An infamous line was broadcast to the world by the young kids in the classic flick “The Sandlot.”
“You play ball like a girl!”
It was a term to use as a demeaning way to show females were incapable of playing such a sport. We can finally say that isn’t true now.
Major League and USA Baseball recently launched the “Trailblazer Series” which is a new baseball tournament in the greater Los Angeles Area for youth females.
According to a recent press release, the series, built around Jackie Robinson Day, was organized for “approximately 100 girls to have an unprecedented opportunity to participate in the inaugural Trailblazer Series.”
The event took place over four days, and included “competitive play, instruction, community outreach and a visit with the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.”
The series has concluded, but participants were able to learn from some of the current and former Women’s National Team players in addition to playing in the tournament itself.
Huffington Posts’ Travis Waldron wrote about the event saying MLB and USA Baseball picked up the travel tab for each player who attended the event with an overall objection.
“The aim was to grow girls’ participation by showing them that baseball is for girls, too,” he writes.
Waldron took a particular interest in 12-year-old Ja’nae Wray, who hit a three-run homer during the series. She had never heard of “girls playing baseball,” before coming to the tournament. An avid softball player, Wray had never participated in any form of organized baseball before this day. And it was the perfect time for MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and the organization to spotlight the young girls playing in a sport that is known as “male-dominant.”
I sat down with a few members of the industry — both players and scouts — in regards to females in baseball. The feedback I received showed a wide range of opinions on this subject.
“Females will never be able to compete with males,” a scout told me.
“It has nothing to do with skill set or talent, just physiologically different,” he added. “It’s the same reason I could go bench 225 pounds right now, having not trained in years, and a lady training for years can’t. She’s in better shape, and more talented, fit, and advanced, whatever you want to say. But physiologically different.”
A former Major League Player currently in the minor league system said the sex of a player had no bearing on him, but he questioned whether or not she would be able to fit within the culture of the clubhouse.
“My only question would be that bonding part that comes from the clubhouse,” he said. “Women would need a separate dressing room. Some guys may not feel comfortable around women as to being themselves, perhaps?”
He then explained as far as playing he wouldn’t be bothered by it. He also doesn’t think many others would either, if “she could play and earned it.”
The number-one prospect in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, Anthony Banda, had a similar answer saying he would play baseball with anybody “as long as they play hard and competed.”
The locker room/clubhouse scenario seems to be a constant question about whether teammates would feel uncomfortable.
An organization recently hired a clubby in their minor league system who is a female, and there were notes written and placed strategically across the facility so the players could see them with messages saying to the players and staff to make her feel as comfortable as possible.
A teammate on that team tells me he has played baseball with females before and he had the same mentality — if she has talent, she deserves to play.
It may not be realistic, however. Especially at the professional level. That has a lot to do with the limitations a female is currently facing should she choose to pursue a future in baseball.
“The opportunities for a girl in this country to play baseball after about age 12 are so incredibly limited,” says Jennifer Ring, author of ‘A Game of Their Own: Voices of Contemporary Women in Baseball,’ and a professor of political science at the University of Nevada, per the New York Times. “Guys tend to throw bats after a woman strikes them out, and their teammates tease them.”
When it comes to the physical aspect of it, there are actual findings where a female could benefit from being a baseball player compared to a male.
The New York Times also interviewed Dr. Steve Jordan who is an orthopedic surgeon at Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine. He treats many professional and amateur baseball players and he said “women are more limber.” This could mean “that women would be less likely” to suffer certain soft tissue injuries that often surround male pitchers that can keep a pitcher on the disabled list for a while, or even result in a career-ending scenario.
The physical capabilities are one thing. The dark cloud hanging over the gender barrier seems to land more along stereotypes and the fact that playing “ball like a girl” is a negative.
Little-by-little the gender barrier is crumbling, however.
The Oakland A’s made Justine Siegal the first woman to coach at the minor league level. She’s now the first woman ever hired to coach for a major league franchise.
Jessica Mendoza also adds to that becoming the first woman to call an MLB playoff game on television.
And shortstop Melissa Mayeux made major league history also becoming “first known female baseball player to be added to MLB’s international registration list,” reported by MLB.com’s Lindsay Berra. This meant she was eligible to be signed by a Major League club that July.
So it’s slow progress, but it’s progress.
Will we ever see an individual who does not identify as a male wear a major league uniform and step onto a major league field?
Maybe. Maybe not.
This tournament, however, is the first time the gender role issue has ever been brought to the surface, so there’s certainly an awareness now.
Wray also has an awareness, and following the tournament she plans to play baseball in addition to softball when she goes back to her home in Georgia. She met a fellow Georgian during the series who plays on an all-girls travel team and hopes to join her in the near future.