February 2011

History or a Future?

“The future is always beginning now.”
-Mark Strand, Poet

 I walked into my local coffee shop, and heard the words, “There’s the history maker.” I am so thankful to the Cleveland Indians and the Oakland A’s for making my dreams come true and for believing in the message that baseball is a game for all. It’s an honor to make history. Humbling, really. But I don’t think about making history; I think about creating a future.

The question, I am now being constantly asked is, “What’s next?” And I don’t really know. And that’s the exciting part! We are in a moment of possibilities. And that thrills me.

I think we need to decide what’s next. I cannot answer this question alone. We need to decide how we will make sure that baseball is really a game for all. That includes creating girls’ teams and leagues through out the country. Giving girls a fair chance to play amongst the boys. And being open to women coaches, umpires, and front office personnel.

It is an honor to make history. But what is important, is what we do now. We are in this moment of possibilities together. Together we are creating our future. And my dream where we can do anything and be anyone is really our dream. And there is such beauty in that. Humbling, really.

Throwing to the Athletics

“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”
-Walt Disney

Like a kid before the big game, I wore my A’s uniform shirt to bed. I dreamt of
throwing strikes. Yesterday, I threw batting practice to the Oakland Athletics.
And it was an amazing feeling, another dream come true.

I picked up my A’s uniform on Tuesday at the Stadium, so I came to the practice
field fully dressed and ready to go. The media attention started just steps
away from the parking lot. My 13-year-old daughter became bashful and looked
down and away from the photographers. I whispered to her, “Look up; It’s the
one thing I have learned in life.”

As the A’s began their team stretch, I ran over to the coaching staff and
introduced myself. Bench Coach Joel Skinner and I went over the practice plan.
I would throw BP around 11:30, on field 4, to Coco Crisp, Daric Barton, David
Dejesus, and Landon Powell. I was assured, “They’re all good guys.”

A’s Manager Bob Geren offered to warm me up. So we played catch for a while. As I was throwing, my foot slipped on some wet grass, and I felt my right groin
twitch. I knew instantly that in that one misstep, I had reinjured a nagging
groin injury. But I had thrown BP to three colleges with that same injury just
a week-and-a half earlier, so I knew I could still throw to the A’s. Plus,
there isn’t anything that could have kept me off that mound; my dream was up
there.

As I stepped behind the L screen, preparing to throw, I stopped and admired the
basket of baseballs beside me. They were so white, so shiny, so beautiful. This
ball has brought so much joy to my life. I smiled, picked up four baseballs,
and readied myself to pitch.

I had a little trouble settling in to my BP session. After I threw four balls
in a row, I stepped away, turned my back to the batter, and thought to myself,
“This is what I feared most – not throwing strikes. And everything is still
okay.” I smiled and thought of Christina Taylor and my spiritual pact with her
to have fun. I whispered to myself, “I can do this.” I then turned to face
Crisp, reminded myself to get my glove side up, took a deep breath, and threw a
strike…and another one. I had found some rhythm.

As I noticed their pitch selection, it became evident that the players were on
a mission of their own. The A’s hitters wanted a ball on the inside, at waist
level, that they could turn on and try to jack out of the park. They were
playing home run derby. Just like kids. And they were having fun. And so was I.

Throwing to the Indians

“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
-Jackie Robinson

“It is not the honor that you take with you, but the heritage you leave
behind.”
-Branch Rickey

I awoke this morning after an amazing and full day yesterday with 3 meditative
thoughts: Thank you. May I serve. May I be a role model. Yesterday’s experience
throwing BP to the Cleveland Indians was a dream come true.

When I entered the umpires’ locker room and saw my Indians jersey with my
number 15 on it, I couldn’t stop smiling. I thought of my grandfather as I put
on that uniform. I thought of all the Indians games we had attended together
when I was a kid.

After changing into my uniform, my first test was to throw to the minor
leaguers. I thanked the Indians minor league coach for letting me “Crash his
practice” and we proceeded to warm up in the outfield. When it was time to
throw BP, I was really nervous. My heart was pounding. Out of the corner of my
eye I could see the media watching and the hitters waiting in front of me. I
reached into the ball basket, put three balls in my left hand, gripped the 4th
ball with my right hand, and then threw my first pitch for a strike. After
about 50 pitches or so (we emptied the ball basket), I walked off the field.
Carter Hawkins, the Assistant Director of Player Development, handed me an
Indians sweatshirt. He told me to put it on to keep my arm warm. He smiled and
said I would be throwing to the major leaguers next. I breathed a sign of
relief; I had passed the test.

