Baseball: A game played between two teams that take turns playing offense and defense.
Two teams take the field for play. We sing an anthemic devotion to our pastime like it is the only language we know. My father and I are simultaneously playing for the same team and against each other. We exchange glances as we cross back and forth from outfield to infield. Someone is always on offense. One of us is always trying to win.
Win Expectancy (WE): indicates the chance a team has to win a particular game at a specific point in that game. Calculated by comparing the current game situation to similar historical situations. Precedent for a favorable outcome. Inheritance. Legacy as a form of love.
My father and his father discuss baseball and dogs and not much else. My father’s childhood does not result in a favorable future outcome. My father has a daughter and tries to sign her up to be a son. I last one season. We who seek a common language at all costs. In his office, there are signed baseballs worth hundreds of dollars, memorabilia decorating the walls, and one photo of me: framed, in a softball jersey. Our win expectancy is based upon a history of unfavorable outcomes.
At-bat (AB): A completed plate appearance by a batter which results in a base hit or a non-sacrifice out. A spot in the lineup. Stepping up to the plate. Star of the show. Does not apply to a sacrifice bunt.
My father likes to tell me about when he was a bodybuilder. About the way he toted his masculinity is his muscularity. Toned himself down to just the meat and bones of it and wore his skin like a gold medal, glinting. My father likes to tell me how far he can hit the ball. How good he looks at-bat. He says the batting cage he builds will be to teach his children but he is the one stepping up to the plate.
Caught Stealing (CS): occurs when a runner attempts to steal but is tagged out before reaching second base, third base or home plate. When a runner thinks they can get away with a poker face. A mad dash. Caught red-handed. A career as a failed escape artist.
I am taught it is better to be caught in the act than to be caught between the teeth of a lie. My father is an animal that can smell fear. I get caught between the teeth of him as he chews me out. After the little league game, he tells me he did not sign me up to draw pictures in the dusty auburn outfield. I am designing a way out.I am not a master of escape acts, but I share a birthday with Houdini. As a child, this was a favorite fact of mine. Something interesting about me is I am so good at holding my breath no one can tell I’m turning blue. I am caught stealing freedom. Out.
Fielding Percentage (FPCT): How often a fielder or team makes the play when tasked with fielding a batted ball, throwing a ball, or receiving a thrown ball for an out. Opposite of percentage failed. A job well done.
My father says catch and we all drop the ball. Here are all his children, with short boyish hair. Here are his two sons and one who cannot decide if they want to be a baseball player or a barbie. We are trying to facilitate the play but running into each other in the outfield. I am always stepping on someone’s toes. Here I am in my sexiest lingerie trying to play tough. I want to catch the ball but no one takes me seriously in heels. My fielding percentage is about twenty percent, or as effective as a placebo. I am a sugar pill in the shape of a boy but I taste like sugar and spice.
Putout (PO): when a fielder physically records the act of completing an out — whether it be by stepping on the base for a forceout, tagging a runner, catching a batted ball, or catching a third strike. An interaction involving contact. A means to an end. Completion for the records. Another number. A phrase in the form of female promiscuity.
My mother says she always wondered if I was a slut like her. My father sits indifferently at the end of the table. I wonder who is keeping score. After this dinner and enough alcohol I will sleep with a woman and a man and my queer body will be a prop between the two of them. I put out and my stats increase by two. I feel sexy dressed as a boy but I know this does not mean safe. Two strikes.
Error (E): when a fielder fails to convert an out on a play that an average fielder should have made. Insufficient. An accident where I am at fault. The wrong thing. Lack of average ability.
I am playing house with my father. In this game, because we are just playing, I am his son. In this game I am the heavy hitter on my little league team. We go out for ice cream and he tells me he is proud. I am trying to follow the rules. I am in our batting cage in the backyard and preparing to flinch. If I flinch my girlhood is showing. If I flinch I am no longer part of our game which means we are not getting ice cream which means he is not proud of me. I am trying not to make a mistake. I know in this game I am the error. The whirring machine sends a ball at me and I flinch. It paints my thumbnail a bruised blue.
Magic Number (MN): how close a team is to making the playoffs or winning the division. Proximity to success. How many more games until we are close enough. Relationship to the goal. Bonding exercise.
My father takes me to the old Yankee stadium and we are early in line. My father gets me a bobblehead Derek Jeter from the free giveaway and it remains in my room for years. My father figures that if I cannot play ball at least we can play pretend. We are good Americans. We love New York and Baseball. Theeeeee Yankees win and we are one game closer to our magic number. He has almost won my love.
Blown Save (BS): occurs when a relief pitcher enters a game in a save situation, but allows the tying run to score. An opportunity for intervention. A failed attempt at intimacy. Lack of a language for relation. A missed chance.
My father takes me to the new Yankee Stadium and sees my cuts for the first time. It is summer and I am wearing short shorts and a false sense of maturity. He tries to take the swing and strikes out. He tries to stay ahead but the damage has already been done. We bond over baseball and a lack of language. We are sweltering in the city’s humid smell, eating stadium food before the silence can eat away at us. I am a blown save, a daughter gone wrong. Set up to win and losing anyways.
Unearned Run (UER): any run that scored because of an error or a passed ball. Any victory trophy you stole. Giving credit where it is not due. Imposter syndrome.
