Women playing baseball

29 Apr

As a youngster I had no idea there was any such thing as softball, I only knew baseball. It was baseball I saw on television and heard the adults talking about. The glove I wore was a baseball glove and my cap was called a baseball hat. There simply was no other option to baseball in my mind.

My mom was a die hard baseball fan and had been quite a ballplayer in her youth. On more than one occasion I heard people comment how it is very possible she could have played in the All American Girls Baseball League (AAGBPL) had it not folded shortly after she turned eighteen. She was my mentor, not my father, who was quite the ballplayer himself before sustaining a foot injury in the Korean war. When I was six my training began. I wanted to be a catcher as my hero was Yankee catcher Thurman Munson but mom knew best and insisted I be well versed at every position.

 Most days we would spend a couple of hours in the backyard with mom running me through very simple fielding drills. As I was only six these generally consisted of her rolling a ball to me from several feet away and me just trying to stop them. By the end of the summer I was kind of catching some soft tosses in the air. At least I was blocking the ball and had learned not to be afraid of it.

When sports registration was opened the following year my parents never even asked if I wanted to play baseball or softball, they simply signed me up for the minor leagues. At the time I had no idea I was such a trailblazer as no other girl had ever even attempted to sign up. Needless to say I was the last player picked and stuck in right field three innings each game. I can’t recall doing anything more than chasing errant throws but I was out there on the field. I was disappointed I didn’t get to play more but wasn’t about to quit the game I loved.

When I got older and little league registration came around I was again there for that and still the only girl. My parents were strongly encouraged to get me into softball (Which I knew existed by then) but I refused. I was a baseball player and in fact better than most boys. That first year I was good enough in fact to catch every inning and lead my team in hitting. My coaches named me the team MVP but when it came time for the all star team I guess having a girl was too much and I didn’t make the cut.

By the time Babe Ruth started I was told I had to play softball. It was too dangerous for a girl to be on the field with much stronger boys and the risk of me getting hurt was too great they said. I wasn’t about to play softball and after the issue was picked up in our local newspaper the league relented and allowed me to play. I spent the next three years playing shortstop and pitching in relief, and by all accounts more than held my own. My next step was to play in high school.

While I thought I had a good chance of making a historically poor team with few returning upperclassmen it was not to be. I was allowed to try out but told by the coaches that even if I hit a home run every at bat and played flawless defense I was not going to make the team under any circumstances. Welcome to the early eighties deep south. I did report for tryouts anyway and was cut before I got to the field. In fact most of the guys hadn’t even finished changing clothes by the time I was gone. To my surprise some of my teammates from seasons past did raise a small protest that I be given a fair chance at least but it was to no avail.

Already dressed I wandered over to the softball field and did something I never considered before. I asked if could try out. Coach Dixon put her hand on my shoulder and said “We’ve been waiting for you.” At that moment it finally sank in: My baseball playing days were over and my softball career was beginning. I went on to play softball in college and enjoyed the experience, travel and friends I made. As good as it was, it wasn’t baseball.

Now in my elder years I am the only woman currently or ever to coach a boys Babe Ruth level baseball team in my city. Over the past few years a girl does occasionally show up for tryouts, and biased as I am I always take them. I encourage them to keep playing so long as they are having fun. Sometimes the girls play a year or two and hop to softball which is fine and understandable as it is easier for girls to get softball scholarships that it is for baseball. I offer them my best wishes and even go to many of their games. Now when I talk to them they are the ones reminding me softball is fun, but it just isn’t baseball.

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