Softball is Not Baseball for Girls

Last August, when Mo’ne Davis became the first girl to pitch a winning game at the Little League World Series, I was completely wowed and thrilled. This March, I was wowed again as I watched girl after girl marching in our local Little League’s opening day parade. I kept thinking: Is there a future Davis in there?

There might be, but the odds aren’t very good just yet. In the U.S., there are 2.4 million kids playing Little League baseball. Of those, 100,000 are girls, or .04 percent.

In my community of San Anselmo and Fairfax, California, that nets out to 17 or 18 girls. That number is consistent year to year, says Greg Stewart, president of West Marin Little League Board in Fairfax. Most of the girls are young, however, and as they get older, their numbers drop precipitously.
No matter how well they play, coaches and other adults steer girls older than 10 away from baseball towards softball or other sports. As Justine Siegal, a pioneering woman in the world of baseball and founder of Baseball for All, says, "As kids get older, any girl still left standing is discouraged from continuing and told to move on to softball. The attitude is, now we are men and women, and we need to separate."
"Softball is a nice game, but it's not the same game," continues Siegal. The equipment, the rules, the field size and, most importantly, the pitch are different. Softball's distinctive underhanded pitch is notoriously difficult to learn.
Siegal had first-hand experience with the aging-out-of-baseball phenomenon. At 13, despite being one of the top players on her Little League team, she was told by a coach that he didn’t want her on his team, and that she should go play softball. She decided at that moment that she would never stop playing. And she didn’t until, at 16, she decided she wanted to coach. In 2011 she made history, becoming the first woman to throw batting practice for a Major League Baseball team.
Today, she says her mission is to "empower girls to continue playing." Baseball, that is, not softball.
"Girls are handed softballs as early as seven or eight," she explains. "Even when they’re the best on the team, adults will ask why they're playing baseball and not softball." As girls get older, adults start to bring on the scholarship argument: girls should play softball because those are the scholarships that are available to them in college.
Considering these obstructions and attitudes, the phenomenon of Mo'ne Davis is even more remarkable. Davis, who was the first girl to pitch a winning game at the Little League World Series last year, has opened up a dialog about girls in baseball that Siegal would like to see continue. But, she also notes, "Girls shouldn't have to be superstars to be able to play."
What Siegal wants is for girls to have the same opportunity as boys. Little League is open to all comers, and since 1973 that has included girls. "Every boy has the opportunity to play, and we’re not truly providing that opportunity to girls," says Siegal.
As part of her effort to support those that aren’t superstars, Siegal has organized the first girls-only baseball tournament, which will be held in early June in Orlando, Florida. So far 12 teams of 10- to 13- year-old girls are signed up, and there are slots for up to 15. Regional teams have been pulled together through communities, and Siegal is also placing individual girls on teams who are looking to join in.
Seigal’s long-term goal is to create a pathway for girls who love baseball to play with other girls who love baseball. "Let’s just throw away gender boxes,” she says. “These girls deserve to be believed in."
If my daughter’s reaction is any predictor, there are a lot of girls who would like to be in Orlando this summer. My daughter plays softball, and when I told her about the upcoming all-girls baseball tournament, she said, "I want to play!" -- Emily Brower Auchard

March 27, 2015

If you missed last week's issue, here you go:
A Once-in-a-Century Pi(e) Day
If you liked this story, you'll also like:
Use the Cut: Do it Like They Do In Little League
Forget Karma. How to Get a Raise
Awesome Role Models for Girls -- or Anyone

Photo courtesy of Baseball for All


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A moment of silence. Our thoughts go out to the families and friends of those killed in this week's crash of a Germanwings plane into the Alps. 

Image courtesy of flickr user Susanne Nilsson

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