As a little girl, I loved baseball. My earliest memories include watching games on TV with my dad. We connected when we watched it together. I also enjoyed going to minor league games with my family on warm summer nights. My mom spent most of the games talking about each and every player — where they came from, where they were going. I played tee-ball and moved up the ranks in my town’s softball little league program. I also volunteered at the concession stand for my brother’s baseball games. Sometimes, I snuck into the announcer’s box, switched on the unused microphone, and called out the players as they stepped up to bat. However, as I grew to love the game, I began to wonder: why don’t girls play baseball?
Finding a Box of Dreams
Just as baseball season is in full swing now, so is spring cleaning. In a recent visit to my parents’ house, I found a bunch of old school projects and papers. Before putting everything into the recycling bin, I read through what I had written. I stumbled upon an essay modeled on Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech. It outlined my dream to be the first girl baseball player. As a 12-year-old in 1994, here’s what I wrote:
I have a dream that in ten years, after I graduate from college, I can sit in a dugout of a Major League Baseball Team. That I can wear its uniform and swing a bat at a pitched baseball. That I can catch a popfly in its outfield. I have a dream that someday I will be a Major League Baseball Player. The first girl to play in the Major Leagues.
The reason I have this dream is because I don’t want girls always left out of baseball. It is not fun to just play softball with underhand pitch. And who sees professional softball on T.V.? So if you want people to be your fans, you have to be on T.V. I like baseball so much; my brother and sister even practice at our aunt and uncles’ houses. We all like baseball.
After reading my essay, I was stunned. The essay was written by a girl with a dream, and I remembered who I was in that moment. But this time, I was reading it as the mother of two little boys. Boys who are growing up in a world where girls are still not playing baseball in the Major Leagues. I’m stunned by this. While my dream in 1994 was nothing new at the time (I’m certain other houses have similar essays from 12-year-old girls stashed away somewhere), how can it be almost 30 years later and female players are still missing from Major League Baseball?
Some progress has been made. Women have and continue to join the ranks of GMs, coaches, and executives. But why hasn’t a woman been signed as a Major League Baseball player? I’m excited to read how baseball options are expanding for girls at the collegiate level, and I’m curious how those efforts will encourage girls to move from tee-ball to baseball instead of tee-ball to softball in smaller communities.
As a parent, I’m realizing that normalizing women playing baseball really means modeling inclusive behavior for our kids across the board. While it’s important to support our kids in pursuing their dreams, it’s equally important to build a community that supports the possibility of those dreams being accomplished. In other words, how do we set up our daughters to be successful in pursuing a career in Major League Baseball if it’s still not normal for women to work for and play in Major League Baseball?
The American Association of University Women reports that girls lose confidence in their ability to succeed in science around the time they enter middle school. The reason for this is the lack of role models in STEM jobs, the lack of opportunities to practice STEM, and the lack of support from their community. I can’t help but wonder if these reasons apply to why there are no women playing in Major League Baseball. I wonder if this is what happened to me. At age 12, I wrote an essay dreaming of becoming the first girl Major League Baseball player. But by the time my dream was set to expire — in 2004, when I graduated from college — my life was taking a different path. By then, I had already tucked my glove away years before, and I no longer played softball.
However, 18 years after I wrote that essay, I joined the Washington Nationals as a ballgirl. Had I partially accomplished my dream? I had tried out to make the squad. I wore a uniform and had my own helmet. While I never caught a ball in the outfield, I dodged fly foul balls and handled grounders rolled to me by Ryan Zimmerman to toss gently into the crowd. It was a great experience, but my dream really wasn’t accomplished. I’m still waiting to cheer on the first female baseball player in the Major Leagues. Who will she be? Who will they be?
Hope for the Future
I snapped a picture of my essay before leaving my parents’ house, and I left the box of papers to be recycled by the door. I talked to my dad a few days later and he mentioned that he went through the box and pulled out a few things. (Of course, he did.) I could hear he was smiling as he talked about the girl I was when I had the dream to be the first girl baseball player and how much he enjoyed our love of baseball back then. I told him it was OK if he recycled my essay. He laughed and said that he’d save it for me to find again sometime in the future — possibly at a time when women really do play baseball.