I go to the baseball games with my father and pretend I love the sport. The World Series comes on while I am out to dinner and I pretend to be interested. I wear a Yankees jersey and I am credited as a fan. I could not name five players on the current roster but i’ll be damned if I don’t check the scores on facebook. I wear a flannel and pretend to be a boy. Someone asks me my pronouns and I am credited as valid. This outward appearance is new and presenting as anything other than girl feels like an unearned run. Imposter outside the binary.
Out (O): out is recorded when a player at bat or a base runner is retired by the team in the field. To be sent back to the bench. Not a cause for celebration. A repeated process. Three strikes. Unofficial or continually coming.
In 1943 the All American Girls Professional Baseball League was created. This league lasted for 11 years. In an effort to make sure all the women seemed as attractive and feminine as possible, the league’s regulations included rules for the women; they were not allowed to have short bob haircuts, were required to wear lipstick at all times, and had to take beauty classes as part of spring training.
Feminine: having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with women, especially delicacy and prettiness. Submissive. To follow the rules you have not written. To exist for the pleasure of others. To bring into existence. To swing like a girl. To run like a girl. To throw like a girl.
My father does not like makeup. He says he prefers my mother when she looks natural. He says she does not need makeup to appear beautiful to him. My father sets the parameters of the field from the male gaze. He invites the local boys over to play in the batting cage. They tell me because I am a girl I will never ride a bike or play baseball. They tell me because I am a girl I am following their rules of conduct. My father says one day I will grow up to be a beautiful woman. To inherit beauty is a home run which I have done nothing to earn.
Boyish: as in boyish bobs are not permitted. As in boys will be boys. Youthful or innocent. Masculine in training. To be presumed harmless. Benefit of the doubt.
I am wearing a baseball jersey and a ball cap. I am wearing a boyish grin that gets caught breaking the rules of girlhood. Somewhere inside of me a softness becomes a blemish I feel the need to hide. I try to harden it into the shape of a ball in the pit of my stomach. I am told to sit up straight and play nice. There are small red stitches holding me together at the seam between boyhood and girlhood.
My father and I find ourselves in an empty stadium. In every seat there is a memory. The crowd is a humming roar and I cannot tell if they are screaming for me or at me. Play ball.
The game goes like this. My father and I are playing on opposite teams. One of us takes the outfield and one of us is at bat. One of us is playing defense and one of us is playing offense.
I am in preschool and I am canvassing with my father. We are telling our neighbors about an organization called Love Makes a Family. He explains to me that the goal is to let gay parents adopt children. He explains to me that he will love me no matter who I love. I understand that I can be straight or lesbian. No other options are presented.
My father is always focused on winning. My father knows the game of baseball like the back of his hand. This means I am at a disadvantage or I do not understand the rules. My father slips me cheat sheets as if he plans to throw the game. His intentions are unclear.
I am in sixth grade. I am dropped off at my dance class wearing ballet tights with shorts on top. We are peering in from the doorway to watch the older students. Sara Hartless is the first girl I ever have a crush on. She performs her solo as I question my sexuality. The song is To Zion by Lauryn Hill. I play this in my room when I get home and touch myself. I rehearse a dance number I have choreographed for two people.
Baseball is a language of linear negotiation. If you get three strikes, then you are out. If you throw four balls, then you walk the batter. If you cross home base, then you achieve a run. My father is a man of math and science and rule books. My father solves problems for a living. If you are attracted to women, then you are gay. If you are his daughter, then you will play baseball. If you want boys to hold your hands, then you should keep them looking pretty.
I am in tenth grade. I kiss a woman for the first time. In the same night I go from first base all the way to home plate. Later this year I will tell my parents I am bisexual for lack of a better vocabulary. Someone will make a joke that I am playing for both teams but somehow I am always on the defense. I go to a baseball game with my father. It is the first time the Yankees have played in Colorado since we moved here. He is nostalgic for his little girl and I am nostalgic for identity. We reminisce in silence and shared stadium food. The Yankees lose.
At this point in the game the fans are tired. At this point in the game it is exhausting to sit for so long in the same position and pretend to be interested. We stretch. We grow apart. We find community. We find ourselves. We keep score.
I am a junior in college and I tell my parents I would like to use gender neutral pronouns. I tell my parents I am queer as if I have discovered the dictionary that has been lying latent beneath my tongue. We go out to dinner and my father does not acknowledge my gender. My father calls me his baby girl. In his office I am preserved in my ideal form: in a loose blue jersey and long hair tied back beneath a baseball cap. For the first season we do not go to a game together. I no longer know the roster.
We play one more inning against each other. I think my father has thrown the game in my favor until he pitches a no-hitter. My father says I have not tried my hardest. I realize we are not in a stadium but a batting cage in our backyard. My initials are next to his in concrete we poured together. Somewhere we are cemented. My father does not acknowledge I am playing in a league between the binary. It has taken me twenty years to find the glossary that includes this term. It has taken me countless baseball games to discover I do not love them. Baseball is a slow game that requires patience. I am playing defense but I realize this means I have always had control of the ball. My father steps up to the plate and I forget we have been keeping score. The game is almost tied. I wind up the pitch. We who seek a common language in spite of everything.
jess nieberg (they/them) is a queer jewish poet living in boulder, co. they were a semifinalist at the 2017 national poetry slam and are a current member of the denver mercury slam team. they are an editor for two journals, Walkabout and Timber, and their work has appeared or is forthcoming in Permafrost, Western Humanities Review, Lunch Ticket, Anti-Heroin Chic, Bottlecap, and The Hunger, among others.