A Stanford graduate and former plaintiff's trial lawyer (her specialty was suing middle-aged white guys who stole other people's money), Twist Phelan writes critically-acclaimed and award- winning (including the ITW Thriller Award) short stories and the legal-themed Pinnacle Peak mystery series (Poisoned Pen Press). She is currently at work on a suspense novel set in the business world.
by Twist Phelan
I changed into my uniform in the umpires’ locker room—the one for players is boys-only. Everything was major league issue, from my cap and sunglasses to my uniform pants and cleats. I was pleased to see “Twist” instead of “Phelan” on the back of my jersey, and my bat had my name engraved on it, too. I even wore official boxer-briefs with the team name stitched on the waistband. I used the athletic cup as a dish to hold my sunflower seeds.
I trotted onto the field across the lush manicured grass as my name flashed on the JumboTron. I high-fived my teammates and stood on the first baseline for the National Anthem. Then it was fly ball drills, followed by fielding, pitching, and hitting.
When I received the invitation to attend batting practice this summer with the Colorado Rockies, I was over the moon. I’ve been a baseball fan since high school, when I cut class for the first and only time to see the Oakland A’s play in the World Series. When I lived in Arizona I followed the Diamondbacks, and now that Colorado is home, I root for the Rockies.
Practice was a humbling experience. Catching fly balls that rocketed skyward from the ball machine like cruise missiles was next to impossible. Despite the help of a fielding coach, I missed every one. I have new respect for the guys who do it while 40,000 fans scream at them. The sun really does get in your eyes.
Playing shortstop went a little better. I dove for a line drive—not only did I stop the ball, but I got my uniform dirty. Pitching was fine. The coach was impressed—okay, surprised—that I had a leg kick and could throw it over the plate.
Hitting was the highpoint. I mashed two balls (out of six) into the outfield off a former pitcher for the SF Giants. Granted he wasn’t throwing heat (lukewarm would be a charitable description; around 70 mph) and I’m sure twenty-five years of playing polo have sharpened my hit-ball-with-stick reflexes, but it was still a heady moment.
I refused to change out of my uniform after practice and stopped for a half-dozen unnecessary errands on the way home. En route, I thought about Marianne Moore’s poem Baseball and Writing. It opens:
Fanaticism? No. Writing is exciting
and baseball is like writing.
You can never tell with either
how it will go
or what you will do;
a fever in the victim—
I have been feeling the fever lately as words fly onto pages like balls fly into fielder’s gloves. Like a team manager, I have a game plan for my writing. And as happens in baseball, it doesn’t always work out—plots go into extra innings, a new character is sent in for relief, computers break when you’re at bat, the batting order of projects must be shuffled. Still, I wouldn’t play any other game, on or off the field. And in case you’re wondering, no, I didn’t sleep in my uniform. Well, maybe just the jersey.