Saturday, August 29, 2009

Batting Cage Match

Today I went to the batting cages at Playdium in Mississauga with Deb, Sarah and Nina. Last summer was my third season playing softball with the Rebels. Last summer, before heading to Israel, my batting had improved dramatically and I was hitting well, compared with my previous stike-out queen status for the two seasons before this. As you can imagine, this was frustrating - letting both myself and my team down - and hitting well last summer was just so great. Well, now that I'm back on the diamond Tuesday nights I seem to have returned to this state of non-confidence in myself while at bat and am striking out more than I'm hitting - despite the fact that I'm fielding well in my position at First Base and can throw well to almost anyone other than Deb. And, I'm still striking out despite all the advice and support I constantly receive from the women on my ball team, women I look up to and who inspire me in more ways than they do on the field and in the dug-out.

So, last week Deb said calmly and matter-of-factly to Nina and I, who have not been hitting well, that we were going to the batting cages. For 10$ each, we rented one of the cages at Playdium for an hour. When we got there, there was a problem: there was a leak from all the heavy rain the night before and all the balls were wet which plays havoc with the automatic pitchers. The guys working there were furiously drying each ball by hand so they'd be ready for us, the only people to have booked a cage.

My second turn in the cage, I thought what the hell: I'm going to try batting left, when I usually bat right. It felt funny, but I started to hit the balls more regularly and further than I did when I was batting right. This might seems strange, to just switch things up like this, but when I was playing ball in a mixed league fifteen years ago, I was switch hitting. Playing on a mixed team can be a mixed blessing: on one hand, a lot of guys will treat you with kid gloves or won't give you the respect you deserve as a player just cuz you're a girl. On the other hand, a lot of other guys I played with challenged me to try things like switch hit. I was no hotdog then, I'm not now, but I sure did mess up the other team when I went up to bat and hit a little green regardless of which side of home I stood on - not bad, for a girl.

Batting left today, I hit more often and better than I did at right. I've changed my stance so that I stand straight instead of crouched. I hold the bat up high at a right angle to my shoulder. My stance has my legs closer together so that I can more easily take a step, and I swing with my body and not just my shoulders. It felt good, dinging all those balls, some of which had some air time before hitting the overhead nets. I'm hoping to maintain the confidence that I can translate from this practice to the play-offs which start next week.

I think that's a pretty big intro to what I'm about to tell you next, but to me it's pretty important. I take my baseball seriously - not in a professional, sport-is-life way, but I love to play, I am competitive, and I like the mix of competitiveness and playfulness that I enjoy with my awesome all-women team-mates. We have fun, but we have more fun when we win. So, here's the story, as told to me by Deb:

I got out of the cage after my second-to-last at-bat. Deb asked me if I'd seen the little girl standing with them. I said, no. It seems that a little girl, maybe 8 or 9 years old, was there with her dad and she told him that she wanted to play baseball, she wanted to get in the cage and hit some balls. Her dad, who was in his late thirties or early forties, said, "You can't do that. You're a girl." Deb heard him and turned to him and gave him a very dirty look. Right in front of him were three women waiting their turns to bat while giving encouragement to the fourth in the cage, me. (Who was, at that point, hitting every ball that was pitched to her, and hitting them well, while batting left.) Dad caught this look that Deb threw, and he suggested to his daughter that she move a little closer to our cage so she could watch better. While she watched, the little girl looked at my shoes (tri-colour-pink Chucks), looked at her shoes (pink sneakers), back and forth, until she finally grabbed her dad's hand with one of her own, and pointed at my shoes with the index finger of the other: "Look, Daddy, she's got pink shoes, too." (And she's belting balls while wearing them.)

My Dad bought me my first glove when I was around 8. He told me I threw like a girl. The glove he bought fit on my right hand. He assumed that I would throw left, since I write with my left and he was a southpaw pitcher in his day. I finally threw down the glove and whipped the ball to him with my right hand. Two of my four siblings and I are ambidextrous. Dad says we're just mixed up. Anyway, my father neither stopped nor discouraged me from playing sports just cuz I'm a girl. My athletic pursuits, and my sister's, were supported as equally as those taken up by my two brothers. Deb's father was the same. These two men, and many others like them, encouraged their daughters to play whatever sport(s) piqued their passion. These two men are a generation or two older than this father Deb told me about today. Maybe today changed him. But, what I really hope is that today changed his daughter: you can play ball and wear pink shoes. No one said you have to give up being a girl to play ball.