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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.