this may come as a huge surprise to you folks out there, but i’m a terrible human being. seriously.

and it’s all because of softball.

i grew up with two older brothers; thus, it stands to reason that i had no choice but to learn how to play baseball. if i wanted to go out and play with them, that’s what they were doing. i learned to catch and throw and bat early on, and i wasn’t half bad. sadly, they didn’t let girls in little league back then, so my career was confined to the camp softball team, where i was the only girl who made first string and played on the traveling team.

i managed the boys baseball team in intermediate school, which taught me the fine art of baseball scoring. it also taught me that 13 year old boys like to put their cups over your face and yell air raid!!! thank G-d i had no idea where the cup went back then — how did i not know is a wonder unto itself, considering the aforementioned brothers. but it’s a blessing that i did not know where that plastic thingy had been or else i would have had a few projectile vomiting episodes.

when high school rolled around, i was set to be on the team when i ended up with my thumb in a cast, thanks to an overzealous gym teacher who set me in on a game of kill the guy with the ball. as the only girl, with the JV football captain, the JV basketball captain, and other athletic boys playing, i knew i had to be twice as tough; and i had the ball — i really, r e a l l y had it. i was woman, hear me ROAR! but then, too bad for me: it was pulled out of my death grip, leaving me with a thumb that actually was bent in a position that G-d had never meant it to be.

(i’ll never forget the gym teacher yelling at me: c’mon wreke, take it like a man! i thought, uhm, hello? i’m a GIRL. a girl with a thumb hanging off? fortunately, one of the boys told the teacher that i should probably see the nurse.)

a cast made pitching difficult, and after awhile, i realized i was not ready or willing to make the time commitment to softball. besides, they ran a zillion laps, and while i was a decent sprinter in my day, i was never a long-distance runner. check, please!

so fast forward to today. i have not played any softball in a long while. (i used to play with a team on the mall that played around the washington monument, but 9-11 put a major cramp on all of that anyway.) i have to live somewhat vicariously through my own children, poor things.

BC has been playing for a few years, playing being an interesting choice of words. if she’s covering third, she’ll greet you as you run to the bag and probably offer some hors d’oeuvres. she may even start drawing in the dirt with her free hand if it gets too dull out there, which it does, as few girls seem to be hitting very much yet. i cheer her on, in between bouts of hysteria as i watch jools, who could be running onto the highway, climbing onto the school rooftop, or dousing himself at the water fountain with the older boys.

but it’s hard.

i watch all the girls as they stand and wait for the ball. somehow, i think they all expect it to magically make a path precisely to their person and then leap up into their gloves. run up to the ball and get it? i think not! pay attention to the game? if i feel like it and i’m not busy looking at the dandelions.

i can see now how i had a clear advantage in this department: i had brothers, brothers who taught me that i had no choice but to either go after the damn ball or else get the hell out of the way. additionally, some of the boys on the camp team didn’t like me just because i was a girl. but i was there to play, not make friends. and i played, and sometimes, i would even get a little grudging respect, which felt very, very sweet.

as i am a woman who attended a womens college, this is going to sound odd: but i wonder sometimes whether we do ourselves a disservice through gender segregation? if i had stuck only with my girl friends, i would never have gotten tougher, and not just in sports, either. i’m not discounting at all the contributions of girl friends — lord knows, i adore mine. but at a young age, there was something of value spending time with boys.

back in my day, they segregated the school playground: boys on one side, girls on the other. in one of the very few times i ever got in trouble in my entire scholastic career, i was banished for a week from the playground because of a terrible, awful thing i did: i played with the boys on the boys’ side. i am glad that this is no longer a practice at BC’s school. i suspect she is not playing with the boys at her age, if only because she hasn’t grown up with older boys. that’s ok. as long as she has the opportunity, i can live with that.

oh, and my punishment? well, they wanted me to sit on the pavement every single day for a week. in one of the great deus ex mama moments ever, my mother, a teacher at that school, suggested to the principal that my sentence be commuted to the library, where i could at least sit and read for the week. which mercifully, i did. (she thought it was a stupid rule, too, i guess.)

i love that BC is active and playing and having fun. and the girls on her team are so sweet! but there is a part of me that wonders whether the girls are so passive on the field precisely because they are just playing with other girls.

please, G-d, tell me i’m wrong or that a change is a’comin’. i don’t think i can take another season of daisy chains.

2 Responses to “centerfield”

  1. Ach, Wreke, i feel ya. I have 2 older brothers and grew up in a, shall we say, stoic home. I was a tree climbing, ball playing, fast running, tough little critter. I muse about this issue lots. I wonder if temperament comes into play as well as gender? Also possibly birth order? A good friend of mine has a most delicate contemplative boy child who’d be daisy chaining away if you could even get him onto the field (he’s a first). But yes, a whole lottof it does seem to be gender. I can’t believe your playground was segregated! My worst thing I ever did on the playground was fire a crabapple into the air as high as I could (it ended up striking the skull of a delicate little girl who was, um, not feeling stoic about the amount of blood she generated). My DD has just started a coed soccer team – should be interesting to see it, ah, play out.

  2. This reminds me of my boss telling me that his daughter used to practice her ballet pirouettes while an outfielder on a softball team. You don’t see the boys trying that action!

    Do they ever mix them up? I agree with you that they might not be sticks in the mud if a few boys were playing, too.

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