After throwing to the minor leaguers, I spoke to the media. As I stood there
looking at the reporters with their cameras looking back, I awkwardly said,
“I’m kind of new to this, so what do you want me to do?” Then the questions
came: “How long have you been playing baseball?” (Since I was 5.) “What does my organization do?” (We help girls and women get involved in the game of
baseball.) “Where have you coached before?” (Springfield College and the
professional Brockton Rox.) The media session was about 15 minutes long. A few
reporters also interviewed my 13-year-old daughter Jasmine, who was wearing her Baseball For All jersey.

As we walked from the minor league field to where the major league players were taking BP, an Indians pitcher looked up from his training and asked, “How’d she do?” Hawkins nodded his head and replied, “It was money.”

As I waited for my turn to throw BP, I got a bit antsy. So I asked if there was
someone I could warm up with. A few minutes later, I turned around and Indians Manager Manny Acta was there to throw with me. Wow! As we began to throw, I warned him that I was a bit nervous and that maybe the reporters should move farther away. He said it would be okay. Sure enough, a few throws later, one got away from me and sailed over Acta’s head. I yelled, “Sorry!”

As I stood behind the BP net, ready to make history, I had never been so
nervous in my life. My hands were so clammy the ball kept sticking to my right
hand. I began throwing and the guys started hitting. I heard and felt one ball
whiz past my head. I was an inch away from death but I was having the time of
my life. When the BP round was over, the hitters thanked me and I thanked them.

A player asked me when I could throw again. I smiled: “Tomorrow.”

Our Rainbow

“Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection, The lovers, the dreamers and me.”

      -Kermit the Frog

Now in Arizona, I just came back from literally chasing a rainbow. It was coming in
and out of the mountains. And the brightness was fading in and out. My
daughter, Jasmine, wanted a picture. So we chased the rainbow. And found it. It
was a perfect life moment.

On the eve before I make history, I know that tomorrow I will be chasing another
rainbow. The rainbow begins with the Cleveland Indians. But where it ends is still
up to us. And I think that’s the best part. We get to imagine what’s in our pot
of gold. I hope it’s baseball for all.

Christina-Taylor Green

I’m not going to die,
I’m going home
Like a shooting star
-Sojourner Truth

I have been trying to write this post for three days now. How can I describe the sickness I feel in my stomach every time I think of her smile, her dreams, her youth? Should I share that my favorite part of my day is when I kiss my daughter goodnight because I know she is home safe? Christina Taylor Green was nine-years-old when she was killed in the senseless shooting in Tucson. Christina’s dream was to become the first woman to play in the major
leagues.

According to the Canyon Del Oro Little League website, “Christina’s love for the game of baseball did not have to be learned or developed. The family connections to the game made it a part of who she was.”  In the aftermath of
Christina’s death, people reached out to Baseball For All, asking what we could
do to honor her. Like many of my players, Christina was the only girl on her
baseball team. This commonality ties us forever to Christina’s spirit.

I think maybe the only way for me to write this post is to think of her smile. Her dreams. Her youth. And to see hope. Christina’s spirit lives on in HOPE… a hope that through her memory we can become better. We can love more, dream bigger, and strive for peace. To honor Christina’s memory, I will wear her Little League’s memorial patch while throwing BP at Spring Training. But spiritually speaking, I somehow feel that it is not I honoring her, but her honoring me.

Not My Story. Our Story.

“Great! another female making a circus out of a great sport.
It’s not bad enough they stick their noses in the locker rooms they have to
invade the field too. Ridiculous.”
-A Reader’s Comment on My Blog

“I am what I am because of who we all are.”
-Unbunto Philosophy

If I wasn’t making some people uncomfortable, I wouldn’t be doing anything important. Last night, I receive my first negative comment on my blog. My reaction was a feeling of peace, determination, and humility. I have learned over years of negative reactions, that when others are mean, to be kind back. I sent the writer of that comment a thank you note for reading my blog and for his candor.

It is with great humility that I prepare to throw BP on Monday. I know that this story…this opportunity…this moment, has little to do with me. I’m just the moving billboard – bringing awareness to our cause. This is really the story about girls and women who love the game of baseball. This is the opportunity to show boys and girls that dreams can come true. This is the moment where I can prove that baseball really is a game for all.

Over 100,000 girls play youth baseball in America. Forty percent of MLB’s fans are women. There are over 18 countries with national women’s baseball teams; Team USA won bronze at the IBAF World Cup in Venezuela last year. My long term dream is to see girls’ baseball at every level: youth, high school, college, and even a pro league of their own.

