At the James P. Abernathy Memorial Fields by Elisabeth Strayer

Despite her general disinterest in the sport, Ava was seized by a desperate urge to be a baseball mom. She wasn’t certain that the phrase meant much in the cultural imagination, not in the way that “soccer mom” conjured a woman at the helm of a minivan, the bearer of halftime orange slices for shin guard-clad children. Those children frightened her: their too-big teeth ripping flesh from spongy rinds, their too-small hands tossing the spent peels to the grass for the soccer moms to gather. 

But “baseball mom” sat in her mind like a blank thing, nearly devoid of associations. It was lawless, even: she could drive a low-riding sedan and avoid snack duty altogether and practice a peaceful detachment during the games. Instead of laboring over the countertop, carving wedge after wedge of citrus, or pacing the sideline, hurling encouragements and insults at every play, a baseball mom would sit calmly in the bleachers, at a respectful distance from the field. Baseball moms could relax: sipping wine, reading a book, glancing up only occasionally to check in on the children playing the monotonous sport.

From the comfort of her living room, Ava imagined herself seated in the bleachers of a baseball field. She would swivel her head backward and upward, meet the eye of the woman sitting on the row behind her, and ask, “What inning is it?”

“The bottom of the third? Honestly, I wasn’t paying attention,” the fellow baseball mom would confess, and the two would share a polite laugh of moderate length before returning to their respective books, still uncertain of the inning but satisfied that they had demonstrated adequate interest in the game. 

This interaction sounded so pleasant that Ava wondered why she should wait any longer to begin her new life as a baseball mom. Swiftly, she keyed some choice search terms into her laptop to find that Little League ran from late March through June at the James P. Abernathy Memorial Fields. Practices were on Tuesday evenings, with games on Saturday mornings. Already it was Thursday, and already it was early June, so she resolved to start by attending the next game. She thrilled subtly with the boldness of this choice: diving right in on a game day, immersing herself in the competitive action—or the lack thereof, this being baseball, she reminded herself.

When Saturday came, Ava drove to the fields (in her sedan, sans snacks for the team), stopping for a tall iced coffee along the way. She swung into the parking lot five minutes shy of 9:00 a.m. It was good practice to be early, especially for a newcomer. 

Small boys and accompanying parents—mostly baseball moms, with the occasional baseball dad on coaching duty—swarmed the James P. Abernathy Memorial Fields, the children’s squeals cutting through the air. Some children wore red shirts, the others blue, each emblazoned with names of local businesses. Ava was pleased to see the red team representing her favorite deli, and disturbed that the blue team’s shirts sported the name of a dermatology practice she had visited and found unsettling.

By the time Ava had settled into the bleachers at an appropriate distance from the other baseball moms who milled about in the grass below, the children were lacing up their baseball cleats or tossing balls in pairs, the satisfying smack of leather on leather. She decided to root for the red team, but when she looked down at her blouse to remind herself what she was wearing, she found a brash royal blue. Though the metal bleachers fried her thighs and the blazing sun had melted most of the ice in her coffee, she tugged a spare sweater from her bag and buttoned it over the blouse.

Sweat glazed Ava’s back as she opened her book. She had purchased a recent bestseller for the occasion, one with a kaleidoscopic cover. Lately, the book had been sparking conversation in book clubs across the country (not that Ava had ever been invited to a book club, but she noticed these things, nevertheless), and Ava imagined that its widespread appeal to large groups of women might also make it a popular choice among baseball moms. The night before, Ava made sure to read a few chapters so she’d have something to add to the conversation in the likely event that a fellow baseball mom asked for her thoughts on it. She’d even scribbled a few observations on the inside cover, observations that she hoped would sound insightful without being overly analytical. Her enjoyment of the book was genuine, she had been pleased to find, and as she returned to the narrative now, it almost distracted from the ache that pricked at her lower back. Inwardly cursing the bleachers’ lack of lumbar support—and, really, of any backrest at all—Ava looked around to see how the other baseball moms were coping, only to find herself still the sole occupant of the sun-drenched bleachers.

