Friday, March 18, 2011


Do you remember yourself at ten-years old? I think that's the age you really come into your own. When you learn to stand up for yourself and start making your own preferences known. It's also when our personalties are the brightest. The girl in the photo is not so different from the woman I am today. At ten I tackled everything with confidence and enthusiasm. Like any kid I wanted to shine. Not because I was a show-off but because I never doubted what I could do if I gave it my all. That's the thing about being a kid, until someone tells you otherwise you believe anything is possible - whether it's to be a ballerina, a pirate, or even a baseball player. I don't think I've ever let my gender stop me from doing what I wanted but in those days the rules about what girls could or should do were clearly defined. When my brother joined the baseball league, I wanted to join too. Only I was told girls played softball, not baseball. Luckily, I had a most fervent champion in my father and in the end I was allowed to play. I'm sure he got a lot of flack for it, maybe more than I did. At the time my dad was in the Army, and teaching at West Point Military Academy. Talk about a boy's club. But not even threats from his commanding officers could deter my father from giving me the opportunity to at least prove I could play with the boys. It wasn't all fun and games - far from it. You can't imagine how cruel people can be and I'm not talking about the other kids but their parents and coaches. My coach wasn't exactly thrilled to get stuck with me but with everyone else refusing to take me on he was left with little choice. I guess he drew the short straw. But with hard work and determination I proved I belonged on that team. Maybe I wasn't the best player but I certainly wasn't the worst. And my enthusiasm and love for the game made me an asset. I was also a good batter when given the chance to take a swing but that rarely happened. The coaches from the opposing teams always told their pitchers to walk me. What did that mean? A whole lot of bruises. They did everything they could to make me quit even if it meant playing dirty. But that only made me more determined to prove I deserved to be there. And hitting me with the ball, blocking the baseline, and calling me names only made me stronger. Sure, there were times I wanted to cry - and anyone who's ever been pummeled by a speeding baseball knows what I'm talking about - but I never thought about quitting. Because that would have meant they'd won and proven their point that girls weren't tough enough to do certain things - which we all know is a bunch of baloney. At the end of each game it's customary to shake the opposing teams' hands. Mine was the only hand everyone refused to shake. Again, directed by their coaches. What were they so afraid of? At that age I certainly didn't understand it but with the encouragement of my father, coach, and teammates I played on. At the end of the season our team won the championship - undefeated. Which just goes to show that in adversity a team bands together to protect their own.

My dad also wrote about this experience-

In the Spring of 1979, I was an instructor at the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY. Sports were greatly emphasized at the academy. All personnel and their dependents were encouraged to participate. When it was time to sign up for the summer programs both Sonia and Alex decided to play baseball. I did advise Sonia that girls usually played softball and she might encounter some resistance. Her reply was that she wanted to play baseball because softball was too slow.

Resistance began when I registered my children for baseball at Youth Activities. The registrar took pains to tell me that softball was available for the girls and baseball was just too rough for girls. When asked if girls were prohibited from playing baseball, he reluctantly registered Sonia to play baseball. That same day I began receiving telephone calls and it seemed every officer was concerned for my daughter's safety, suggesting I should not let her play with the boys. No other girl had signed up for baseball. They all said Sonia would be much happier playing softball with the other girls.

On selection day everyone who had signed up for baseball gathered at the practice field along with the various coaches. The players had previously been loosely rated on various skills at trials. Each coach chose a player in turn. Neither Sonia or Alex were selected in the early and middle rounds. Finally, when there were only a few unselected players, one coach, an older chief warrant officer, selected Alex and then took Sonia in the next round. The coach told me that the coaches had discussed Sonia. They were not happy about having a girl play baseball but could not officially exclude her. He explained that the season would be difficult for her. I told him that she knew this. She wanted to play and would do her best to do well. While she did not seek controversy, she would not back down. I volunteered to assist him since no other father had, perhaps because there was a girl on the team.

Her coach was good. He was very knowledgeable. My knowledge of baseball was limited as I had never played organized ball as a child. The coach worked on the fundamentals with each player. He took the time to set up various baseball situations which would likely be encountered in a game. He explained the location of the play and what should be done with the ball in that particular situation from various positions in both the infield and outfield. I worked with children needing practice throwing and catching the ball.

When we started playing other teams - we learned how it would be. When batting - Sonia was not pitched hittable balls. The ball was pitched too low, high, outside, or inside to be hit. Sonia had to duck pitches thrown directly at her but could not avoid being hit often. The pitchers were not very subtle about deliberately hitting her. In the course of the season Sonia was hit by pitches more often than the combined total of all other players in the league. She usually got on base because she was either walked or hit by a pitch. The umpires never took any action to discipline the pitcher or the coach. Occasionally, Sonia was called out on strikes but it was truly a gift from the umpire because none of the pitches were anywhere near the official strike zone. The umpires were also not very happy about having a girl play baseball. Somehow, Sonia endured. Although the pain of being hit by the ball may have brought some tears of pain, she never cried nor complained. As the season progressed, Sonia won the respect of her teammates. She became a great base runner. Sonia learned to be a fairly good hitter in batting practice. She never had an official hit during the season although she managed to reach a few pitches not in the strike zone. They either went foul or were caught, although some were rather far.

Finally the season was down to the final game. Sonia's team and another team were undefeated. The coach of the other team was the opposite of Sonia's coach. He constantly put pressure on his players yelling at them during the game. He encouraged, in fact, demanded that his players had the attitude "winning is the only acceptable outcome." They bragged that they were the best. They would destroy the sissy team with a girl.

Sonia came to bat, the very first pitch struck her square in the chest. There had been no opportunity to dodge. She was knocked down and lost her breath but refused to leave the game and took her base. She advanced to second on a sacrifice and then stole third. When an opportunity arose, she attempted to steal home. The catcher, tall and muscular for his age, advanced toward third base, blocked the baseline and took up a football type blocking stance although he did not have the ball. Sonia stepped around him and was called out by the umpire for leaving the baseline. Our protest about illegally blocking the baseline was denied.

Finally it was the final inning and neither team had scored. Sonia's team was at bat, there was one out, and Sonia was at bat. Again she was hit by the first pitch. She stole second and advanced to third on a sacrifice which made the second out. With the ball in play Sonia took off for home. Again, the catcher, without the ball, moved up and blocked the baseline with a football blocking stance. I yelled, "Run the bastard over!" Sonia hit him at full speed, knocked him flying and touched home plate. It was the only run of the game. Sonia's team was the undefeated champion.

The opposing team members were not good sports. They shook the other players' hands as was the tradition but refused to shake Sonia's. I quietly told the opposing coach, a colonel, that he showed poor leadership and set a bad example for his players.

When trophies were awarded, Sonia was disappointed that she did not receive the same trophy as her teammates. Her figurine had a skirt - it was a girl's softball trophy. She had worn the regular baseball uniform, not a skirt. Few would believe that she was the first girl to play little league baseball at West Point seeing that trophy.

The following year Sonia again played baseball. That year there was another girl on a different team. Although she had a different coach, Sonia's team was again undefeated. And again, Sonia received a trophy with a skirt on the figurine.

Recently, some twenty years later, I asked Sonia for the first time if she had heard me yell. She replied, "Daddy, of course I heard you, everyone heard you! Why do you think I ran into him?"

Of note: The academy did not offer baseball to female cadets. They had to play softball or choose another sport.

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