My adventures (and heartbreak) with Softball
I remember as a young girl the day that my parents decided to talk to my brother about playing little league baseball. I was livid that they would consider putting him in sports and not me, so I demanded that I play baseball too. Of course, at that age I didn’t know that girls weren’t allowed to play baseball. Girls played softball, but that was okay with me too. I remember my mom took us both to get gloves and cleats, and she had to buy my brother a cup. “What’s that for?” I asked my mom. She said, “It’s for your brother to protect himself…down there.” Again, I didn’t question it. Of course I knew boys were different than girls and I knew that boys were more sensitive than girls and needed to protect “that” region more than girls, but I still found it a bit weird that they would have special equipment to protect it when playing sports.
So then I went for my try-outs and threw the softball like I had done several times playing baseball in my front yard with all the neighborhood kids. I hit the ball, I ran the bases, I slid into home plate, I did everything I needed to do to place well, and I played just like a boy because at that point I still had it in mind that there was no difference between boys and girls outside of anatomy and I was extremely competitive. Everyone was impressed with me and with the fact that it would be my first time playing on a little league team. They thought I had talent and I could go far. I felt so good at that moment hearing all the praise. I suddenly fell in love with softball and wanted to make something out of it. I thought I could become another Darryl Strawberry or a Babe Ruth, or maybe even another Jose Canseco. What I didn’t realize, at the time, was that in this society there was a big difference between me and all those big baseball stars. One big difference was that I was a girl. It wasn’t until later on in life that my heart was broken, but I’ll get to that later.
I went to my softball practices and was placed on the outfield, right-field to be exact. I came to find out later that this is where they put people who didn’t play too well because most balls didn’t go out there. I also found out later that I was placed there because it was my first year. By the end of my first year though I was playing center, which was a big deal because that’s where most of the balls went to, and I played good! I was on top of the ball all the time, I was communicating with my players making sure we didn’t crash into each other in the middle of the field, I was throwing the ball from the outfield to home plate and I would make it with maybe one bounce. I had talent. I had an arm most people envied. I could hit, I could run, I could slide, and I didn’t fear a thing. I was hit by a couple of balls, one of which took a bad bounce and hit me right on the mouth when I still had braces. That didn’t feel good but it only motivated me even more to play better. My mom was proud of me. She would go to all my games and she would cheer me on. She wanted me to do my best and she was proud of me. She wanted so much for me. She wasn’t one to get dirty the way I did or participate in sports, and I think it had something to do with how my grandmother raised her. My grandmother was more concerned with bringing her up to be a proper lady and to be honest I don’t know that she had the choice to play sports when she was growing up like I did. I think in a way she envied me.
When I wasn’t practicing, I was helping my brother practice. At one point I had asked my brothers coach to help me practice fast pitch because I was moving on from slow pitch softball to fast pitch and it was a change for me. We went out to the field, he pitched me a couple balls and every ball I hit I would hit them far. He was impressed. As a matter of fact his exact words were, “I wish I could have you on my team!” I was competitive and I wanted to win at everything and be better than my brother and at this I was and he would be the first to admit it. He will flat out tell you to this day that I could outplay him hands down.
One day, when I was about 14 I told my mom that I wanted to keep playing softball that I wanted to play at a professional level. I remember it was in the morning and she was driving me to school. She turned to me and said, “Honey, there are no professional girls teams.” “But why mom?! There has to be! I love playing and I play good, so why can’t I play pro?!” She turned to me, as much as she could because she was driving, and said, “I don’t know why there aren’t any teams, but there just isn’t. I think they have some Olympic teams, but they don’t have a professional league, not like they do in baseball.” My heart was broken. I loved playing more than anything in the world and I wanted to continue playing because it was a passion of mine. To find out that there wasn’t any way that I could continue playing beyond college was heartbreaking for me. Of course, I never made it to play on a collegiate level. I had lost all hope of ever playing beyond high school but that had more to do with my self-esteem and the things that I got into in high school more than anything else, or maybe it was a series of things. Maybe it stemmed from this conversation I had with my mom, but all I know is that once I got into high school my pride when it came to softball was considerably lessened.
This conversation with my mother was one of the first realizations I had that there was a gender split in society. This was the first time that I realized that there was a double standard when it came to sports. I knew I could play. I knew I could play better than my brother and better than most of the boys on his baseball team yet I was denied the opportunity to ever play professionally or even with them simply because of my gender. This was the first time that I had faced some kind of rejection that had hurt my self-esteem simply because I was a girl, but I know that had I been given the chance that I would outplay any of those boys, and I know of a couple of girls out there as well who were just as good if not better than most of the boys who were at our same level. Yet somehow because we were women we were not only denied playing with them but we would be called names too simply because we enjoyed playing. I remember people going around in high school saying that most girls who played softball were lesbians. Of course that was not true because I wasn’t a lesbian, and most of the girls I played with weren’t either, but the damage was done. We girls so we were denied the right to play with boys, or to play pro for that matter, and to this day I still think it was unfair for us to be not only denied the right to play but to be ridiculed and called names simply because we loved playing sports. Hopefully, if I have a daughter, things will be different for her or maybe she’ll help usher the change that is needed to play pro if she wanted and not be ridiculed for loving the sport. Maybe she may even get to play baseball with the boys instead of softball and keep from being segregated from the boys simply because she’s a girl.