Playing for First
Paperback: 210 pages
Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
by Chris Paynter
Lisa Collins feels she has it all as an Indianapolis sportswriter covering the city’s minor league baseball team and as a freelancer for the newspaper. Her best friend, bar owner Frankie Dunkin, helps keep her grounded and sane. Her life is uncomplicated—that is until Amy Perry enters her world.
Amy, the all-star first baseman for a professional women’s baseball team, dreams the dream most boys do—to play in the major leagues. The Cincinnati Reds are about to give her that chance.
While covering Amy’s ascent through the minor league system, the out-and-proud Lisa finds herself falling for the closeted first baseman. But as they begin a relationship, something unexpected happens: Lisa realizes her feelings for Frankie run much deeper than a friendship.
With Amy facing harassment from her male teammates in her quest to break through the gender barrier, Lisa is torn between supporting her and exploring her feelings toward Frankie. Frankie has her own demons to face as painful physical and emotional scars from her past haunt her.
Despite the myriad conflicting emotions raging in Lisa’s life, one thing is clear—Frankie and Amy are Playing for First in her heart.
Lisa Collins's first interview with Amy Perry
Excerpt, Chapter 2
With statistics on the Bandits bouncing around in her brain, Lisa drove south to the University of Indianapolis. She parked the car in the lot nearest to the baseball field where she could see the Bandits warming up. With notebook in hand, she walked over to a woman she knew was the coach, because she’d seen her photo online. She had blonde hair that was graying at the temples, a deeply tanned and weathered face, and a voice that anyone within three miles could hear. Lisa wouldn’t have needed to see the picture from the internet. There was no doubt who was in charge.
“Dee, goddamnit, I told you to keep your head down, didn’t I?” The coach, who was all of five-two, strode over to the shortstop fielding grounders from another player. She snatched the shortstop’s glove and yelled, “Suz, smack me some hard ones.” The player obliged, and the coach demonstrated exactly what she wanted. “Like this, Dee. Do you see my fucking head bobbing up? No. I’m following the goddamn ball all the way into my glove.” She handed the glove back to the shortstop. “Work on that for the next fifteen minutes.”
“Yeah?” The coach barked at Lisa waiting nearby.
Intimidation didn’t work on Lisa. She had once interviewed Coach Bob Knight in Bloomington when she worked for the student newspaper there. He had given her some grief for a few minutes. Then she asked him some informed questions about his team’s defense. After that, he became almost polite…almost.
Lisa approached her. “Coach?”
The coach barely acknowledged her, raising her eyebrows slightly as if to ask why Lisa was interrupting her practice.
Lisa stuck out her hand. “My name’s Lisa Collins. I’m writing for the Indianapolis Gazette. I’ve heard about your team and would like to feature one of your players in an article.”
The coach’s expression softened a little. She grabbed Lisa’s hand with a firm grip. “Marge Tompkins. Good to meet you.” The coach gestured at the bleachers to sit and talk. “Let me guess. My first baseman, Amy Perry, right?”
“Yes. I understand the Cincinnati Reds are thinking about sending her down to the fall instructional league and have her come up through their Double-A team as early as next year.”
“It’s about time. She’s been knocking the hell out of the ball for almost seven years now, as long as our team’s been around. She can hit a sharp breaking ball and a ninety-mile-an-hour fastball just as easily. One of our pitchers can pitch in the low eighties, but we had her face a kid from the University of Kansas once. She hit his second pitch over the left field fence. We clocked it at ninety-five. It’s a shame it’s taken this long for men to admit that a woman can be this good at the game of baseball. And you don’t have to be built like a linebacker to play it either.”
Lisa scribbled down notes, at the same time deftly maintaining eye contact with the coach as much as possible.
The coach continued. “But we know hitting that breaking ball is the trick in making it.”
“Absolutely,” Lisa said.
Coach Tompkins stepped down from the bleachers, and Lisa joined her. The coach motioned at one of the players stretching in the grass. “Amy, come over here.”
Amy Perry stood up. Lisa shielded her eyes from the sun to get a better view. She appeared to be about six-feet tall. She was a big woman, but Lisa could tell it was all muscle underneath her maroon Bandits long-sleeved T-shirt and sweat pants. She drew nearer, and Lisa could see she had short, light brown wavy hair. Even closer, Lisa could make out her features. Her face was round with a well-defined nose. There was a cleft in her chin, and she had a dark tan.
Amy stood in front of the two women, and Lisa got a better look at her eyes. They were a pale green, the kind that probably changed in different light. They were bright and sparkling in the autumn sun.
“Amy, this is Lisa Collins,” Coach Tompkins said, gesturing to Lisa. “She’s a reporter with the Indianapolis Gazette and wants to do a feature on you.”
Lisa held out her hand for Amy to grasp.
“Hey,” Amy said in a soft voice.
“Amy hails from a town outside of Lawrence, Kansas,” the coach said. “And believe me, you’ll know once you start talking to her. She’s all country.”
Amy laughed, and her white teeth contrasted against her bronzed skin. Her eyes reflected her amusement. That decided it for Lisa; she wanted to know this woman. Amy’s eyes came alive as they held Lisa’s for a brief second.
