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Sandlot Baseball: Where a Diamond Was a Girl’s Best Friend

April 28, 2010

In 1963, at the age of 12, I broke sandlot baseball’s sacred rule. I picked Debbie, an 8-year-old second-grader, for my team. I had seen her play before. Whenever my uncle came to visit, we played huge neighborhood baseball games down the Bank’n. His rules were simple: everyone played, girls included.

Those were the games where Debbie left her mark. She made solid contact with the ball on every swing. She had a knack for lining shots just over the heads of infielders and easily stretched singles into doubles. Debbie was also a smooth-fielding outfielder who could nail a base-runner with a pinpoint throw to the third baseman, milk-crate high, on one bounce. She played with quiet confidence.

Another reason I picked her was because she was my sister.

But she was a girl and, in those days, girls just didn’t play with the boys – at least not on our sandlot. There was grumbling. There were a few cry-babies in the crowd who said they wouldn’t play if a girl did. And they didn’t.

But Debbie did.

I don’t remember too much about that game itself. I don’t think Debbie got a hit. I don’t think she dazzled anyone by her play in the field. What I remember is her attitude. She was happy to play, happy to have a chance – an 8-year-old lefty with spunk on a sandlot with boys.

Later that night, while doing my homework, Debbie, told me she would “try to get better.” When she left the room, I put down my book to think about her words. Whatever I had been studying was no match for the lesson she had just taught me about determination and character.

That evening, I learned what a real athlete was all about…

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  1. So, did she get better? Did she get to play again with the boys? Back in ’92, I coached baseball for a school team of fifth and sixth graders. The girls didn’t have a soft-ball team of their own, and one little twelve-year old girl named Jessie asked me if she could join the team. She was a cute, fiercely determined, freckle-faced girl who could hold her own in a fight with any boy. Plus, I was her sixth-grade teacher as well, so I said, sure, why not. She played on our team for the entire season, batting 2nd and playing second base.
    Only once did a player on another team give her a hard time. After she returned to the bench after being forced out at second base, she came to me in tears and told me that a boy on the other team made fun of her and told her to get off the field. I told her that she should slam a home run her next time up to show him how ignorant he was.
    Well, she didn’t hit a homer, but she did get a base hit, and she made a couple of nice plays in the field. I wish I could finish this story by telling you the boy realized his mistake and apologized, but he didn’t. Still, just by playing the whole season, I think she learned something about herself that I hope stayed with her for her entire life (holy smoke, she must be about thirty-years old by now.)
    Thanks for a another fine blog-post, Bill

  2. Bill,
    Thanks for sharing your story – sounds like Jessie was a gamer and would have gotten along well with my sister.

    Although already blessed with a boatload of natural talent, Debbie continued to improve. The problem really was with the times. Girls in the 60s weren’t allowed to compete with boys in so many ways. It’s a shame girls weren’t able to participate in Little League in the early 60s because she would have excelled – probably would have made the All-Star team.

    I’m still awaiting the day when a women will step into the batter’s box for the first time at Fenway Park (or Wrigley Field). Won’t that be something? I’ll be rooting for her.

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