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After the ground rules had been established, I asked Springsteen how his team had been playing. He said they had won 19 out of 22 games on the tour so far—all promotional affairs with radio station disc jockeys and pop-music critics. Was he confident his team would beat mine? He smiled politely and declined to predict, but I had a feeling he was pretty cocky inside.
"I'll bet my hat against yours that my team wins," I suggested. He looked at me suspiciously and then at my hat with something akin to disdain. Perhaps he was wondering what effect such a hat might have on his image. He shuffled his feet and demurred. "Hey, I just got this hat," he said. "Like, I'm attached to this hat, ya know? I wore it at the concert last night."
I retreated to the sidelines. It was tough to tell the difference between my teammates and the onlookers, who pressed right up to the base paths. I jotted down my roster of 15 players, three of whom were women. I promised I would work them all into the game at some point and aligned my defense purely on instinct. "C'mon," I said to my team as we took to the field, "we're not going to lose a game to a bunch of musicians."
Lead guitarist " Miami Steve" Van Zandt led off the game with a home run. Next up was Springsteen, who singled, then scored along with organist Danny Federici on road manager Rick Seguso's base hit. But my hastily assembled batting lineup produced two big rallies, with five runs in the first and four runs in the second. After four innings we had a commanding 9-3 lead. Springsteen must have been relieved that he hadn't taken me up on my proposal.
In the top of the fifth, it was clear that I had to make some lineup changes. The women on my team were anxious to play, and our lead looked safe. I replaced the three lightest male hitters with the three women. One turned in a stellar performance in rightfield. Unfortunately, the other two hadn't put on a glove since childhood, and the E Street hitters tested them as often as possible. With Bruce and his buddies peppering ground balls and long flies to my unpracticed distaffers, our six-run lead wilted like a cotton plant in a drought.
We eked out an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth and took a 10-7 lead into the last inning. Federici singled to start the seventh; then Clarence Clemons, the band's "big man" saxophonist and first baseman, put his weight behind a pitch and huffed and puffed his way around the bases. Our lead was cut to one run.
The crowd on the sidelines cheered the E Street rally. The three men who had been sidelined, miffed that Springsteen's team was hitting to our worst fielders, demanded to come back into the game. If the E Street Band wasn't playing with women, they noted, why should we?
It was a legitimate point, but moot. I had already taken them from the lineup. Springsteen knew the rules as well as I did, and he wanted to win as much as I did. In his situation I probably would have taken advantage of my opponent's weakness, too. I kept the women in the game.
After Van Zandt flied out to leftfield, one of the roadies and Springsteen both singled. E Street's next hitter, bass guitarist Garry Tallent, came to the plate with the game on the line at 10-9. On the first pitch, he hit a hard one-hopper back to me at shortstop. On instinct, I tagged the roadie as he passed me and pegged the ball to first to complete the double play and end the game.
Springsteen met me at the mound and pumped my hand. After retrieving the ball, I asked him to sign it and then tucked it safely away in my glove. Fans wielding pens and scraps of paper surrounded Springsteen immediately, and he happily signed autographs for 10 minutes, a huge grin on his face.