PROVINCETOWN — When I moved to the Outer Cape barely a month ago to write for the Independent, I tossed my glove into the back of my car on a whim.
Now I was braving cloudy skies and a misty drizzle to live out exactly the queer softball fantasy that was a persistent source of comedy, if not a more threatening cliché, on my high school team. But taking to the diamond on Oct. 15 for the first-ever “League of Our Own” game at Motta Field, I was undeterred even by memories of the curdled nerves that had tormented me before every high school game.
Michelle Axelson and the game’s co-organizer, Carol Bergen, were inspired by this summer’s A League of Our Own television series — an adaptation of the late Penny Marshall’s 1992 film about the women’s professional baseball league that emerged during World War II. The show got Axelson reading about that era’s famous fast pitcher, Dot Wilkinson. “I wanted to honor that chapter of lesbian history during Women’s Week,” Axelson said.
The game “was also about getting out of the shop and actually participating with locals and visitors in a theme week,” she said, something shopkeepers rarely get the chance to do. Besides, said Axelson, “it was a chance to rekindle my connection with friends.”
Those friends offered a warm welcome to a newcomer. At 22, I know my age tends to separate me on the Outer Cape — but it’s the kind of demographic fact that fades when other solidarities come to the fore. Ahead of me in the batting order was a writer-turned-editor who plays in a Northampton softball league. She’d driven in just that morning for the game. In the dugout, I felt an uncanny, kaleidoscopic view of my future materializing.
I was the Butchtown Belle in left field. The Provincetown Peaches took the home-field designation, so the Belles batted first. We raked in a couple of runs early on, as a crowd of spectators at the field’s perimeter grew, and the cheers got louder.
“Hey, left field!” one of them would shout, and I’d turn for a barrage of questions — “What’s the inning?” — and support.
With limited action in the outfield, I had some time to dawdle in the metaphorical dandelions and reflect on how I’d wound up standing in a foggy field in Provincetown in October, playing a game I thought I knew for what felt like the first time. A friend of mine from high school was visiting, someone who’s known me since my days playing softball from the closet. I felt that rare peace of an old self becoming friends with a new one.
At the end of the fourth inning, the Belles were up five-nil. It looked like an easy game. We hid our satisfaction beneath the shade of our caps. But by the bottom of the fifth, the Peaches had tied it up and left us in the dust. “Dolly Parton!” was the call into the megaphone. “Nine to five, Peaches!” And there it was: a game again.
There was fist-bumping across teams. There were couples split between Belles and Peaches and inter-team high fives and kisses between innings. In the dugout, players hailing from across the Commonwealth asked for a rundown of the rules from others who compete seasonally in leagues. It was camaraderie first, softball second.
In the end, the Belles took the game 14 to 9. There was a post-game Dyke Dock at Provincetown Brewing Co., where players nursed drafts and turned to billiards and lunch. Defeat dissolved into victory in the revelry.
Since the game, I’ve been scrolling through photos and running my thumb nostalgically over the blood blister that emerged on my right palm. How do I hold onto the high of that game? I’m still figuring out how it redefined the socio-sexual politics of a sport where batting for the other team means being exactly who you are.
I missed a catch, had a couple of hits, scored, and hustled for a foul ball only to slide on the dewy grass and land flat. It wasn’t my best performance, but it absolutely was the best softball game of my life.