“You Play Ball Like a Girl!”
While volunteer coaching for the Baseball Youth All American Games in Orlando, FL, recently, I had the good fortune of meeting a talented group of ballplayers and their coach, Josh DeVinney. These ballplayers were a bit different than players from other teams. Their talent level was high, mechanics were strong, and overall love for the game was the same, but this particular team was unique. This club consisted of nine, ten and eleven year old young ladies competing against boys who were eleven and twelve. In this article I will share my thoughts on some of the challenges this group faces daily as well as my own takeaways on what I witnessed first hand.
Let’s cut to the chase. Could these girls play ball? My answer is an emphatic “YES!” This club, comprised of players from across the country, resemble the travel clubs we see every weekend. From the speedster in the lead off spot to the power hitter in the three and four holes along with a catcher who dares you to steal and outfielders who track down fly balls with ease. I was very impressed with not only the skill level but also the intuition and grittiness these young ladies displayed the entire week. Any question around the girls’ ability to compete was answered very quickly for myself as well as any team they were playing against.
Unfortunately, the game between the lines is not the only challenge they’re presented. While speaking with Coach DeVinney recently, I was surprised to learn there are not many obstacles presented that aren’t expected. He shared it’s common for the opposing teams and fans to give the girls a hard time. However, he did surprise me when he shared umpires have been difficult to win over on more than one occasion to which I’m extremely disappointed to hear, since I was an umpire for a large part of my life. Coach DeVinney pulls double duty on this team serving as the Head Coach as well as a Dad. His daughter, Grace, whom i had the pleasure of meeting is a talented ballplayer who lets her abilities do the talking. When Coach DeVinney witnesses disdain toward these ball players, he not only is taking up for his team, but also his family. As the father of a ten year old daughter, I can’t say I would be as patient for those that feel girls shouldn’t play baseball. His demeanor and overall attitude is contagious and I’m certain, those characteristics are an attribute to this team and a large part of the girls’ success. What I witnessed personally was extremely positive from both sides of the fence, however, my time with these girls was short lived. I’m not in the hotel lobby, in line at the concession stand, overhearing the hurtful comments kids, as well as parents, can unintentionally blab to their buddies that cut like a knife to a young lady who just wants to play ball. I can’t help but recall “A League of Their Own” and how Tom Hanks‘ opinion was changed by the end of the movie to recognize his team as ball players instead of girls. For those that cast hurtful comments and snide remarks, I believe their opinions would change if they reminded themselves these young ladies are just kids wanting to play a game loved by so many. Who care’s if you’re a boy or girl, the game should be fun and available to all.
What’s the end game for the girls that represent GTB (Girls Travel Baseball)? Coach DeVinney is extremely excited about the future and preparing his talented bunch for the 16 and older USA National Team which provides ladies an opportunity to compete internationally against countries whose women’s baseball programs are flourishing such as Japan, Venezuela, and Australia. Earning a spot on the Women’s National Baseball Team is a goal for many of the young ladies that play for Coach DeVinney and I’m certain some of the ball players I met a couple weeks ago will be up for consideration if they continue down this path. If the progression continues at the pace we’re on, I do believe we will see a female compete in Major League Baseball similar to the Fox TV show, Pitch., sometime during my life.
At the end of the day, I believe the majority of people don’t have an issue with girls playing baseball and competing with their male peers. However, there will always be a select few who believe girls should play softball or baseball against other girls and not against boys. No matter how hard we try, those people will always exist. I’m sure I”m not the first person to tell these young ladies to ignore the haters of the world, but I’m going to say it anyway, “Ignore those that try and bring you down!”
The belief that boys might play differently when facing a girl is the argument I’ve heard come up the most. I understand that concern and there may be a case when boys have eased up a bit because they are playing against a girl. That being said, I believe it’s up to the coaches and parents to educate the boys to treat everyone as a person and just play the game. People will get hit, run over, it’s a part of the game, but as long as the intent is to play hard and have fun, everything should work itself out.
If you’re out and about and have an opportunity to see this group play ball, take a moment and watch. You’ll enjoy what you see and if you’re not a fan of theirs before you see them play, I promise you’ll be one after you see them play. This is a great program and I believe these young ladies represent our national pastime extremely well. Play Ball Ladies!