw my skills. Mr. Ebbley thought I might be the new Jackie Robinson.
Hair tied back with a ponytail, mitt under arm, cap tugged low, cleats laced tight, I strode onto the field alongside dozens of men to show off how well we could catch grounders and pop flies.
Names were called in a roll. We were pointed to various positions. My short stature camouflaged me; I was below eye level and boxed in by tall, broad-shouldered boys my age.
“Charley Mason!” Someone read my name off a clipboard.
“Here!” I shouted, raising my hand and waving it a little to be seen through the men.
It was my voice that gave me away.
Every single set of eyes turned to see the poor bastard whose voice sounded like a girl’s. I wasn’t trying to hide, but the scowls I received upon identification made me wish I could morph my face to have more manly features. I’d started blaming it for my frequent undervaluation. I’m disgustingly dainty: cute lips, a button nose, big eyes, rosy cheeks, and long lashes. Forget how buff I am; it’s my face that detracted from the seriousness of my candidacy.
The sea of hopefuls parted so the coach who called my name could see me.
”You’re Charley Mason?” He spat tobacco and puckered.
“Yessir,” I said, stretching out my hand for a shake. He eyed it, clearly nauseated. “Name’s actually Charlotte, but I’ve gone by Charley since I was a kid.” He still didn’t take my hand.
That’s when the boys started cracking up. What’s hard was not having any of my high school teammates to vouch for me. The minute the boys I played varsity ball with told the other team to stick a sock in it, they would. Then we’d get on with the game, and I’d suddenly become a true contender.
“Little Miss, I don’t appreciate you turnin’ these tryouts into a political statement. I’m gonna hafta ask you to leave.” He spat again.
I froze. My mouth popped open slightly. A reflex for what was essentially a slap in the face.
“But I—I don’t understand—I’m here to try out—I’m a legitimate candidate,” I sputtered. I expected to get a ribbing; I didn’t expect to strike out before even receiving a pitch. “You haven’t seen my skills yet! If you would just let me—”
He waved me off.
“I don’t need to see anything to know you’re not a viable option. It’s not rocket science.” He turned his back to me, looked down at his clipboard. He assumed I’d been properly dismissed.
“Excuse me!” I shouted through cupped hands. He stopped scribbling with his pencil. “Can you explain what’s so obvious about what? I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
There was nervous sniggering as he slowly turned to face me. His jaw clenched and his mouth puckered. He spat black, squinting against the sun’s glare. He walked slowly up to me, his shoes scraping on the infield dirt. The boys around me gave way for him. Everyone was silent now. He stepped into my personal space, leaned in real close. He smelled like onions and tobacco. I kept my face placid, but I worried he could hear my heart pounding. I feared I was blushing. His eyes were gray like steel and just as hard. He was looking down on me, literally and metaphorically. My throat felt swollen; I struggled to swallow.
“You’re not fooling anyone.” He breathed his stale breathright into my face. His voice was gravelly. “No girl, no matter how much she’s practiced and trained, will ever be faster or stronger or better at baseball than the weakest boy here. You think you’re the first girl to try? It’s a fight against nature. You’ll never be one of ‘em. Now quit makin’ a fool of yourself and go on home. Baseball’s for men. It’s a dangerous, difficult sport that few have the balls to endure. If you haven’t got cajones, you’ve got no business being here.”
I opened my mouth to protest, but nothing came out. His arrow had found the chink in my armor. I couldn’t stay any longer, I knew. I wasn’t prepared to duke it out. I had to go back to the drawing board, concoct a plan. I couldn’t give up yet. I couldn’t let Grandpa down so soon.
Mr. Ebbley would have insights. Vicky would have ideas. I just had to think a little harder, try another way.
A few nights later, after a particularly intense barbell session and one too many laps around my old high school’s track, I lounged in the bathtub, a bag of ice tied to my throwing shoulder with saran wrap. The scent of the bubble bath soap my mom poured in was nauseatingly rosy.
And then it hit me like a lightning strike from Heaven:
I knew how I could get my way.
I knew how I could play major league baseball. If my skills weren’t the problem, but my looks were, then I could change them.
It was bold. Daring. Crazy.
But it just might be insane enough...to work.
I leaped out of the tub, sloshing soapy water all over the tile floor. Throwing on a towel, I raced to the telephone and called Mr. Ebbley.
“I’ve got it! I’ve got an idea!” I shouted.
“Hush, your grandmother’s gone to bed,” Mom hissed from the living room.
“Uh-oh. Let’s hear it,” he chuckled.
“If they won’t take a gal named Charley, they’ll take a guy by the same name,” I said, the words tumbling from my mouth in such rapid succession that they blend together in near incoherence. “Let’s give ’em what they want.”
“I see.” There’s a long pause on his end. “Are...are you sure you want to do that? I mean, it’ll be a tricky thing to pull off. There’s a lot of risk involved. Suppose you get found out, there’ll be scandal, maybe lawsuits - ”
“I don’t care!” I cried. “This is the thing I want most in the entire world. I’ve wanted it my whole life. I’ve worked too hard and too long to come this far and throw it all away. I would do anything, absolutely anything to play for the Yankees. If this is that ‘anything,’ so be it.”
“Charley, listen to me. There will be serious consequences if you go through with this plan and your true identity is found out. I don’t know that you realize the gravity of this situation. I couldn’t bear to see you get hurt.”
“I understand the risk. I understand perfectly. But this is what I want. I’m going through with it, one way or another. Will you help me?”
“Please? For my grandfather?”
He sighed. After a long time, he said, “Alright. Fine. But there’s a lot of fine-tuning that needs to be done. There are too many contingencies, too many ways this could go horribly wrong. We’ll have to think of everything ahead of time and plan for them accordingly.”
“GREAT! I CAN’T WAIT!” I screeched, too elated to heed my mother’s scoldings about my volume. “Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you!”
“You’re welcome, Charley. Have a good night, now. I’ll see you at practice tomorrow.”
I fell asleep smiling that night, and dreamed of summer days spent playing baseball at the field behind the hill in my old town. I dreamed it was a cloudless blue sky day, hot and bright, and I was up to bat. Arthur bantered to me from his catcher’s crouch behind home plate. Frankie wound up, then delivered a perfect pitch. I swung, heard the satisfying, sweet crack of the ball on the wooden bat, and watched the ball sail into the distance as I ran the bases. It was then that I became conscious in the dream that I was dreaming. I wondered where Frankie and Arthur were at right then, wondered if they ever thought about me or missed me when they played, or if they even still played at all. Still conscious that I was dreaming, I arrived at home plate, where Frankie greeted me with his gorgeous eyes and broad smile. A twinge of pain plucked my gut.
“Looks like ya still got it in ya,” he said. His voice came to me in dreamy waves, like a fish swimming through water, causing ripples with its tail. “Can’t wait to see you go pro.”
“You’ll be there, won’t you?” I asked. It surprised me that I said anything. But that’s what I was thinking, if I was being honest.
He raised his eyebrows, but said nothing.
I awoke with a jolt by a crash of thunder.