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Authors: Lori Handeland

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BOOK: Out of Her League
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Joe ushered her out of the house and into the car. A short, silent ride into town followed.

They lunched at a nearby cafe, sitting at a table outside beneath the late-May sunshine. Joe bit into his Reuben on rye, then watched as Toni took tiny bites of a turkey on white. To him it didn

t seem that she ate enough, but what did he know? He was used to dining with
football players, and they defi
nitely ate more than sixteen-year-old girls. The books he

d read about teenagers all said the same
thing—don

t make an issue out of nothing. Save your breath for real problems. Joe

s dilemma was that he saw a

problem

wherever he looked.


What do you want to do this summer?

he blurted to keep himself from another round of silent questions and guilt.

Toni popped a piece of the sandwich into her mouth, leaned her chin on one hand and chewed as she thought. Then with a shy smile she said,

I

d like to play baseball.


Huh?

Joe hadn

t expected that.


I

m pretty good. I was on the team at home.

Flushing, she sat up straighter, putting her hands into her lap.

I mean, where I used to live. I saw in the paper that Big League practices begin this weekend. I

d like to go.


Your mother never said you played.

Toni took another bite.

She traveled a lot.


Yeah. We both did.

He tried to look into his daughter

s eyes, but her attention was occupied with pushing her food around on her plate. Once again, he didn

t know what to say except that he was sorry—and he figured she

d heard that enough from him already.


I

ll drive you to practice. I

d love to see you play.

Toni eyed him and grinned. It was the first real smile Joe had seen on her face since he

d taken her away with him. Joe smiled back.

Maybe, just maybe, they could make this work.

 

 

The
morning of
league practice arrived with the threat of a downpour heavy on the air. But by ten o

clock the sky had filled with sunshine—an ideal Iowa spring morning—and the baseball diamonds behind the high school had filled with kids.

Evie arrived precisely at ten. She

d wanted to be at the field at least half an hour early to watch the players warm up, but Danny had lost his shoes, then Benji had found them but neglected to tell the rest of the family. She

d spent a frantic fifteen minutes with her head under every piece of furniture in the house, before Adam had pried the shoes loose from behind his brother

s back.

She dropped the twins off at the T-ball practice for seven-year-olds, waved at the father who was brave enough to referee, and hurried over to where the Big League hopefuls awaited her on the field.

In small-town Oak Grove, Little League, Senior League and Big League baseball dominated the spring and summer months. Boys and girls ages six through eighteen could participate. The games were as much a social event as an athletic activity, and when a team had the potential of going to the ch
am
pionship—the way Evie

s did—interest skyrocketed. Already a majority of the onlookers had gathered to watch her players.

Evie drew in a deep breath. She

d been virtually assured of the boys
’ baseball varsity coaching po
sition next spring if she could take her team to the Big League state championship. The coaches of the boys

teams received higher salaries because of the
larger number of participants and the larger number of fans at the games. Evie wanted that money for her sons. College was expensive these days.

Last year her team had missed the championship by one paltry game. They would go this year if her luck held—and if she could find a decent pitcher.

Evie squinted against the morning sunshine and surveyed the boys waiting for her attention. How was she to find a new star player in a town where all the kids on her team this year had played for her the year before? Sure, she had younger players she

d drafted last month, but she knew what she had—and no one could pitch.

Sighing, she walked forward. Too bad she couldn

t entice some of the girls she
’d coached dur
ing their junior high years back into the game. Though Big League was open to both sexes, by the time the kids were juniors and seniors, the girls had gone on to other interests. She would just have to train a younger player, mold him into what she needed and pray for the best. She was a coach—a darn good one. She could conquer this obstacle. She would. Her dream of sending her sons to college depended upon it.


Good morning, boys,

she called.

“‘
Mornin

, Coach Vaughn.


Excuse me?

Evie paused in the midst of dumping a bag of
baseballs onto the ground, her gaze se
arching the
crowd for the owner of the voice.

Who said that?


I did.

A tall blond girl stepped through the
herd of boys.

I just wanted to let you know I was here.

She shrugged and glanced around sheepishly.

You said

boys

and well...

Kicking at the grass with the toe of her baseball spikes, the girl avoided Evie

s eyes.

I

m not a boy.


No.

Evie smiled.

I can see you

re not.

Evie couldn

t remember this girl from earlier years, but then, they changed so fast.

I take it you

d like to play Big League?


Yeah. I was told to come to your team

cause you were short a player, and I missed the tryouts. Is that right?


You

re new in Oak Grove?

The weight in Evie

s chest lightened at the girl

s nod.

W
hat po
sition did you play on your old team?


Pitcher.

This is too lucky to be true
, Evie thought before addressing the girl once more.

Are you any good?


I pitched in the state championships last year. But we didn

t win.


Hot dog!

Evie clapped her hands, then bent down to snatch a baseball from the ground. Tossing it to the girl, she said to Adam,

Let

s see what she can do.

In seconds Evie

s team had taken position in the outfield. The boys
had played together since child
hood, with few additions or deletions. They were a great team. All they needed was a break.

Evie stood at home plate and lined up to bat. With
a smile, she nodded to the girl on the pitcher

s mound.

The windup.

Steady eyes
, Evie thought.
Looks good.

The throw. Fast and straight on.

Evie swung, expecting to hear her bat connect with the ball. Instead, she stumbled forward when her bat connected with her left shoulder. Turning, she stared in amazement at the ball resting in Adam

s glove.

She

d whiffed! She hadn

t whiffed since high school.

Shading her eyes, Evie squinted toward the pitcher

s mound.

What

s your name?

she shouted.


Antonia. But everyone calls me

Toni.

Toni Scalotta.

Evie

s hand dropped back to her side and hung, a dead weight.

Scalotta,

she muttered.

That figures.

 

 

Joe
had
driven
Toni
to the baseball diamonds, but, at her request, he stayed away from where she was playing. His daughter wanted to do this on her own, and she knew too well how teenage boys reacted to the sight of Iceman Scalotta.

Instead, Joe walked around the section of the field where the smaller children practiced. He found their antics as they learne
d the basics of baseball endear
ing.

Standing on the outskirts of one diamond, Joe
watched in amazement as the boys and girls in the field played a game he

d never seen before. It looked to be some kind of tackle baseball, with every child on the field racing for the ball, even going so far as to take it away from a teammate by force. Then, when the winner tried to throw the ball back to the infield, he or she discovered there was no one left to throw the ball to. They had all left their posts to chase after the runaway hit, and now the runner headed for home, stubby legs pumping like an old-fashioned steam engine.

Joe had to bite down on his cheek to keep from laughing. A tug on his pant leg had him looking down into the bright blue eyes of a redheaded tyke.


Hi,

Joe ventured.

Are you lost?


Nope. I

m Danny.


Uh-huh. Did you want something?


Yeah. A T-ball coach. My team

s the only one without a coach. If we can

t get one, we can

t play.


Why don

t you ask your dad?


Can

t. He

s dead.

Joe frowned.
Poor kid. Cute little thing, too
. Still, Joe had to discourage the child right away. He knew nothing about little
boys and even less about coach
ing T-ball. As he stared out at the team he

d been watching, he noticed another redheaded kid in the outfield.


That your brother?

Joe pointed to the milling crowd of players.


I

ve got a big brother. Adam. He

s on the Big League team. Over there.

Danny shot a thumb over
his shoulder toward the field where Joe had last seen Toni.

Hey, mister, what about bein

my coach?

The kid wasn

t going to be sidetracked.

Did you ask your mom? I

m
sure if you explained your prob
lem, she

d help you out. Moms are like that.

BOOK: Out of Her League
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ads

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