The Washington Stars shoot out onto field No. 4 at the Kino Sports Complex, home to the 2008 Roy Hobbs Women’s National Championships. A 90-degree breeze exhales earthy scents of mown turf, watered dirt, creosote bush, and Cleveland sage. Ferny guajillo, sweet acacia trees, and desert willow perfume the air, and spidery ocotillo shrubs wag their red-tongued tips. In the distance, violet mountains jag into wide, thirsty blue sky.
It is the seventh and final inning of the tournament’s semifinal. Team captain Stephanie Derouin’s Stars are pitted against the California Sabers, a team that defeated them in earlier tournament play. Derouin will not be thumbing curveballs in this game. Instead, she’s covering second.
There are nine Stars at this tournament. Nine players – no more, no fewer. There is no leeway, no room for injury or illness. If someone tears a muscle, sprains an ankle, or so much as sneezes hard enough to be pulled out of play, the whole team is done – with a big, fat FORFEIT next to Washington Stars on the roster. Yet the Stars can’t afford to play like powder puffs either. They don’t want to hold back. These women love baseball too much, but not just the game, playing the game, this game, nothing soft about it. They want to feel the solid plap of a 9-inch-diameter ball meeting their gloves every time. When they’re at bat, they imagine their swings taking toothy chomps out of the ball. They want to lead off when they’re on base, each of them envisioning, I’m gonna steal this base without getting tagged. I’m gonna sashay one base closer to a scoring run. No tags, no tags, no tags. Moo-ah-ha-haa!
And they sure as hell want to prevent the other team from doing the same.