Friday, January 4, 2013
Play Like a Girl? Sure I do
Growing up, my parents told me I could do anything I wanted to do. And, after starting Park District soccer at the age of 5, I became hooked on sports. For the majority of my athletic career, I have competed against other girls. Sure, I played pick-up with boys or I threw the baseball with my brothers, but my games were always against my fellow female athletes. That is, until, I entered seventh grade and my school didn't have a softball team. I loved softball, I played it for about ten years before "retiring" in high school, but, since my school didn't have a team, I decided my next best option would be baseball. I didn't think much of it--sure, the baseball team was a boys' team, but girls were allowed on the team, and I figured, "why not?", I can hold my own. I had spent much of my seventh grade year playing basketball at recess against the boys, and I had already heard how they talked about the girls who played baseball with them the year before but couldn't really play. I didn't want to be one of those girls; even though I had never played organized baseball before, I felt that I could compete. After a few weeks, I could see how my softball training separated me from my male teammates who had grown up in Little League. I stood at the front of the batter's box because in softball, we did that in order to catch pitches before they broke in any number of directions. I gripped the ball wrong because I was used to catching and throwing a much larger ball. But, regardless, I held my own. In my first game, I started at shortstop, a position traditionally reserved for one of the more skilled players on the team. I couldn't tell you where I was in the batting order, but I know it was in the top half, suggesting that I could maybe hit too. With my long brown ponytail, there was no hiding that there was clearly a girl at the plate. Sure, I heard jabs around the infield and had pitches thrown at my head, but I shook it off. After all, what could I really do? My proudest moment during that season came during a game against one of our city opponents. We played in a city park where several baseball diamonds were scattered around. As I was walking to the plate, I start hearing jeers about my being a girl, my opponents taunting their own pitcher that he better not let a girl get a hit off him. The first pitch was high and fast, and, in fact, right at my head. I hit the dirt in order not to be knocked upside the head. I got up and stared the pitcher down. He raised his hand in half-apology--I glared back because I knew he was trying to back me off the plate. As I twisted my hands tightly around the knob of the bat, there was nothing more that I wanted to do than rip the next pitch right at his head. He wound up, hurling the ball straight down the middle and I swung with all my might. I clobbered it, miles over the left fielder's head (okay, maybe not miles, but pretty far), and raced around the bases. The left fielder didn't even notice the ball was long gone until I had rounded second base and his team was screaming at him to get the ball. Stupid boy, thinking he didn't even have to pay attention when I was at bat. I touched home plate before the left fielder had even thrown the ball to the cut-off man, and, as I reached the dugout and took off my helmet, the home plate umpire came over. "Young lady," he commented, "that was some hit!" I felt a tremendous swell of pride because I had shown up all the boys--that's not why I played a boys' sport, but I like proving doubters wrong. So whenever I hear someone trying to use "You play ball like a girl!" as an insult, I think back to my 13-year-old self in this moment and realize if knocking a homerun means I play like a girl, then I'll take it.