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Winner Takes All: Book Two

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I've been a girl in a man's world from the time I could hold a T-ball bat, right up until I got drafted straight out of college to the Boston Lumberjacks. Working three times as hard to get half of what they get has been the ratio that's ruled my life for the last twenty years. But a rare trade sends me on the next flight to the deep south, pushing my and Dad's dreams that much closer to realization. The rookie pranks and misogynist remarks from fans and commentators roll off like rainwater because they're nothing in contrast to what I've been through. Five years in the minors prepared me well. My father did too. But both of those are in the past now. Now it's up to me to finish what we started and make a name for us. Except, Atlanta now has a gaping hole in their lineup, making the size thirteen spikes I'll be filling, feel just a little too big. Not to mention, the grouchy infielder I'm set to replace for the next few months wants his job back. And it's one thing to get called up because a player is injured. It's a whole other when that player is Michael Foster Jr.

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“Noah Lenée. I raised you better than that!” My mom bats my hands away from my blouse when I try to tuck the restaurant napkin into the neck. I’m a bit of a messy eater and unless I’ve got a bib underneath me, I’ll undoubtedly end up wearing my lunch for the rest of the day.

“Sorry, mom.”

“Have you thought anymore about what we talked about last week?” she asks, taking a sip of her mimosa.

Annnd here we go.

It was too much to hope my birthday brunch would be a hassle-free occasion. My mom has been begging me for two weeks now to consider putting my fancy math degrees to work and acquiring a teaching licensure, despite my protests.

She doesn’t even know that I only got the stupid qualifications in the first place because it was one of the only majors I could completely finish online while I played baseball.

“We’ve talked about this. I’ve already got a career.”

“I already have a career, darling. And all I’m saying is maybe you should consider your other options. This little hobby of yours isn’t going to sustain you forever, nor will it keep you warm at night.” She mumbles that last part under her breath but I hear it anyway.

I dignify her remark with a response by folding the linen napkin in my lap. I’ve officially lost all desire to celebrate.

Leave it to Delphine Camille Allen to remind me exactly how far short I fall from what might possibly be the only dream I’ve ever had.

I’m not a lawyer or a doctor like my mother would have preferred, nor am I a stay-at-home housewife. But, I’m a baseball player, a damn good infielder— second baseman to be exact, and much to her dismay, I have no intentions of stopping any time soon.

“I’ve only been in the minors for four years, Ma,” I tell her, but I have to admit I share her concerns— even if for different reasons. It seems as though every player in my draftee class was either added to roster or invited to Spring Training this coming up February.

Though being in the minors for several years isn’t exactly uncommon--hell, some players never see the outside of Triple A their whole lives-- I admit I’ve placed pretty high expectations on myself. You have to when you’re the only female in professional baseball. It’s as if you’ve got the entire world watching you, waiting for you to fail just so they can say they were right, that women don’t belong in the MLB. Or for you to succeed so they can take advantage of the good publicity.

I honestly don’t care about either. I don’t see myself as the poster child for inclusion, nor would I consider myself a women’s rights activist outside of labeling myself as a feminist. I’m a baseball player first and foremost and I hate that me wanting to do my job has become some big political statement.

“I’m just saying... Look at Vanessa and Ashley! They both had such lovely weddings when they were your age. I only want the same happiness for you, sweetheart. You spend so much time at the gym and those filthy... establishments you play at. Not to mention, the closing thing to male company you keep smell come with a horrendous smell.” My mother wrinkles her nose.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my mom dearly, but it’s times like these I just want to grab ahold of her shoulders and shake her. Hard. This idea that women can only be happy with a man or have careers and degrees that look good on paper, works my everlasting nerve.

