Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Second Class Citizen

I played second base my entire baseball career because I supposedly couldn’t make the throw across the diamond from third base. Am I projecting here? Possibly. But only slightly. It was definitely the reason I was put there initially. I wonder what justification my coach gave himself after I threw out a runner at third from my knees on the outfield grass. Which would have been farther throw across the diamond. Hmmm, I wonder? I’ll choose to believe the reason I stayed at second base was because I was good and knew how to play it.

Ultimately, I grew to love the position. I mean, it was future first-ballot MLB Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg’s spot for the Cubs his entire baseball career. I wore his glove my entire baseball career. I like to think it served me well. Only some resentment came to the surface when, in high school, I switched to softball and had to play second base. I had been the starting shortstop on my Little League softball team. What gives?! 

I get it, the starting shortstop for our school was a senior, and even more importantly, very good. I would be there the next year once she was gone. And I was. Until senior year, when I had to switch back to second. I’m sorry, what? Ooph. Feathers ruffled. Confidence gone. Walls high. It wasn’t until years later when I became a coach (and got over myself) that I fully realized having me at second base was strategically the best move possible. Hitters couldn’t get around on our pitcher and were always late, thereby consistently hitting the ball to… yup, second base. Duh! I feel so stupid now. But try rationalizing with a teenage girl. They’re/we’re the worst. Having been one and coached many, I can say this without fault.

But that’s my point. I grew up thinking and believing that one spot on the field was less than because some adult made a decision based on nothing but his own beliefs. Yes, some positions are better suited for a certain type of player with a specific skill set. Center fielders tend to be fast. Catchers tend to be slower or bigger physically. A first baseperson tends to be a lefty. The main difference between second base and short stop? The throwing distance. 

This is what years of being told, through actions and words, can do to a young girl. It made me feel like playing second base was being a second class citizen. I wasn’t good enough for any other position where they might actually hit the ball. My arm wasn’t strong enough to make the throw from anywhere else but the closest possible place to the generally “easy” out at first base. In youth baseball lore it’s only slightly better than being stuck in right field. 

Which, in Little League, most definitely is a thing. But when it comes to softball, nope, right field is key - you can gun a hitter down at first base if you have a strong enough arm. You can catch a slap-hit before it hits the ground if you’re fast enough. And in higher levels of baseball, there is nowhere to hide. 

It took years for me to not only come to terms with, but enjoy, playing second base. I was so conditioned to believe it was inferior that until I took a step back, did I see that there is so much to nuance to the position: covering first on a bunt, turning a double play, the quick throw needed to gun a runner down at the plate because they will always try to score when it's hit to you. Do I think my male Little League coaches thought about this when they put me there? No. Absolutely not. But that doesn't diminish my respect for the position and the joy I ultimately found in playing it, at least not now. 

In the future, when little girls are playing baseball with little boys maybe let’s judge them on their merit and skill, huh? Or better yet, let everyone play every position to see where they shine. They might surprise you. 

When was a time in your sports carer you had to prove your worth just to be on equal footing? Share in the comments below.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

There it Goes! A Long Drive! If It Stays Fair... Home Run!

I was the first girl in my Little League to hit a home run. I did it on Opening Day. 

Yet the main thing I remember from that day was that my mom (who came to every one of my games) wasn’t watching when it happened. This sticks in my mind not because I was sad, disappointed or upset, but because I thought it was funny. It’s absolutely perfect and makes complete sense. She’s a talker. A socializer. She was turned around talking to another parent when they kindly interrupted her to point out, “Uh, hey, your daughter just hit a home run.” You would have thought the cheering (I’ll just assume the entire place went nuts) would have gotten her to turn around to see what was going on. Nope. Too deep in conversation. I hope it was worth it, Mom, because I'm scarred for life! That must be why I was drawn to comedy.

I will give her this, at least she had the balls to tell me the truth and not pretend like she witnessed it. I can pretty much guarantee my reaction was the equivalent of the facepalm emoji. To be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way. We wouldn't know it at the time, but turns out she’d see me hit many, many more home runs in my baseball and softball careers, so I guess we’re good. 

There wasn’t much fanfare on that spring afternoon. I probably got a banana split after the game, which is shocking that I can’t recall that in vivid detail. The ball sailed past the left field fence, down the foul line. I always was a pull hitter. I do know my teammates stormed home plate, and quite honestly, I’m not even sure if I touched it. This was before the days of everyone clearing the way so the umpire can see the foot hit the plate and officially count the run. I also don’t know if that run actually meant anything. It was the 6th inning (top? bottom? who knows) and the 6th run scored for our team so we were either winning or losing by enough to make it (the run, not the moment) inconsequential. 

What I do know is that it reinforced (to me) that I could play baseball. I may have only been allowed to play the league required minimum of 3 innings and 1 at bat for most of my Little League career, but I proved that if I had been given more chances, maybe I could have hit a few more dingers. I guess we’ll never know.

As a humble trailblazer is wont to do, I like to hold my self-worth in high regard and think that I paved the way for future girls in the league to maybe be given more of a chance and get a few more at bats. I know this much, the following season when I had aged out of the league my female counterpart, and soon-to-be softball teammate, hit 2 home runs thereby doubling my previously set record! Well, they say records are made to be broken. It would have been nice to hold on to that one for a little longer, yeesh.

You would think with a substantial moment like this the details would be so perfectly etched in my mind. That in reality I had my very own Carlton Fisk moment of waving the ball to stay fair. Other than the details I already provided, I got nothing. What really sticks with me are the little things I experienced, both good and bad. 

These major milestones are just that, milestones. Markers that something really great happened at some point in time which propelled me forward to create the next marker and so on. I guess that's what life is all about. 