The baseball moms had all brought camping chairs, the expensive canvas kind endowed with armrests and generous cup holders, which they were now unfolding in two clusters within a patch of shade that abutted the field. In one group, where the women wore red, a mom in oversized sunglasses was setting up a row of clear plastic cups on a boxy, flat-topped cooler and tipping a bottle of white wine into them. Another mom, sporting a red bucket hat, plucked the filled cups one by one to deliver to the seated moms. A few feet away, the baseball moms in blue shirts passed around party-size bags of chips and bright red cups, their contents a mystery to Ava. The blue moms’ gathering resembled a college party, albeit one where the revelers traded tales of motherhood instead of showing off their keg stand prowess. 

On the field, the game was underway. Cries of “Let’s go!” and “Come on!” and “Nice try!,” followed by the trendiest boy names of recent years, surged up from the circles of baseball moms. Each team seemed to have one boy named Mason, or maybe two. 

Ava soon discovered that baseball moms—or, at least, these baseball moms—did not go to games passively. Rather, they were avid spectators: every mom’s face was turned toward the field like a sunflower to the light. Ava resolved to spectate, too. She nestled the bestseller back into her bag and, confident that none of the moms would rotate their glance to her, gratefully shucked off her now-damp sweater. It was at least the bottom of the first inning, maybe the top of the third. Ava didn’t know, though she wasn’t about to wander down to the baseball moms and inquire. Judging by the cries of the baseball moms in red, one of their Masons was at bat, and judging by both the unusually wheedling tenor with which the baseball moms cried, along with this Mason’s diminutive stature—scrawnier than most and about half the size of the pitcher—the crowd was pulling for him. Even the blue team’s baseball moms eased up on their own chants. 

Tiny Mason bounced lightly, fists choking the bat, as the first pitch arced through the air and landed with a pleasing slap in the catcher’s mitt.

“Strike!” roared the umpire. 

“Swing the bat, honey!” cried the baseball mom with the oversized sunglasses. 

Mason gazed stoically ahead, awaiting the next pitch. This time, he whiffed, the bat meeting nothing but air.


“Good try, Mason!” sang the baseball moms from their chairs.

Small face furrowed with focus, glaring a glare of determination, Mason clutched his bat, ready for one last attempt. As the ball spun in his direction, he took a huge swing. Ava heard the crack! of Mason’s bat making contact with the ball, saw the ball arcing high into the air, and Mason tossing the bat aside and heading for first base on his spindly legs.

“Run, Mason, run!” Ava heard herself hollering, along with the baseball moms down in the grass.

Onward he shot, clouds of dust puffing around his ankles each time he ripped his spikes up from the dirt and plunged them down in front of him. He pumped his angled arms, lowered his helmeted head, racing toward the plate.

And then came the umpire’s triumphant “Out!” Someone—Ava didn’t see who—had caught Mason’s ball. It was a noble feat cut short, and the baseball moms, both red and blue, cheered in recognition: of Mason, of the defensive play, of the effort from all the little boys in their bright, logo-plastered jerseys.

Ava clapped along with the baseball moms and, as she did, their heads turned in her direction then back. Some of them slung their heads together, talking in whispers and fixing their gaze occasionally on Ava, who lowered her head to her book once more, trying to look busy. She had blown it, she knew. She had participated too fervently, given herself away. 

The bleachers shimmied faintly beneath her and Ava could hear the ring of approaching footsteps. She looked up, feigning surprise. The baseball mom in the oversized sunglasses, the one who had plied the red team with white wine and hollered so enthusiastically for Mason, smiled a tight smile down at Ava.  

“Hi there,” said the baseball mom.

Ava tried to wring meaning from the baseball mom’s casual stance, her strident tone of voice, but came away flat.

“That was a great play,” said Ava, closing her book and placing it beside her. The baseball mom glanced at its cover. Did Ava observe a flicker of recognition?

“Which one’s yours?” the baseball mom asked: a command, an interrogation.

“Which one?” repeated Ava.

