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Will baseball ever love me back?

Like many baseball fans, my love of the game can be traced back to my dad. He played shortstop for the police union softball team. I have fond and vivid memories of jumping up and down on flimsy aluminium bleachers cheering him on as he fielded grounders from whoever their opponent was that week.

I also remember the day I was told the local little league team wouldn’t allow a girl to join. I have no way of knowing whether that was an established rule or a more subtle “that’s probably not a good idea” determination outside the rulebook, but either way, as much as young me wanted to grow up to be a catcher for the New York Mets, I’ve never even worn a chest protector. I was given the choice, instead, of dance class or martial arts. Ended up with a trophy taller than I was from Tae Kwon Do, but I honestly can’t remember going back to another class after bringing it home.

Fighting wasn’t the sport I loved. I loved baseball. It was the early 90s and Derek Jeter The Prospect was already a household name on Staten Island and every kid in Mrs Kuhn’s 3rd grade class wanted to grow up to be just like him. But I couldn’t, because I was a girl.

The boys made fun of me sometimes. We got into fights. I once had to write “I will not put my hands on my friends” 25 times because I smacked two kids’ heads together at recess over the teasing. Other times I was picked early for kickball because hey, at least she knows the rules.

We moved to Florida with my grandparents the summer before fourth grade. Without my dad.

Pop, who will totally be played by Kevin Costner in the Sandlot-esque biopic, taught me how to drive his big Kubota tractor around the yard that summer. I needed to put a block on the gas pedal with a few rubber bands in order to reach it with my short legs, but I was able to run the bush-hog well enough to clear the back five acres of his property.

We were lucky enough to have a couple big families in the neighborhood, and that summer we rounded up 22 kids – aged six to twenty-two – and split into two teams of eleven, the eldest two taking on the part of player-manager for each team. For my team, I pitched to the younger kids, and caught when the older kids were batting.

That’s my claim to fame in baseball – a summer in the backyard, playing as half a revolving battery while we waited for school to start. I can honestly say I’ve made a couple good pickoffs and took a couple of liners to the face and lived to tell the tale. All of them happened before my tenth birthday.

I remember owning a Marlins hat, but I couldn’t say whether I ever watched a game. Middle school was hell – there wasn’t any baseball at all, and as the youngest, smallest kid in the school being seen as an athlete wasn’t happening. The gym teacher encouraged me to sit out during class. When I insisted on joining in dodgeball he laughed at me when a boy on my own team hit me in the face with a volleyball hard enough that – 21 years later – my jaw pops when I open my mouth too wide. I stopped trying to participate after that.

It wasn’t until 1998 – eighth grade – that the Devil Rays started up in Tampa. A brand new team, just for us, only 45 minutes or so down the road. The other kids in my middle school and I were SO excited. But the TV channels wouldn’t play the games unless the games were sold out. And they only seemed to sell out when the Yankees were in town. So, Devil Rays baseball was a summertime reward for reading enough books for the library to give us free tickets.

Regular baseball was on TV on WGN. And in 1998 that meant Sammy Sosa was on WGN, blasting dingers to the moon. I was enthralled. In love. Convinced this was the best baseball player I’d ever see in my life. Sure McGwire beat him to 61 and had four more than him by the end of the year but Sammy was MY BOY and he got the MVP anyway. It was a great baseball year for me, even though I was just a poetry club and drama club nerd.

By the time high school hit I’d given up on ever being considered one of the athletic kids. After some effort to impress a cute boy failed spectacularly, I skipped the required gym class a lot of the time, spending my time working on a clay Lord of the Rings chess set in the art room. I made a point of attending class during baseball days, but was never chosen to participate.

My church – when I was a church-going person – had a softball team for a while. They asked if I could teach the other girls how to cheer for a softball team without being ungodly.

They made me.

Me.

A cheerleader.

For a softball team.

At that point in my life I was willing to do nearly anything I was asked for the sake of Jesus, but that didn’t last long. Somehow I managed to get in trouble for being too “sensual” in my movements and was asked to stop cheerleading. Evangelical cults are weird.

I’m thirty-three years old.
I have loved baseball my entire life.
I can’t remember the last time I swung a bat without worrying about breaking a window.
There’s a nonzero chance I was eight years old.

And now, as an adult that gets all of her baseball content through watching 20- and 30-something dudes at top physical performance playing at the highest possible level, knowing full well I can never even hope of attaining that original first-grader’s life dream of catching a pitch at Shea Stadium…

after all I’ve given up…

after all the discrimination I’ve faced…

after all the years I’ve spent loving this sport that has kicked me in the teeth every time I’ve tried to embrace it…

people like Aroldis Chapman
people like Addison Russell
people like Julio Urias
people like Roberto Osuna
people like Rob Drake.

get to play the game I love.

And I didn’t.

But I’m not bitter. No. Not at all.

Why should I be? After all, I only loved the game from, basically, the womb. I only wanted to play from the time I knew what it meant to play. And I was only stopped from doing so because I was, well, born a girl.

Not because I hurt anyone. Not because I threatened armed insurrection against my country. Because I was born a girl.

The fact that I’m a girl makes me unworthy of the game.

But these guys.

They’re just fuckin’ ducky.

Wild.

Updated: October 25, 2019 — 6:26 pm

3 Comments

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  1. Completely feel this. I think every woman fan will.

    1. why are we all in an abusive relationship with a sport?

  2. That was ….amazing. Thank you for sharing this. I am going to point out the reason you fell in love with the Cubs was because of a White Sox player though.

    Ole Southside Sammy Sosa

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