As one of the first female umpires in the minors, Margie puts up with insults and worse from people who think women don’t belong in baseball. Forget making history—Margie just wants to do her job and be part of the game she loves.
She’s ready for the rude comments. The lousy pay. The endless traveling. But when she suspects a big-name slugger of cheating, she has to choose: let the dirty player get away with it, or blow the whistle and risk her career…and maybe her twin brother’s major-league prospects, too.
Now it’s up to Margie to make the call.
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Chapter One (1977)
Tim filled the doorway of Margie’s bedroom, duffel bag over his right shoulder. She glared at her twin brother’s blond surfer-dude hair and pretty face, marred only by a twitch in his jaw. Thanks to a few carefully picked arguments over the last few days, she’d caused that tension and, until that moment, had been proud of her handiwork.
“Last chance,” he said.
Margie returned to the book she’d been pretending to read. She felt guilty for being so mean to him lately, but she’d had her reasons. The highlight of baseball camp was the major league tryouts. He’d signed up and, sixteen and male, met all the requirements. No doubt some scout would notice his killer fastball and draft him, and then it would be sayonara, sister. Maybe it would be easier to say goodbye if she was good and pissed at him.
He looked like a dumbass standing there, mouth gaping, hoping she’d change her mind.
“Seriously? You’re not coming?”
The trip would mean a tedious three-hour drive from Saugerties to some college campus in the bland, empty middle of New York State. Then, after watching a zillion boys take their shots at a future in baseball, one she was denied, she’d be trapped with her chain-smoking mother all the way home, while she went on about her prodigal son. “Yeah, uh. No.”
He attempted a conciliatory smile. “I’ll tell ’em you’re the only one who gets to catch for me.”
“Bargie,” he whined.
She snapped the page. “Even more pathetic.”
He huffed a short sigh. “Fine, then. I’ll be back in two weeks. Stay out of my room.”
“As if I’m going into your den of iniquity.”
“My den of what?”
“Never mind. See you on your baseball card.” But despite their mother’s squawking that they had to get on the road, the shadow in her doorway didn’t budge. Margie glanced up—big mistake. He had that same sad, lost look on his face when they were five and Mom took his favorite blankie and put it in the washer.
It always undid her, and he knew it, so when she tossed her book aside and got off the bed, he grinned.
She let him have his little victory, then pointed at his duffel. “Other side, Righty. Don’t mess with that arm. Have I taught you nothing?”
He rolled his eyes but, as she grabbed her baseball cap and followed him to the car, transferred the strap to his left shoulder.
Scattered across the sparkly outfield grass, teenage boys stretched, took practice swings, shagged flies. Men with clipboards circulated among them. Families and friends had been banished to the bleachers, where Margie and her mother sat bathed in Coppertone and drinking cans of almost-cold soda. Her mother was jabbering her ear off about what “they” were looking for in a young pitcher, as if she had a direct pipeline to Major League Baseball’s scouting strategies. Then she mused about the all-you-can-eat buffet they’d passed in the dining hall on their quick tour of the complex.
“I don’t know if that shrimp was fresh. It looked frozen to me. Do you think it looked fresh?”
“Mom.” Margie popped another can of Fresca and slipped the pull-tab into the hole, a practice that gave her mother apoplexy about her children accidentally swallowing one and slicing their digestive systems to ribbons. “We’re hundreds of miles from the ocean. It’s probably frozen.”
Her mother went off on the buffet. That of course they couldn’t judge the quality of the food from what the college would be serving for lunch; they probably put out their best for the families, and once she and Margie left Tim there, who knew what slop her golden boy would be forced to endure?
Margie had once seen Tim eat a two-day-old sandwich he’d left in his locker in junior high school, and he’d been fine, so she wasn’t worried about that. What concerned her was Tim himself. He didn’t look good. His shoulders slumped forward; his gaze darted like he was searching for something familiar to ground him.
Margie handed her mother the soda. “I’m goin’ down there.”
“You can’t just—”
She mumbled excuse-mes to a variety of parents and trotted down the concrete steps to the field, tucking her blond ponytail into her ball cap on the way.
Nobody stopped her. In her jeans and baggy Saugerties Sawyers T-shirt, she could have passed for a boy if nobody looked too closely. She grabbed a catcher’s mitt from a pile of equipment and kept walking toward him.
“Oblonsky!” she called out. “Show me what you got.”
He grinned when he spied her pounding her fist into the pocket, but his expression faded, as if afraid she’d be arrested any moment and dragged away to an imagined gulag deep in the bowels of the college’s athletic department.
“You said I could catch for you. Let’s go.”
She’d never been on the field of a stadium that big before. Settling in was tough, with all the chaos around them, the smack-talking boys and the barks of the coaches, the cheers from the stands. Soon they fell into their regular rhythm—him setting, winding up, and pitching; her winging it back and crouching for another one. As easy as if they were in the backyard on a summer evening.
“So what do they do?” Margie overhanded the ball back. “They watch, make notes, or do they actually come over and talk to you?”
“I guess both.”
A random ball rolled toward them. A voice called out, “A little help there, pretty boy?”
The guy waiting with his glove out was smirky and acne-scarred, the vibe of entitlement as obvious as his Rod Stewart haircut and the gold chains around his neck. Margie scooped up the ball and powered it back to him, a clean strike. The guy caught it but stood there for a second, looking stunned. She might have apologized to Tim for a return that hard, but not to this guy.
Then a voice growled, “Kid. Blue T-shirt. What’s your name?”
“Oblonsky,” both twins said at once.
The guy scanned his clipboard. “I only see one of you here. Timothy. Pitcher.” Tim pointed to his own chest. The guy nodded, made a notation on his chart, then turned to Margie. “I saw that throw. Nice arm. What’s your story, ace?”
She couldn’t fight the blush firing up her neck and into her temples. “I’m, uh…”
Tim mumbled a few words—they were twins, paperwork went missing, late entry—but his excuses weren’t smooth enough or fast enough. Margie already saw recognition dawning in the man’s narrowing eyes, his tightening lips.
“All right, missy,” he said, not exactly gulag-mean but not too nice either. “That’s enough, now. Only registered players are allowed on the field. That’s the rules, you understand?”
Margie could have crumpled into the turf, but she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. “Yeah. Loud and clear.” She flipped the mitt to the ground and stomped back to her mother. Out of the crashing wave of noise that closed over her head, the last words she picked out were, “Okay, Oblonsky. You’re up.”