What's a milestone event in your sports career that your parent(s) conveniently missed? Share in the comments below. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Picture it! A Baseball Diamond. You were 10.

Picture it! Sicily. 1922. 

Okay. Maybe not. 

But really, picture it. Rhode Island. Late 1900s. A youthful looking tomboy stands at shortstop for her AAA Little League team. All of a sudden a male of indiscernible age, but most likely 40s, steps out of the dugout. Her dugout. He heads towards the pitcher’s mound and waves that little girl over from her very comfortable and nicely tended to position. The coach takes the baseball out of the hands of the young boy on the mound and hands it to her. She stares at the ball now in her glove. She thinks to herself, “But I don’t pitch.” She looks back up at the man and eventually says, “Okay.” 

That little girl is you. Really, it's me, but for the purpose of this story and to have more of an emotional impact, it's you. 

You throw you’re allotted warm up pitches and the umpire calls for play to resume. You walk back to the rubber where you perch yourself slightly higher than everyone else on the diamond, which is hard because you're really, really tiny. Then it hits you, “The bases are loaded. And there are no outs. And it's the 6th inning.” As quickly as those thoughts come you just as quickly brush them aside: you’ve got a job to do. 

None of that matters at this moment. It doesn’t matter that you are down by a lot of runs because it's the last inning and the game’s pretty much over anyway. It doesn't matter that you know your team most likely won't be able to come back to win in the bottom of the inning. You don’t quit. You try your hardest. Because that’s who you are. So you start pitching. You get strikes called. You get balls called. Then you… actually... strike someone… out? Cool. One out. Bases still loaded. No runs in. 

You pitch to the next batter and… he hits… a dinky pop up… right in front of the pitcher’s mound? …all right. You easily catch the pop fly. Two outs. Bases still loaded. No runs in. 

Then you pitch to the next batter. 

And the next and the next and the next because your unbelievable lucky streak was really what you expected, a fluke. You’re there for what seems like hours in a never-ending inning that doesn’t matter anyway and never really did. You were just filler. A girl. An inconsequential girl who wasn’t believed in and wasn’t expected to come through in any way so why worry about it?


You pitch to the next batter who barely makes contact and hits a slow roller up the third base line. Being the amazing and quick infielder you really are you scoot over to the ball, field it cleanly and easily tag the runner heading towards home from third base. After the runner is called out you turn around, toss the ball back towards the mound in a never-before-seen mic drop as you turn back around and trot across the baseline into your dugout. Three outs. Bases were loaded. No runs in. You think to yourself, "It's alright fellas, I got this." 

It’s not until much later you think, “Did the coach really even care? Was I just a position player being thrown in to save the arms of the real pitchers? Did he really expect anything from me?” Doesn't matter. Because you came to play. And when you play, you fucking play hard. 

Do you recall a “mic drop” moment when you were a complete badass on the field? Share in the comments below.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Athletic Support Isn't Just For Your Boobs

My Mom used to regularly hit me ground balls in our backyard. The yard was… very uneven. I like to think that’s why I became a great fielder. There was no hop I couldn’t immediately adjust to and snag with my glove. Backhand, forehand, right at my face, didn’t matter. It was getting stopped. It also didn’t hurt that I loved fielding and could do it for hours. 

My Dad would catch for me when I practiced pitching. I didn’t pitch a lot, nor did I care about it enough to learn how to throw different pitches but I did enjoy the accuracy and cunning it takes to strike somebody out. When I threw a pitch that just grazed the corner I can vividly recall my dad doing his best umpire impression, “Steeerike!”

My Nana and Papa would sit in their car beyond the fence in right center during games and honk the horn every time I got a hit, scored a run, threw someone out. Essentially, any time I did something good. The car horn honked a lot and I proudly smiled every time I heard it. 

Without a supportive family it’s really hard to be “the girl” in a boy’s sport. Every step of the way you have to have someone who’s got your back and is cheering for you. A shoulder you can lean on. An ear that will listen. Unfortunately, my baseball experience, like so many girls before and after me, ended sooner than I would have liked. And like most it was our own choice. It wasn’t because I didn’t have the support to continue, clearly I did. I know the discrimination, judgment, and doubtful looks I received. I can only imagine how much harder the ups, downs and hardships my fellow athletes faced who stuck with the game into high school and throughout college.

I admire these young girls who recognized that their passion could not and would not be compromised no matter what and decided to forge ahead on an unknown path. I admire these young women who continue to sacrifice everything to play the sport they love knowing they will gain nothing*.

*Not necessarily true and used for slightly dramatic effect. Women who continue to play baseball gain strength, satisfaction, mental fortitude, joy, lifelong friendships, opportunities to see the world, experience things most will never get to and maybe even win a fucking gold medal to boot. What they won’t gain is money.

They say that behind every strong man is a stronger woman. Well, behind every strong female baseball player is an unquantifiable amount of strength from a multitude of people. The next time (or the first time) you meet a female who plays baseball show her the support she deserves. Tell her you got her back. She'd appreciate it. She might even smile like she's hearing a car horn.

Who's your support system? Share in the comments below.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Girls Have Bigger Balls

Before I fully delve into the world of personal experiences I want to start you all off on the right foot by sharing some resources where you can learn about and follow women in baseball. This is by no means a finite list but very good places to start. Make sure to give them a follow on the social medias!

Have fun going down the rabbit hole. See ya in a few years!

Justine Siegal (@JustineBaseball) (@JustineSiegal)
Baseball for All (@Baseballfor_All)
Women Belong in Baseball (@WomenBaseball1)