“Why do you want to do it? It really is pointless. You’re not going to get anywhere. If you switch now you could go far, even have your education paid for,” said the man next to me. He shifted his bulk, making the bleachers groan. Then he noisily brought up spit from the back of his throat and hurled a mouthful to the ground. He looked at me suspiciously, streaks of sweat staining his face, and turned back to watching the softball game. “It really isn’t different,” he shot from the side of his mouth. A sunflower seed hung on his lip.
“Mom, we should go if we’re going to make it to practice.”
My mom nodded angrily.
“See you later, Mike,” I said.
“See you around,” he barked.
“Thanks for talking with us,” said the man to Mike’s left, whose name I had already forgotten.
When we got to the car I heard distant cheers before my slamming door cut them off.
“I’m never, ever playing softball. Those guys are idiots. They don’t know what they’re talking about,” I yelled angrily.
“Don’t worry, honey, I wouldn’t let you play even if you wanted to,” said my mom.
If there was one thing that made me absolutely crazy, it was people telling me softball was just like baseball - that and people telling me that I had no right to play baseball, that the smaller diamond with the bigger balls was where I belonged. Someone telling me to go play softball instead of baseball would be like someone telling a tennis player to switch to ping-pong.
All my life I have played baseball as a pitcher and catcher with guys. I made the all-star team all four years through majors and minors. I wasn’t just a baseball player, I was a good baseball player. I could strike out guys, make diving plays, get big hits, run people over, spit, scratch, talk, and walk just like any guy. But from the moment I stepped on that diamond, I was treated unfairly because many believed I didn’t belong there.
My second year on the all-star team, my coach had me play left field and bat last. If this was really where I deserved to be, that would have been fine, but midway through the season I had the best batting average, the most RBIs, and the fewest strikeouts. I also was the warm-up catcher and all the pitchers I caught for were baffled that I wasn’t catching during games. I knew all their pitches, knew when to call them, knew their tendencies, and knew what rattled them. At the end of the year I was still in left field and batting sixth.
In the final game, we were losing in the sixth inning. All our pitchers had played, so the coach handed me the ball.
“I want to give you the chance because I know you used to be a pitcher,” he said smiling the way a dad does when he gives his kid a piece of candy. It was the top of the batting order and I struck the first two guys out and got the third out on a slow ground ball right back to me. And my coach thought I didn’t belong out there!
I wasn’t playing baseball to go somewhere with it but because I enjoyed it. Some people acted as though that were a sin, that I was taking the spot of a “normal” baseball player and ruining the all-male experience. But the truth was that I had a passion for baseball. Softball has a completely different environment, one that did not suit me. Instead of yelling and spitting there were high-pitched rhyming cheers and clean dugout floors. There were short shorts, weird visors, and the outfielders who played right on top of infielders. And the name bothered me: softball. The ball isn’t any softer than a baseball yet it is still called a softball and is bigger. As if girls are weak and can’t hit a baseball. Oh, and how could I forget - girls have to throw underhand because throwing overhand is supposedly too difficult. So when someone questioned my reasons for playing baseball, that person was also questioning my identity.
It always made me laugh when I would get hit by a pitch. Most of the guys hunch over and cry when that happens, then limp to first base. When I was at bat and a ball came close to me, I turned my shoulder into it and gritted my teeth, refusing to rub where the ball hit. I never cried or even flinched. And as I would trot down the first-base line, my coaches would yell, “Way to take it like a man! Way to take it like a man!” Yes, I would laugh very hard indeed.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.