Daddy knew that. In fact, he always respected my game, my hustle. I’ve worked my ass off to gain respect from my teammates, my coaches, and other women— who for some reason can be bigger assholes about me playing pro baseball than the guys. But all of that hard work just isn’t good enough for someone like Delphine Allen. No, the woman won’t be happy until I’m good and knocked up, and barefoot in the kitchen like a nineteen fifties incubator-slash-sex-slave. I guess I shouldn’t expect anything less from a retired beauty queen, former national sorority president, and a debutante to boot, but that’s bougie, east coast, black women for you.

“Mom, I only twenty five. I have my entire life to find a husband, whereas with baseball, I have to seize the opportunity while I’m still in shape.” I point my fork at her, an action that makes her frown tighten. “Did you know that male athletes peak in their mid to late twenties while women are pretty much capped at nineteen? Now that I’m in Double A, it’s going to take all of my focus if I want to make the majors, meaning no distractions and men are the worst kind.” I fork a bite of salmon into my mouth as my mother lets out a disappointed sigh.

“Well, at least I’ve got two other daughters married off and working on my grandchildren,” she huffs, rolling her eyes.

“See, I knew you’d find the silver lining.” My mother isn’t impressed by my sweet-as-sugar grin, but she doesn’t have time to respond because I’m saved by the bell. Or rather, the ring.

I reach for my cellphone that’s face down on the table and but I don’t recognize the area code. I answer anyway.

“Hello, am I speaking with Noah Allen?” a raspy voice asks on the other end. I frown, wondering if they might be a debt collector. I should be all caught up on my student loan payments for the month, but who knows.

“Who wants to know?” I ask.

“My name is Barry Shields, I’m...” I frown. Why is the GM of the Atlanta Statesmen calling me? I scramble to adjust my phone to my ear.

“Yes, this is she. I’m sorry, sir. Can you repeat that?” I ask, embarrassed that I checked out.

Mr. Shields chuckles. “Miss Allen, I apologize for catching you off guard, but I am calling to inform you that you have been traded to Atlanta Statesmen organization, Gwinnett to be specific. I understand you’d be expecting this call from the Portland Lumberjacks’ manager, but his grandson was born ten minutes before the transaction went through. We would also like to extend an invitation to Spring Training next month.”

My entire body freezes in place, the blood pounding so heavily in my ears, I wonder if I’ve heard him correctly. Everything inside of me screams like a nine year old at a Destiny’s Child concert and it takes me a moment to remember how to speak.

“Miss Allen?”

I attempt to swallow past my heart in my throat. “Is this a prank?”

Mr. Shields laughs, making me wish I wasn’t an idiot, but I’m shocked as hell. I was on the top one hundred prospect list, but my ETA wasn’t for another two years. I’ve played four full seasons in Boston’s system, but if I’ve been traded then that means...

“I’m being promoted?” I ask, my heart rate skyrocketing in my chest.

“Congratulations, kid. We expect to see you in Florida next month.” I’m barely present for rest of the conversation as my head still reels from the news I’ve just received. When Mr. Shields hangs up, my mother is pretending as though her salad is the most interesting thing since Anna Mae’s latest gossip at the beauty salon, but I know better. She’s nosier than a seasoned member of the usher board at a post-church luncheon.

“Who was that on the phone, darling?”

“That was Atlanta’s GM, mom.” Her brows furrow in confusion so I continue. “I got traded.”

It feels surreal to say the words out loud.

Only ten percent of all players who make it to the minor leagues are asked to move up to the majors, nearly ninety percent will be released sometime in their career, and even more are demoted back to the minors if they don’t perform well. The fact that I’ve been given this opportunity is almost unfathomable. I’m an anomaly that has never occurred in the organization’s one-hundred-seventeen-year history.

I'm not officially on roster. Realistically, I'll end up in Gwinnett by march. But it's a shot, a chance to prove myself in Spring Training, and I'm one thing I wasn't yesterdayOne step closer to me and Dad's dream. The one we'd begun building when I was five years old.

“Wow, honey. So what does that mean?” She asks.

“Everything, mom,” I breathe. “It means everything.”

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