I remember sitting on the bleachers that day and watching the baseball game as the dust danced with the wind. I remember watching the batter bat, the catcher catch, the pitcher pitch. I remember listening to the people cheer for their sons as they pranced up to the plate. I remember the humid air smelling of hot dogs and nachos. I remember the heartache I felt because of the power of words, but I also remember the change that allowed me to become the person I am today.
I was 10 and I loved to watch and play sports. Something about it gave me an adrenaline rush. I was especially in love with baseball and desperately wanted to play. At the park there was a baseball team, no girl’s softball team. It didn’t bother me to play with boys. In fact, I wanted to play with them, and was ready for the challenge. All my life I was given the easy way out because I was a girl. The coach had granted me permission to try out, but now the problem was my overprotective mother. I begged her to let me play but she wouldn’t so I got on my knees and pleaded with sad puppy eyes until she finally gave in.
The next day I was the first one at practice. As everyone started showing up, they gave me a look like, What’s she doing here? No matter how hard they stared, I kept my head high, so high I felt like a giraffe. The coach announced that I would be trying out and was no different from anyone else. The boys began to chat among themselves and then practice began. I approached the field and waited in the long line like a ghost, anxious to get to the front which seemed miles away. Finally I was on the field. Coach was supposed to hit the ball to me but instead he rolled it on the ground and it stopped five feet away. I had to walk up to the ball and throw it back to him. I was furious.
For days I went to practice and it was always the same. The coach would give me easy balls and would make the boys pitch slowly to me. I wanted to try out for shortstop but how could I if the coach wouldn’t give me a fair chance? One day I lost it. I went up to the coach and asked why he was treating me so differently. Then he said something that changed my life.
“Sweetie, I know you think you can play but this is a big boys game. Why don’t you be our cheerleader instead? Or, better yet, you can play Barbie with my daughter. Wouldn’t you like that?”
I turned and stormed out. How could he say something like that? He was an adult; he was supposed to be on my side and tell me that tomorrow would be different.
Yeah, the next day was different. The next day at practice I approached the pitcher and teased him that if he were a real “man,” he would pitch to me like he did everyone else. So I went up to bat, and sure enough, the ball went gliding across the plate.
“Strike one.” A drop of sweat ran down my face.
And then BAM! I hit my first home run out of the park, and I was the first on the team to do it. Everyone glared at me with astonishment and their mouths hit the floor. I did it!
Coach then approached me and said,“You have quite a swing, young lady.”
After that, practice was different. Coach treated me like everyone else and hit the balls to me like the boys, with the speed and ability to take off your head. He was so impressed with my progress that my dream came true, and I earned the starting position as shortstop and was the lead-off hitter.
When the coach gave me his little “pep talk,” it gave me the strength, ability, and desire to do the best I could to get what I wanted. He raised my own expectations and what I was capable of. I wanted something and I didn’t want it to be given to me. From then on I didn’t let anyone tell me I was different. I didn’t let anyone tell me I couldn’t be me.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.