It’s Opening Day and ballparks across the nation are celebrating the return of America’s sport: Baseball.
I grew up with baseball. My father, having two daughters, made sure that I could play baseball and throw a football, which ended up being really useful for me later in life. I liked baseball so much that I quit Girl Scouts at the ripe age of seven so that I could focus on my baseball career. Who needs to sit around singing songs and making snickerdoodles, anyway?
However, in 1987 my options as a girl were limited. There were no softball teams, so during t-ball signups my dad marched me down to the Peninsula Little League and signed me up. I was one of two girls in the entire league, and I was incredibly fortunate to end up on a team comprised of my guy friends from school. Our coach was not only my best guy friend’s father, but he grew up with my parents, so he kept an eye out for me.
When I arrived to our first practice with a pink Rawlings glove and blue and white bows in my hair (they matched my Slices and Skills uniform, of course), there were a few laughs. However, my best guy friend Jesse decided that if I could have a pink glove, he should have the matching blue one. Being the coach’s son ended any further teasing about glove colors.
Not to brag, but if you’re wondering about the differences between six year old boys and girls, I can tell you that I was assigned to play first base for a reason. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, but it had a lot to do with my ability to listen and follow directions. I’m rather proud of that accomplishment, really. I practiced hard and took my sport seriously. (I think part of me was worried that if baseball didn’t work out, I’d be sent back to Girl Scouts, and that just wasn’t going to happen)
I’ll never forget the game that won me the team ball. I don’t remember much of the game itself. I have no idea what the score was. I don’t even remember if I got a hit. I remember this game because it was the game where I realized that even though I was part of the team, as a girl I’d never be treated the same as my guy teammates.
I was at first base when the kid came up to bat. He connected with the ball and sent a grounder straight to our short stop, Johnny Rod. Johnny’s dad was the third base coach and Johnny was the oldest and biggest guy on our team. He always had a huge chip on his shoulder and thought he was the best at everything he did, and he had no trouble letting me know that I didn’t belong at first base, let alone on the team. Johnny snatched up the ball and threw it in my direction. The runner was heading toward the bag, but Johnny had thrown the ball way too high. Summoning up every ounce of bounce in my six year old body (taking gymnastics at the same time didn’t hurt, either), I jumped up and grabbed the ball in my pink glove. I landed and made the out in the nick of time. My teammates cheered for me, but I wasn’t paying attention to them. I knew full well Johnny had thrown the ball too high on purpose. And I wasn’t the only one. Johnny’s dad left his spot at third base in an instant and was on the field chewing his son out in front of everyone. The game stopped until he was done, and he made Johnny shout an apology to me before we could continue.
When the game was over, I pulled my cap off and my beribboned pigtails fell to my shoulders. “Hey, that’s a girl playing first base!” one of the kids on the opposing team yelled, pointing at me. I guess the pink glove hadn’t tipped him off…
Coach gave me the team ball for my outstanding performance that day. It was a great moment for me, but I knew that Johnny was really irked about the whole thing, and I knew it didn’t help that his own father was heaping praise on me. It made things awkward from that point forward.
I didn’t know it at the time, but my days playing baseball were numbered. There was only so far that a girl could go in the little league. Even when I stopped playing, I enjoyed going to games with my pink glove in hopes of catching a foul ball. (That’s a story for another day)
As I sit and watch Opening Day coverage, I like to think back about my own baseball days. Despite my brief baseball career, I’m quite happy being a spectator all these years later. Baseball is a special sport that holds a revered place in our nation’s heart. Boy or girl, man or woman, young or old, it captivates us and carries us through the long summer months and gives us something to cheer for (even when your team is losing).
Welcome back, baseball. We’ve missed you.