Play Ball!

Boston Slammers Batter.jpg

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post about an 11-year old girl who loves to play baseball. In New Hampshire, where she lives, she ended up in the midst of a controversy created by adult coaches, after a coach allegedly threatened to "bean" her as a tactic to get her to quit playing.

Here is that girl at bat in a scrimmage of the Boston Slammers, an all-girl baseball team. After the Slammers' coaches heard about her situation with her New Hampshire league, where she was the only girl in her age group, the Boston Slammers invited her to play on their team. On Sunday afternoon, she did. Her father, Dan, drove her an hour and a half from Southern New Hampshire to Boston to practice with the Slammers, and while expressing his gratitude for their invitation, he told me that until the Slammers called he hadn't known that all girls baseball teams and leagues existed. Instead of being the only girl on a team, his daughter is now surrounded by girls her age who love playing baseball as much as she does.

The girls' bats, backpacks and batting helmet.

The girls' bats, backpacks and batting helmet.

Meanwhile, back in New Hampshire, the Oyster River Youth Association, who oversees sports activities for youth in this three-town region of Southern New Hampshire, completed their own "independent" investigation of the alleged coaches' threat – that they said they would instruct a player to “bean” this player.  Other coaches had brought this information to the attention of the girl's father. After the association president claimed in a newspaper was false, he arranged for the investigation to take place. On May 2, the association released their findings.  The coach found to have made a comment regarding wanting this player to quit – though he denied proposing that any physical harm be done to her – was dismissed.

Still pending is what will happen in the wake of these investigative findings. In Durham, one of the three towns whose youth play sports through this association, the town council voted to withhold funds until the report was issued.

The town council in Durham unanimously adopted a resolution Monday night [April 16] that withholds already approved funding for the Oyster River Youth Association pending the outcome of an investigation into a claim that a baseball coach threatened to have a child ‘bean’ an 11-year-old girl.
— New Hampshire Union Leader

For now the Boston Slammers are this 11-year old's new team.

On first base in her first scrimmage with the Boston Slammers.

On first base in her first scrimmage with the Boston Slammers.

On May 18 the Boston Slammers, fielding two full teams, will travel to New Jersey for the regional Baseball for All tournament named after Maria Pepe, whose 1974 legal action made it possible for girls to play Little League Baseball in New Jersey. In neighboring Delaware, two girls, Kim Green and Alice Weldin heard that girls were playing Little League and they wanted to do the same. When they discovered the ruling didn't apply to them, Kim's mother, Sylvia, threatened legal action and then started a Little League team all their own. The girls' team was called the Angels. Kim's father, Dallas, then the Phillies’ director of minor leagues and scouting and would become the Phillies manager in 1979, was asked about his daughter playing Little League with the boys, "he told them if a girl was good enough to compete with the boys, she should be allowed to do it," according to the Washington Post. 

Girls in Baseball 1974 Kim Green.jpeg
Sylvia plastered notices around the school and the area: She would hold tryouts for an all-girls Little League team, players ages 8 and 9. ‘One hundred-something girls came out,’ she remembered. ‘Then the first one picked up a hard ball and threw to another one who couldn’t catch a hard ball and boom, smack in the head.’

Sylvia suddenly appreciated the benefits of Little League’s insurance coverage but stuck with her vision and whittled the group down to a team of players with talent and experience, anchored by Kim and her friends. In uniforms of powder blue — not pink — the Angels charged through Midway’s Little League competition. They won the first eight games of the 1974 season against all-boys teams.

Kim’s best friend, Alice Weldin, who has since died of cancer, was the Angels’ catcher. From her spot behind the plate, she could hear the disgruntled mumbling of batters and the angry chatter of boys in the opposing dugout, most often the phrase ‘she plays pretty good for a girl.’

’We changed a lot of reactions,’ Kim said. ‘Parents thinking if a little girl can hit like this, she can play. Nobody was purposely mean about it, but I think it was an educational thing.’

The Angels finished second in the league.
— The Washington Post

A baseball player's mom, Karen Zerby Buzzelle, founded the Boston Slammers. When I hung out along the sidelines yesterday afternoon and watched the girls scrimmage, it was mostly moms who were sitting with me. Then, there was one dad from New Hampshire who had brought his 11-year old daughter to this neighboring state so she could play baseball with girls. This strikes me as not so different than what happened in 1974 when girls from the neighboring states of New Jersey and Delaware wanted to play baseball, and inspired by each other, they did.

Baseball: A Sport Girls Love. A Sport Girls Play.

