Right Field is for Girls
By J. Bayer
Many girls mark their entry into womanhood as the day of their first menses; others cite the first indication of mammalian protuberances on previously boy-like chests. A diamond evidenced my exit from girlhood.
I grew up in a neighborhood that can be characterized as a demographic anomaly – while there were dozens of kids my age, give or take a year or two, I was the only girl. This was never a problem as my three older brothers had prepared me for coping with rough and tumble male activities. My mother tried to intervene by plying my interests with frilly dresses and girlish purses, but I was infinitely more comfortable in jeans and coveralls, and my purses were usually filled with Matchbox cars and plastic army men. My Barbie Doll was outfitted in a G.I. Joe uniform, swiped from one of my brothers.
At five or six, my brothers and other neighborhood boys invited me into their baseball games, variants of which were called “workup” or “first-bounce-a-fly,” which were necessary because we seldom had enough players to comprise two opposing teams. The ever-present shortage of players was how I got involved – I was a warm body who could stand in right field and retrieve a long-hit ball before one of the dogs got it. But I surprised everyone because I was actually good at catching, throwing, and hitting balls that were perpetually lost in the woods or behind a neighbor’s fence. In time, the neighbor boys’ knocks on our front door were just as likely to include requests for me to play ball as they were for my brothers. Despite my mother’s growing consternation, it was a happy time for me.
Everything changed one spring day when I was nine; a flyer was circulated around school announcing upcoming tryouts for Little League Baseball. I was excited about the prospect of playing ball in a real uniform and on a field that wasn’t shared with a grumpy bull and any number of dogs that would abscond with our balls at the least opportunity. Nevertheless, I would soon learn that Little League was for boys only. It was another of those male plots, like Scouting, where the boys went canoeing and camping, while we Girl Scouts did repressively boring activities, like sewing and paper-mache projects.
Increasingly, I felt as an outsider on our makeshift ball field. The most telling sign was the blue, green, and red caps the boys wore – each with a big white-felt team initial above their bills. My cap, a tan thing with oversized bill, wasn’t a ball cap at all – it was something my father wore when he went fishing. But that was only the most noticeable sign that things had changed. Whereas I’d rightfully earned my spot at shortstop because of my ability to vacuum up tough grounders and reel in impossible fly balls, I was soon relegated once again to right field – “because you’re a girl.” I never understood the logic, but the boys nodded at one another as though it were an unwritten rule handed down by Abner Doubleday himself.
In time, my mother’s argument that I needed to learn how to cook, clean house, and mend clothes won out over my decreasing importance in the neighborhood ballgame. A baseball diamond had, indeed, marked the beginning of my womanhood.
Years have passed since I last stood on a ball field, but whenever work and family pressures get me down, I go to the bottom of my hope chest, dig out my Jim Finnegan autograph-model ball glove, and breathe in the aroma of a too-brief time when a girl could play shortstop.