Women And Baseball

Growing up in my hometown, baseball was a sacred ritual among the boys
of the neighborhood.  By day, we’d play Home Run Derby and Pickle.  By
night, we’d curl up in front of the television and twist the rabbit
ears until our fathers could see the game clearly enough to shout
obscenities at the home team.

Without a case of empty beer cans
and my father draped on the sofa complaining in unison with Marty
Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall, it just wasn’t summer.

Marty and Joe.jpg

The boys in my
neighborhood, like the boys in so many neighborhoods, would often play
pickup games.  A trash can lid for first base.  Someone’s hat for
second.  Pitching the ball until the sun was low enough to stretch the
shadows into oblivion, breaking only whenever headlights would creep
across our makeshift asphalt field, or once our mothers called us in to
supper.

In my hometown, mothers didn’t understand baseball. 
They’d wearily escort us to our Little League games, paying only the
slightest amount of attention.  Wincing when we slid into second to
avoid a tag, knowing not that we’d just stolen a base; only that we’d
dirtied our clean white pants that they’d spent so much time cleaning.

They never wanted to be the mother of the kid whose pants didn’t sparkle in the July sun.

At
school, as the winter turned to spring and we spent as much time
day-dreaming as we did learning, we would whisper magical names to one
another.  In my hometown, those names were Pete Rose, Tony Perez, and
Eric Davis.  In other hometowns, perhaps it was Alan Trammell, Kirk
Gibson, and Lance Parrish.  Maybe it was Harold Reynolds, Danny
Tartabull, and Ken Phelps.

Baseball was a sacred religion, to be
practiced and discussed with the utmost reverence.  We’d meet in one
another’s backyards and talk about what we’d learned at Little League
practice.  One day, my friend Cory tried to teach me what his team had
learned that day at practice: Bunting.  He pitched the ball and I
squared up; the ball made contact with my fingernail and sent a searing
pain through me.  I’d end up losing the fingernail.  The next day in
practice, my coach taught us to bunt properly.  I had to learn
left-handed, and so I wouldn’t tip off the defense by only batting
lefty when I bunted, I had to learn to swing left-handed, too.

That
kind of pain – that kind of dedication – was a mark of pride among my
friends.  And one thing was clear: Baseball was many things, but what
it most certainly wasn’t was the purview of females.

I
can’t remember a single girl in my class showing the least amount of
interest in baseball.  There were several football fans in the group. 
Even hockey fans.  But baseball seemed to be lost on these women – a
fact which continually mystified me, for as entertaining as the other
sports often were, there was a mystic quality surrounding baseball.

The
women I knew tended to be rather like my current girlfriend.  She knows
how enthusiastic I am about baseball.  She’s looked at the spreadsheet
I keep (seriously… it has about 12 years of statistics, including
standard box score statistics, sabermetric numbers, and even some of my
own statistics.)  She’s accompanied me to the ballpark, and even tried
to learn the sacred ritual of Keeping The Scorecard. 

But try
as she might, she doesn’t really “get it.”  She doesn’t understand my
relationship with my hat, for instance.  I have an Astros cap that is
caked with years of dirt, grime, and sweat.  She wonders, frequently
aloud, why I don’t wash it.  She doesn’t understand what those layers
of filth represent to me.  That I’ve worn that hat in fifteen states
and five countries on three continents.  I’ve worn it in the desert. 
I’ve worn it in the forest.  I’ve worn it on mountains and in valleys. 
Because it represents my team.  That sweat, dirt, and grime is my
connection with the team I love.

And as much as she loves me,
and as hard as she tries, that’s the kind of thing that you either get
or you don’t.  And growing up, none of the women I knew got it.

As
I got older, however, I began to know more and more female fans of the
game.  Actual fans of the game, not the cloying girls who simply throw
on the team’s jersey and talk about the two or three players they
actually had heard of.  No, these girls understood baseball. 

I didn’t know where they came from, but boy was I glad they were there.

During
the course of my almost thirty-two years on this planet, it seems as if
I’ve watched a revolution.  A revolution during which many of the most
knowledgeable baseball minds I know have become women. I’ve become
increasingly exposed to rabid fans; knowledgeable fans who are women. 
I frequently go to games with my scorecard and see grizzled old veteran
she-fans with their own scorecards.  With their own history.  With
their own knowledge.

And it’s a beautiful thing.  A very
beautiful thing.  It’s the poetry of baseball, and it should be denied
to no man.  Even if that man is a woman.

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12 comments

  1. juliasrants

    We female fans have always been there – I think perhaps there was a time when it wasn’t “proper” for us women to be out there cheering our teams on. That was for the “men”. I’m older then you – but let me tell you – no one loved sports more then my mom! Terry O’Reilly, for the Boston Bruins, could do no wrong and she loved to cheer her Red Sox on! Now a days – trust me – most of us moms are cheering loud and proud for our children at their sports games. (I have 2 teen-aged sons.) It is a great thing that it is acceptable for us women to be out there proudly wearing our team hats – be they pink like mine or any color they want. We’re loud, we’re proud and would someone just yell “Play Ball” already!!