12-year old Michaela Silher was the only girl playing on her Little League team in Port St. Lucie, Florida. "It's hard being a girl and going into baseball because you don't get the respect sometimes that you want," Sihler told the TC Palm, on a day when she was also the only girl on any team in the baseball tournament,

12-year old Michaela Silher was the only girl playing on her Little League team in Port St. Lucie, Florida. "It's hard being a girl and going into baseball because you don't get the respect sometimes that you want," Sihler told the TC Palm, on a day when she was also the only girl on any team in the baseball tournament,

This headline stopped me cold:

Report: New Hampshire Youth Baseball Coaches Planned To Bean Their League's Lone Girl Player Into Quitting

A girl playing baseball is so threatening to a team or league that hitting her in the head with a pitched baseball seems a good idea? Even verbalizing such an idea, even if you don't intend to go through with it is dangerous and extremely worrisome.  

I read of this threat in Deadspin, in a story picked up from Foster's Daily Democrat, a local newspaper near the girl's hometown, Madbury, New Hampshire. An 11-year-old girl's father had contacted the local baseball association officials to say that "two coaches said they would instruct a player to 'bean' his daughter — strike her in the head with a baseball during practice — in order to intimidate her into leaving the baseball program." His allegation was based on what he'd been told by other coaches who attended the meeting where the plan was discussed.

His daughter is the only girl playing in her age-bracket of this baseball league. She was also reportedly the last player drafted when the coaches met to select their teams. She's played T-ball and baseball baseball and T-ball with teams in this region since 2012, mostly without incident. At younger ages, several other girls were with her on baseball teams, but as they reached their pre-teen years, her female peers switched to softball – while she stayed with baseball.

The matter is being investigated, according to the story, but it is unclear what the investigation revealed or what steps, if any, are being taken to remedy the situation.

My reading of this story coincided with an invitation to spend a few hours on a splendid Sunday afternoon at the Boston Slammers practice. The Slammers are three all-girls' baseball teams – 11 years old upper age, 13 years old and 18 years old – organized by Karen Zerby Buzzelle. a mom. The teams' summer season include a bunch of scrimmages, mostly against boys' teams, and a regional girls' baseball tournament in New Jersey in honor of Marie Pepe.

Maria Pepe.jpeg
Girls can play baseball today because Maria Pepe stood up for their right to play,” said Ms. Justine Siegal, the first woman to coach with a Major League Baseball organization and founder of Baseball for All.

“Maria Pepe, at that time, was a little girl that did not realize what the future would hold as far as playing little league baseball and the controversy it would bring. With her ability to play baseball and her determination, she stood up to the controversy. Because of Maria’s courage and fortitude, she won the court case,” says James Farina, her Little League coach.

In 1972, Maria Pepe, then 12-years old, was selected for her Hoboken, NJ Little League team. After playing three games as a starting pitcher, she was told she could not continue to play under Little League rules dating from 1951 that prohibited girls from playing Little League baseball. With support from her coach, James Farina, Maria Pepe fought for the right to play. The National Organization for Women filed a gender discrimination case on her behalf and won. Her case led to the nationwide acceptance of the right for girls and women to play sports, which aided the passage of the 1975 federal regulations that ensured equal rights to sports in education in accordance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX states that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
— Baseball for All press release about Maria Pepe girls' baseball tournament

In the first week of August, the Boston Slammers will travel to Rockford, Illinois, the one-time home of the Rockford Peaches in the  All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, for the national girls' baseball championship.

So meet the Boston Slammers – with a few photos and videos from their indoor practice on Sunday. I'll be hanging out with the girls through the summer, so stay tuned. More stories to share ahead. But first a shout out to Justine Siegal who founded Baseball for All so girls could play the game they love, for steering me to my new hometown baseball team, the Slammers.

I was 13-years-old the first time I was told I shouldn’t play baseball because I was a girl.

My coach explained to me that he didn’t want me on his baseball team and that I should play softball instead. It didn’t matter that I was one of the best players on the team, that I loved baseball, or that I practiced way more than any of my male friends. It only mattered that I was a girl.

The day my coach told me to quit was that day I decided to play baseball forever.

Too many girls are still told they can’t play baseball because they are girls. I founded Baseball For All to empower girls to believe in themselves and to keep playing the game they love. I fear if you tell a girl she can’t play baseball what else will she think she can’t do? I then worry what else boys will think girls can’t do?

Baseball For All is leveling the playing field for girls across America by addressing the social justice issue of gender inequality. I want girls to know they can follow their passions. That they have no limits. That their dreams matter.
— Baseball for All, message from Justine Siegal

Meet the Boston Slammers

Pitch Like a Girl, the Boston Slammers

Pitch Like a Girl, the Boston Slammers

Catch Like a Girl, Boston Slammers

Catch Like a Girl, Boston Slammers

Two hour practice begins with drills.

Two hour practice begins with drills.