I don't know about you, but I am still buzzing over the amazing and nail-biting finale of the 2016 World Series. I mean, how 'bout them Chicago Cubs, right?
Baseball And The Hard Truths of A Girl's Life
Seven games. A rain delay. Extra innings. The Baseball season stretched into the wee hours on November 3rd on the East Coast. It was the bottom of the tenth, two outs, and there was a ground ball hit to Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant who smiled as he fielded the ball and slung it across the diamond to first base. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo pocketed the coveted final out ball and dashed into the mosh pit of his teammates in the infield as they celebrated the end of a 108-year World Series drought. It was pure joy!
I have always loved baseball. I played it from first grade up through my freshman year at prep school. And I played baseball, not softball. I have played every position in the field, but the three positions I was most proficient at were first base, centerfield, and pitcher. Injury forced me to stop playing (I would later diagnosis my problem when I was in massage school as a strain of my subscapularis), and in my last season, I was batting just over .400 and was developing a wicked curve ball where the bottom would fall out on the throw just as it crossed the plate. I even pitched a fork ball to one of my teammates at practice. He stood slack jawed in the batter's box as it traveled with no discernible motion whizzing passed him.
"What the hell was that?!"
"A strike!" I laughed.
It wasn't easy being a girl who played baseball. Every time I moved up to the next level of play, I went through a process of having to prove myself and gain the trust and respect of my male teammates. Title IX was in its infancy when I was beginning to play team sports and this idea of girls playing with and competing against boys was groundbreaking. As a kid, I wasn't thinking about that at all. I was just setting a ball on top of one the garden posts and practicing my swing, my arm extension, and turning my wrists. My brother Edward would practice with me and I could sometimes get my perpetually busy dad to put aside the law for a little while to play catch. One of my coaches, Ed Gustafson, taught me how to disrupt the pitcher's rhythm when batting and, conversely, he would work with us pitchers on how to stay focused and not let a batter psyche us out. There were definitely men who encouraged me in learning to play the game that is America's pastime.
But their support did not prepare me for the disappointment the day the phone did not ring.
I was eleven years old, and my goal was to play in the Exeter Junior League, aka the Little League in my home town. All the teams had full uniforms that made them look like very young pro ball players. Their games were played at Currier Field about four blocks from my house. I would often ride my bike over to sit in the bleachers and get bubble gum at the concession stand. I dreamed of one day being out on the field, taunting batters with the rest of them:
"Hey, batter, batter, batter, noooo batter, batter, batter, hey, batter, batter...SWING!"
To make it onto a Little League team, you had to attend try-outs. They would pin a number to your back and then you would go through the drills of fielding, throwing, running, and hitting. I first tried out when I was ten years old. And I wasn't very good. I couldn't throw as hard or as accurately as some of the other kids, and I finished in the middle of the pack on all the running drills. I was disappointed that I didn't receive the phone call that I had been drafted, but I took it as a challenge to get better. I played in the Exeter Recreation Department's Minor League, the town's alternative to the Little League. It was challenging playing against kids who were older than me, but it also forced me to get better. And by the spring of 1979, I was ready to take another shot at try-outs for the Little League.
I was good. More than good. My skills had really improved. I was charging ground balls and throwing harder and more accurately than anyone else. With each smack of my throw coming into the coach's catcher's mitt, he would smile and give the approval, "Yeah, that's the stuff!" I would glimpse out of the corner of my eye that coaches were taking down my number and it gave me more confidence as I showed patience and strength in the batter's box. This time, I came away from the try-out feeling triumphant. I had proven myself. Now all that was left was the wait for the phone call on a Sunday afternoon.
I sat at the kitchen table. I didn't want to seem anxious, but when the phone rang, I almost bolted from my seat. My mom calmly answered the phone.
It was my older brother calling to ask a question.
My mom hurried him off the phone, explaining that I was expecting a call.
I waited. And I waited. And I waited.
As the sun began to set on the day, I realized that, once again, I was not going to be picked to play on a Little League team. I cried. A lot.
How could this be? How, after my near perfection performance at the try-outs, could I NOT be drafted?
My mother, who had seen me and noted how well I had done in comparison to the boys, was furious. She got on the phone and called the man who had been my brothers' Little League coach to demand some answers. What she heard was stunning.
"Well, Peggy, y'know I promised John I would pick his son and I couldn't disappoint the little boy..."
And so, at eleven years old, I learned about the good ol' boy network. And I learned that no matter how fast I ran, hard I threw, or how far I hit a baseball, my female gender would always be trumped by "the boy." It was a bitter lesson.
That season, I returned to the Exeter Minor League and helped my team crush our opponents finishing with an undefeated season and a .682 batting average. The next year, what would have been my final year of eligibility in the Little League, I didn't bother to try-out. The Recreation Department splurged to buy full baseball uniforms for all the teams, so we could also look like mini-pro baseball players. And my coach decided he'd had enough of the Little League's refusal to bring in girls, so he took the story to the media. There was a free feminist newspaper in the Seacoast area of New Hampshire. Coach Gustafson called one of the reporters, and invited her to come talk to the girls on his team to hear our story. And when it hit the stands, there was a big hue and cry heard all over town. The story revealed what I and the others had already suspected: the Little League folks didn't want us, and thought baseball was a "boy's game" and that we should play softball because that was a "girl's game." The fact that there was no softball league and that as pre-teens we were just as skilled didn't matter.
The end result: a few years later, girls were beginning to be allowed into the Little League and not just for a few games at the end of the year. It was too late to help me, but some other talented girls got the chance to play on Currier Field.
I share this story because as I have watched this political season drag on and listened and read the coverage of the presidential campaign, I see echoes of my own experience playing out again and again. It seems to me that the same resistance rising in the hearts of men (and some women) that I met attempting to follow my dream of playing baseball is the same stumbling blocks set up against Hillary Clinton. People may come up with lots of reasons and righteous arguments for why they think she's unfit to be president, but they all sound like the same righteous justifications used to pick boys who giggled as they fell down during a sprinting drill or threw into the back stop or hit little dribblers back to the pitcher when the girl is smacking base hits into the outfield. It's all sexism, and it is a real thing that I have had to deal with my whole life from childhood into adulthood. So when I see an abundantly qualified woman running for office against a man who has no experience and has insulted every person, place, and thing in America and yet people still say, "I don't see a difference between these two" I feel myself transported back to that kitchen table in New Hampshire waiting for the phone call that never came.
I am not voting for Hillary Clinton because she's a woman. I am voting for Hillary Clinton because I am a woman, and I know how much harder we have to work just to be given a chance to shine, how much more thorough she needs to be on her plans, and how extremely gracious she needs to be in the face of unapologetic sexism. Who better to take the reigns of leadership from President Obama who has had to put up with a steady stream of racism during his eight years in office?
Give her the ball.