    Julia
    http://werbiefitz.mlblogs.com/

  2. Cockroach

    Haha, great post! My wife is a Braves fan (alas!), and she enjoys baseball, doesn’t mind going to the ballpark, and I feel fortunate in that. But she’s a far more casual fan than I am; I’ve recently picked up baseball card collecting again, and she openly admits she doesn’t “get it.” I guess I’m unusual with my mom in that she’s the one that introduced me to baseball and got me hooked on the game… but then her dad was my granddad who played semi-pro ball back in the 1930s, so he passed a love of the game onto her, which she then passed to me.
    I have an Astros cap like that, too… one of my favorite memories is when Jose Lima signed it for me before a game at the Astrodome one day. Unfortunately that hat has been soaked in the rain so many times that the signature has since bled away into nothing more than a black blur, but I know it was there, and that’s what matters.
    http://ledzeb99.mlblogs.com

  3. renaudtn

    Nice post RR15. I wish I could have experienced those pickup games late in the day. I wish I had grown up living next to a ruin down baseball field (like in that movie with them kids afraid of that big dog…can’t remember the name) where my friends and I would have met on the weekends to play ball all day. Instead I grew up playing mostly tennis and didn’t get to discover (literally) baseball until I was 15, sometime in the late 90’s. It was love at first sight, and I immediately started playing for the local team. I was soon able to bring my brother to the ‘dark side’ and from then on, we played as much as we could, staying after practices, showing up at the field even the days when no practices were scheduled, and throwing for hours in my grandparents’ backyard until our elbow and shoulder would fall off. From a baseball perspective, I wasn’t born in the right country… I can’t help but wonder what could have happened had I discovered baseball at a much earlier age; maybe I could have made it to the junior national baseball team; maybe I could have participated to the MLBi summer academy in Italy, maybe I could have made it to a junior college team in the US, maybe I would be in Joris Bert’s shoes today…oh well…
    Now married, I turned my wife into an Astros fan and I pick on my brother in law who is a Cardinals follower. My wife is not into baseball as much as I am though, and she can’t wait for the WBC to be over…

  4. astrosfaninexile

    You rock, round rock! 🙂

    Just for the nice blog, how about a couple of hundred photos from the practice field this morning? Minor leaguers, coaches, and oh yeah, Bidge was there… I’m not going to post them all on my site, of course, but I’ll try to get a bunch of them up soon.

    From today’s box score, I’d say that I was much better off at the practice field than at the game.

  5. roundrock15

    Yeah, I had the pleasure of watching today’s game on MLB.tv. Wandy actually looked verysharp in the first inning, and even in the second, but it began to look like the Astros – who have had one of the best defenses in the league for so long – couldn’t field a ball properly to save their lives. Wandy made his own error, and should have been charged with another one.

    It was ugly. The four errors don’t even begin to tell the story. 12 runs, only 5 earned. And that was from a gracious scorekeeper. Ugh. If you can’t hit, you can’t pitch, and you can’t field, you’re fairly unlikely to win a lot of ballgames.

    http://houston.mlblogs.com

  6. metmainman

    I know girls who play softball and go to the occasional game with their fathers, but can’t name players other than Derek Jeter, A-Rod, Babe Ruth and David Wright. I find that sad how they don’t follow the sport as much. Although I have heard statistics that there are starting to be more female fans.
    http://metsmainman.mlblogs.com

  7. thejubbies

    Renaudtn,

    The Sandlot.

    And while we speak of it, my wife is definitely the preverbial “baseball girlfriend” who tolerates the game so we can spend time together and doesn’t really like it that much, also falling into the category of knowing a few players names and throwing on a jersey I bought her when we go to games. I have a strong suspicion she would leave me for Lance Berkman in a heartbeat, too.

  8. roundrock15

    Julie – I know they existed before… my point, really, was that it was a foreign concept to me when I was a kid, and I love finding women who actually know about the game. Where were you all when I was growing up, darn it? 😉

    Thanks Susan! Rumor is, Pudge was hanging around Kissimmee today. Don’t suppose you saw him?

    http://houston.mlblogs.com

  9. astrosfaninexile

    I heard yesterday that Pudge was there at the practice field, but I didn’t see him. There are a bunch of fields there. The only person I saw who was getting a lot of press attention was Biggio. Even then, most of the time he was out at a back field with some players and there was only one press photographer there for part of the time. Besides that, just two retired Florida ladies chatting in the bleachers and me with my new camera. 🙂 Did you like the pix?

  10. Kaybee

    Great entry! It’s really true that baseball has spread to females. I love going out to the ballpark, screaming for my team. I just hate it when people (mostly guys) don’t take my fandom seriously. GO PADRES!!
    http://kaybee.mlblogs.com

  11. Lissi

    Great post. I have personally always loved baseball. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t. I think I know a fair amount about the game, not everything, but a good amount. I am sorry you didn’t know any good female fans growing up; that’s sad.
    Melissa
    http://clemsongirlbaseball.mlblogs.com

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