The baseball mom’s smile tightened, threatening.

“Which child,” said the baseball mom. “You’re wearing blue, but you’re not sitting with the blue team. You were cheering for my son, but you’re not sitting with the red team. Whose side are you on?”

Ava mentally shuffled through a collection of answers, each increasingly unconvincing. She had come unprepared. She would be found out. Her face already stinging with the beginnings of a sunburn, Ava flushed further. The baseball mom puckered her lips in suspicion.

“No answer? I can keep going with the questions,” said the baseball mom. “How did you know my son’s name?” 

“Because you were all yelling it,” Ava said. Of course.

“But why were you watching us?”

Ava paused, flipping through explanations with new urgency, the starts of sentences skimming through her mind and evaporating. She could invent a son on the blue team, point to a child who vaguely resembled her. Even then, she would have to explain why she wasn’t sitting with the other baseball moms. And why would that be? Because she wanted to tan in the direct sunlight? Because she was coming down with a cold and didn’t want to pass it on to the blue team’s entire squad of baseball moms? Because she got hit by a fly ball at last week’s game and, after a few days of mild concussion symptoms, feared a repeat? 

She imagined this baseball mom marching over to the circle of blue team baseball moms, pointing to Ava on the bleachers, watching them shake their heads to indicate that they had never seen her before in their baseball mom lives. This baseball mom, determined in her oversized sunglasses, would march right back up to Ava and demand an answer—a real answer—this time.

No matter how hard this baseball mom pressed, no matter how small this baseball mom’s mouth shrank as her disapproval ballooned, Ava couldn’t dredge up the truth for this stranger. Coming here had been an act of courage and resilience; she had peeled herself open to desire. And for what?

Ava fretted and fidgeted and glanced down at her belongings, wondering how quickly she could sweep them into her bag and dash away down the bleachers, when her eyes snagged on the bestseller with its conspicuous cover art. 

“I only came here to read. Some days, I just have to get out of the house,” Ava said, lifting the book apologetically. “But I got distracted by the game.” 

The baseball mom paused, processing. Then her lips relaxed, unfurling like a flower bud.

“Oh!” said the baseball mom. She leaned in conspiratorially and added, “I do the same thing, when I can. How old are yours?”

As Ava once more began sorting through increasingly convoluted versions of the truth, a sudden roar of excitement emerged from the spectators and the baseball mom turned back toward the diamond. In the grass, the other baseball moms were cheering once more as a boy in a red jersey sprinted toward second base. He hurled himself forward, arriving on the scuffed rubber pad milliseconds before the ball clapped neatly into the second baseman’s mitt. The baseball mom in the red bucket hat celebrated by sloshing more wine into her plastic cup, then handing the bottle off to her neighbor. In the other team’s circle, a baseball mom in a blue vest seized a fresh bag of chips with both hands and yanked it open. 

“Sorry. What were we talking about?” asked the baseball mom, paddling her attention back to Ava.

“Nothing,” said Ava, but the baseball mom seemed distracted.

“I should get back to the game,” said the baseball mom, jabbing her chin in the direction of the field. “You can join us if you’d like. We have wine.”

Ava hesitated for a fraction of a moment, and then, “I’d love that,” she said, gathering her things from the scorching bleacher seats. The baseball mom maneuvered back down the bleachers with quick little steps, Ava behind her, and when they reached the grass, the circle of baseball moms in red shirts folded them both in. All the while, their baseball children pitched and caught and swung and struck out and slid into the ruby-toned earth. 

Later, while the baseball moms scrubbed patches of dirt from their baseball children’s uniforms, Ava would return to her empty, echoing house. But for now, she accepted a plastic cup of white wine, settled into a spare canvas chair, and turned her eyes toward the game.

Elisabeth Strayer lives in upstate New York with a flock of chickens and holds a PhD in English from Cornell University. Recent prose appears in The McNeese Review, Paperbark, and Full House Literary. She is a co-writer/co-producer of the audio drama Burgess Springs. Her Twitter handle is @eastrayer.