Dad introduced me to sports when I was only four, during the 1962 World Series between the New York Yankees and the San Francisco Giants. While watching the first game of the series on our black-and-white television, I made a pronouncement that Mom recorded in my baby book: "Yogi Bear is going to catch. When he gets the ball, he'll steal it, as he does the picnic baskets." The next summer, I used one of Dad's old gloves when we first played catch in our backyard. Dad immediately taught me how to throw the baseball properly, firing it from behind my right ear without the slightest hint of the motion that has come to be known as "throwing like a girl." I don't remember hearing anyone use those words until late in elementary school; certainly my father or mother never used them. Nor did the boys I played ball with every spring and summer day in our neighborhood. I was the only girl who regularly played with them -- and I threw like they did. Then something wonderful happened. As my eighth birthday approached, I asked for my own baseball mitt. Dad went to a sporting goods store and bought a light brown, perfectly smooth, pristine Rawlings glove. Written in script on the palm of the glove was the name Tony Cloninger, with a drawing of a man throwing a baseball. Imprinted nearby were these words:
"The Finest in the Field!"
I didn't know who Tony Cloninger was, so I checked the sports section to find out. He was a right-handed pitcher for the Atlanta Braves who was to gain fame later that year, 1966, for hitting two grand slams in one game against the San Francisco Giants. Unfortunately, I never saw him play in person or on TV. Cloninger existed only in newspaper photos, on baseball cards, in the box scores, and in the palm of my glove.
When Dad gave me the glove, I held it to my face and inhaled deeply. All the boys did that with their gloves, so I did it too. My glove smelled new and fresh and natural. This was the scent of baseball. I used my new mitt every day that summer, playing with the boys in the neighborhood in the morning and afternoon, then with my father when he came home from work in the evening and it stayed light until after nine o'clock.
I took to sports naturally when I was a little girl because I never really was little. My mother said I was born size 6X and kept right on growing. I was the only Brownie Scout, Mom said, who outgrew her dress in the second grade, when at the age of seven, I was already four and a half feet tall and weighed more than seventy pounds. By the time I was nine, I was five feet tall and one hundred pounds. What was bad for Brownies, however, was good for sports. While the boys were ambivalent or downright inhospitable to most girls who wanted to play with them, they specifically asked me to join them, and sometimes picked me first when we chose up sides.
With my dark brown hair cut in the simplest of pageboys, I was the tomboy of the neighborhood. I broke my arm falling out of a tree when I was seven. That same year, I asked for G.I. Joe, not Barbie, for Christmas -- and that's what Santa brought. While Kate was innately drawn to Mom's side at the stove, I obliviously walked by them -- Mom, Kate, and the stove -- as if they were invisible on my way outside to play catch.