The Fort Mill pitcher jogs to the mound and picks up the baseball, already scuffed and a bit dirty before the first pitch in the bottom of the first. Adjusts the cap, stares as the batter digs in. Just another hot, sticky summer night in July, second game of a double-header. Maybe 200 people watching. Just like a dozen others this summer and a million nights over decades when American Legion baseball teams filled with teenagers play America's game.
Even when the pitcher is Anna Kimbrell. A girl.
Her jersey says, "Post 43." Not "Post 43, girl."
Only the first girl in anybody's memory, probably ever, to play legion baseball in South Carolina. Certainly the first girl to ever pitch in and win a game, like she did on May 27. Kimbrell pitched 3.1 innings of relief to defeat Chester, 7-6, giving up two hits and no runs.
There can only be one first, and she is it.
"An amazing achievement," is how Elbert Long, state legion baseball director, describes Anna. "We don't even have a place on our enrollment form for girls. It's always been just boys. How long? Long as there has been legion ball."
There are no other girl legion players in the state on 72 other teams, Long said.
There have only been a few girls to ever play legion ball around the country, said Buck Schwing, regional director for legion baseball.
"We in our league have Anna, and she's on the mound tonight against Rock Hill," Schwing told me before the first pitch.
The first batter for Rock Hill is a blonde-haired kid. The second batter, on-deck, calls out: "Strike out and you better not come back."
The lead-off man doesn't strike out. He works the count full. Anna drops in a big bender of a curveball that he fouls off, then he laces another curve over the shortstop for a single. At first base that kid seems to float.
Not me, says his expression.
Nobody gives Anna a break. She wants none, either.
"I don't want anybody to give me anything," Anna said.
Because Anna Kimbrell has played baseball -- never softball, not once -- since before Little League. The other players on both the Rock Hill and Fort Mill teams know her from her years playing with and against her, especially when she was the biggest and best player in the Rock Hill Dixie junior league at age 11.
But legion ball, like the boys high school ball she plays, is on a bigger field, against boys who have matured and are now mostly bigger and faster than she is. Still, she makes these teams, and plays.
"She's here because she deserved it," one of Fort Mill's coaches, Michael Matkovich, told me as Anna took batting practice.
Bill Tindall, a Rock Hill coach, says of Anna: "I've watched her since she was a kid. She's earned her spots. She can play."
This game late in the season is a grinder. Anna gets nicked for a run in the first. In the third, she strikes out a kid looking at a called third strike. Another curve. For the batter, the walk back to the dugout took weeks.
The Fort Mill catcher, Michael Baker, said he said nothing to that batter or any other. Catchers -- I was one in legion ball a quarter century ago; my coach was a deputy sheriff who thankfully didn't lock up half of us on the team -- are apt to run their mouths behind the plate. Not with Anna pitching.
"Everybody who knows our team knows Anna, knows that is a girl out there," Baker said. "You don't want to make a big deal out of it. She doesn't, so we don't. She just plays."
By the time she gives up two hits to start the fourth inning, Fort Mill head Coach Eric Baddeley lifts Anna for a reliever. Her line: Four runs, seven hits. Fort Mill was up by two runs in this game when she left, but the two runners she left on base eventually scored. A no-decision.
"Felt good, but I hadn't thrown in a while, so I couldn't really air it out," Anna said in the dugout where she gets no special treatment.
Ballplayers say "thrown" when they mean "pitched." Anna is a ballplayer.
And that is exactly what her parents want. Sandy Kimbrell has never told her only daughter that she should play softball.
"She can play baseball, loves it, why not play against the boys when she is as good as them?" Sandy said. "Or even better than some."
John Kimbrell, Anna's father, said Anna's determination to play against the boys drives her. There is no doubt some people along the way haven't cheered Anna's successes.
"If I ever had a doubt, or she did, that she wasn't good enough to play, she wouldn't play," John Kimbrell said. "But she has earned everything. She plays because she can play."
Anna is a champion swimmer, too, but baseball is her life. She played on the Nation Ford High team last spring with and against all boys. She loves baseball so much that the past two summers she's worked for the grounds crew for the AAA Charlotte Knights in Fort Mill.
"The only girl," she said.
But playing with boys isn't her only ballgame. Anna has played on girls and ladies baseball teams as far away as Hong Kong and around the country, even making the U.S. national team. She travels to Los Angeles for practice next month and then Japan for an international tournament. Pitcher, catcher, outfield.
This past weekend it was one of those ladies' only tournaments that probably ended her Legion season prematurely. On July 5, she was at bat in a tournament in Wisconsin. She fouled off a pitch and broke her nose in two places.
Sunday, broken nose, swollen face, she played again.
But Anna had surgery Thursday to fix her nose and likely won't play again until August, she said.
But she played Legion ball. The first.
Because Anna is such a fixture in baseball in York County for so long, her appearance in games generates little buzz from fans. They know her, the girl, the ballplayer.
But not all.
"One older man at one game this year, he came into the dugout and said I was an inspiration and congratulated me on being the first girl," Anna said. "He said everybody ought to be proud of me."
Sure, the newness, the unique walk to the mound by a player wearing a sports bra is long-gone. Anna the girl pitcher is 17 years old, approaching her senior year in high school. Just another player to her peers.
But not really. Maybe never will Anna Kimbrell the baseball player be anything less than the only girl against a state of boys.
No teenage boy at an age when he is lean and cool and on top of the world wants to strike out against a girl.
Maybe softball for Anna someday, in college, but not now.
There are still boys to strike out.