Willis had entertained dreams of being signed to the majors like all kids who ever came back to a dugout with dirt on their knees. He got closer than most, and was in talks with State for a scholarship when a simple fall on a rough old sidewalk led to a devastating rotator cuff injury. He tried playing through the pain, but it was no good; he wound up at State anyway, but as a business/accounting major.

Still, that wasn’t enough to quash the hope–is it ever?–and once he started seeing Lily, Willis became convinced that the next generation was the ticket. He has all the right equipment to train his son to be a great ball player, to create someone with a sharp mind and unerring aim that would lead inexorably from high school to college to the minors to the majors. It was an ironclad plan, and it made the pain of tossing a ball to himself against the back fence almost bearable.

After the wedding came the baby shower, and after the baby shower came Carolyn. Willis held off buying her the baseball pajamas until Lily’s miscarriage made certain there’s be no second crib. Wasn’t this a brave new world, anyway, one with the WNBA and Title IX? Carolyn still had a shot. And she had talent: it was apparent early on that the girl was whip-smart with a dead eye for using a stick to put a ball just where she wanted it.

Softball came and went along with practice in the backyard, but Carolyn chafed under Willis’s regimen. She loved the sport but hated the teamwork, the sitting and waiting, the subterfuge and the dirt. When her father heard about the junior high tennis team, he was distraught at first before reassuring himself that those same skills–his genes–were still in evidence and would still make their mark. Intense practice and a backyard net followed, along with summer tennis programs at State.

But Carolyn  never really hit her growth spurt, and topped out at five foot two in heels in the seventh grade. Good enough for high school, maybe, but it was apparent that against the willowy blondes she met at State, Carolyn was at a terrible disadvantage. The day she left for State on a clarinet scholarship found Willis seated in his garage, disconsolate, spinning an old racket in his good hand and clutching a worn-out old softball in his bad.