“Coach Tompkins is always giving me a rough way to go.” She stared down at the ground while she spoke.
“I’ll leave you two alone. I see that Dee is back to her bad habit of raising her head.” The coach stomped over to the shortstop. Again, Lisa could hear her bellowing, “Goddamnit! What’d I tell you, Dee?”
“Would you mind if we sit over there while I interview you, Amy?” Lisa pointed to the bleachers.
“No, not at all.” They sat down onto the cool metal.
“So, what’s your hometown in Kansas?”
“Lecompton. It’s to the northwest of Lawrence.”
“How long have you been playing baseball?”
“About twelve years.”
Apparently, Amy’s answers wouldn’t be very expansive and wouldn’t allow Lisa to develop an article. She needed to coax her to go beyond that.
“That means you started when you were about fifteen.”
“That puts you in high school. You played fast pitch softball before that?”
Amy nodded again.
Let’s try this. “You tried out for the high school baseball team?” Lisa received yet another head nod. “What was that like?” That’s not a yes/no question, Amy. Let me know how you felt.
Amy’s face brightened. “It was a good experience.”
Lisa feared that was the extent of her answer. But, after a few seconds of contemplation, Amy started opening up.
“At first, the coach fought it. The principal backed him and tried to fight it, too. But I was allowed to go in front of the school board and explain why playing baseball meant so much to me.”
“And why does it mean so much to you?” Lisa wasn’t asking it for the article. She really wanted to know.
“Because I knew if I’d ever want to achieve my dream of playing for a professional men’s team, it’d have to start at the high school level. And I knew the coach at my high school was one of the best in the area. He had a couple of players go on to make it in the minors. When I came in front of the school board, I was able to explain all that.”
“Was that a problem for you? You seem to be shy.”
“Yeah, but it was one of the most important moments of my life. And I knew it. I knew I needed to tell my side of things. Do you know what I mean?”
“Yes,” Lisa murmured, captivated by Amy’s words.
They sat there for another twenty minutes or so, while Lisa took notes. That one question about getting on the high school team had helped Amy open up.
“Do you mind if I stick around while you take batting practice and field some?” It was part of Lisa’s job to stay for the practice, but asking Amy’s permission changed the feel of it.
“Good. I’ve enjoyed talking to you.” Lisa offered her hand.
“Thanks. I’ve enjoyed it, too.” Amy shook her hand again. It felt to Lisa like Amy held on a little longer than she had before.
“The article should be in the morning paper, if you’re interested in seeing it.”
“I’ll look for it,” Amy said before jogging over to the diamond.
Wow. Lisa was lost in thought until she saw Jenny, the sports photographer from the paper, crossing the parking lot next to the field. Lisa pointed out Amy.
“Some action shots of her batting and fielding, and Jack will probably want a few casual ones of her standing around with the other players.”
Jenny slung her camera bag high up on her shoulder and made her way over to the diamond.
“Hell of a nice girl, isn’t she?” Coach Tompkins said, approaching Lisa.
“Yes, she is.”
“Hell of a ballplayer, too. Watch.”
A tall, lanky player took the mound and fired a fastball toward the plate. In one smooth motion, Amy, who batted right handed, hit a frozen rope into left field. The next pitch was on the outside corner. She went with it and lined one over the second baseman’s head.
“All parts of the field,” Coach Tompkins said in a confident voice.
The next pitch was a fat, batting practice fastball down the heart of the plate. Amy connected, and the ball arced into the clear blue sky. Lisa cupped her hand over her eyes, following the flight of the ball as it traveled over 300 feet.
“Damn,” she said under her breath.
After about fifteen minutes of hitting, Amy took her position at first and fielded each hot shot, diving to her right and snagging one line drive out of the air. One of the other players came up for their batting practice, and Amy took the throws to first. The shortstop fielded one tricky hop cleanly.
“Finally listening to your old coach, huh, Dee?” Coach Tompkins yelled. Dee fired the ball over to Amy. The throw was a little off, and Amy stretched to stay on the bag. “Way to hang in there, Amy,” the coach shouted. She turned to Lisa. “I think you have your story, don’t you?”
Lisa didn’t answer, but observed Amy make play after play while cutting up with her teammates. It seemed she only reserved her shyness for first-time encounters.
“Thanks, Coach Tompkins.” Lisa flipped her notebook shut and shook her hand again.
“Glad we could talk,” Tompkins said. She headed over to the team. “Time for diving drills, ladies.” They moaned as they formed a line. Another coach handed Tompkins a bat, and she started smacking balls to the right or left of each player. Each woman sacrificed her body with a headfirst dive to retrieve the ball. After Amy made her play, she took her place at the back of the line and began talking with one of the other players.
Yeah, I’d definitely like to know her better.
“I got some pretty good shots. I’ll take these back to the paper now.”
Lisa didn’t answer Jenny right away.
“Sorry. Thanks, Jen.” She watched the team a few more minutes and then walked to her car, wondering about how she felt while she was talking to Amy. It was probably nothing.
But it was a good feeling.