This is not a story of girls versus boys or what men and women should and should not do. Because we are not in a competition. I think we are in this world together – and that includes the baseball field. When we make one person stronger we have the chance to make all of us stronger. I think when we
achieve together, that is when we really win.

When I stand on the field on Monday, I will be throwing for all the fathers who believe that their daughters can do anything and be anyone. I know this dream and opportunity isn’t really about me. This is about us. This is about baseball being the greatest game on earth. This is a story about baseball for all.

It’s All in the Ask

“We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”
-Willy Wonka

Next week, my dream to throw BP to a major league team will come true. I am often asked how I got the chance to throw to the Indians and the A’s. It’s fairly simple. I asked.

I remember sitting as a teenager watching the Indians take batting practice and thinking I want to do that. I could throw BP. Almost 20 years later, I decided to turn that thought into a reality. Using persistent and creative methods of communication, mixed in with a CV that includes a lifetime of baseball experience, I was able to get an answer. And while some of the teams said no, and most said nothing, there were two teams that dared to dream with me.

To prepare for the Indians and the A’s, I have been throwing BP to different
schools. Today, I threw to Babson College (MA). Head Coach, Matt Noone, throws BP for the Boston Red Sox, so I was eager for his honest feedback. I was
relieved when he rated my throwing with an, “A plus.” My favorite part of the
outing was when Coach Noone revealed some of his own BP stories. At first, the
Red Sox were reluctant to let him throw. They doubted his ability because he
was an outsider. As a fellow outsider, it comforts me to know he too had to
prove himself. And that he did – by throwing strike after strike. Just like I
will.

I am also asked whether I am nervous about throwing. For sure I am. But I figure if I wasn’t nervous, it wouldn’t be worth doing. I’ve always been a chaser of rainbows. Enjoying the satisfaction of the challenge. Believing in the power of
the pursuit. I have dreams that have failed, dreams still in the works, and
dreams yet to be imagined.

I asked for a dream. And I got one. I think there is something in that – in the asking. Because that’s when we bring others into our dream. And that’s when it becomes a collective dream. I feel that the true power of dreams comes when we turn “my dreams” into “our dreams.” Because then we can accomplish greatness together.

My Valentine

Can you hear me when I sing
You’re the reason I sing
You’re the reason why the opera is in me
-U2, Sometimes You Can’t Make it On Your Own

Words from the heart are especially powerful. As the announcement of my BP journey has reached many of you, you have replied with kind words of encouragement. One email’s opening line was, “I’m so proud of you I
could burst!” While a text simply stated, “You truly are my hero.” One funny
tweeter asked, “Do you ever stop throwing.” And another declared, “You so
rock!” I am so humbled by your support. Your heartfelt words mean so much to
me.

Last Thursday, I threw to UMASS Amherst’s baseball team. This was particularly cool for me because Julie Croteau, the first woman to coach college baseball, once served as an assistant coach at UMASS. She worked for Head Coach Mike Stone; the same man I was now throwing BP for. I am the second woman to coach at the college level (Assistant Coach, Springfield College (2007-10). So throwing BP at UMASS is another experience Croteau and I were to share.

Despite this historical connection,I was not feeling any ‘warm fuzzies’ from Coach Stone. I don’t think he thought I was I going to do a good job. Maybe Coach Stone was thinking about the time Croteau threw BP to UMASS. She broke her arm when a line drive hit her. Because Coach Stone’s final words to me before entering the cage were, “Make sure you get behind the screen. Julie didn’t and she broke her arm.”  I smiled back and replied, “I’m not worried.” But as I stepped into that cage, I was worried. Not about being hit but whether or not Coach Stone would ever like me.

I was throwing well to UMASS – hard and strikes. But every time I would see Coach Stone stop and look my way, I threw a ball. Boy, he made me nervous. I knew I needed a mental shift. I checked my heart rate. It was pounding. I changed the song in my head from U2’s “Walk On” to their love ballad, “Sometimes You Can’t Make it on Your Own.” My breath and pace came
under my control. Next time Coach Stone looked at me, I still threw a ball. But
instead of feeling panic, I smiled. And it kind of became an inside joke with
me. Stone appeared and so did a ball. But I was determined to change that. So I
continued to sing to myself and kept on smiling. Soon the nerves left and I
threw strikes for Coach Stone. At the end of the batting session, a once stoic
Coach Stone, smiled at me, told me I did well, and invited me to come back and
throw again to his team. “Anytime,” he offered.

It’s amazing the impact words can have on us. Coach Stone’s “anytime” offer to throw BP, gave me a grounded sense of confidence for my outing with the Indians. Like the kind words that many of you have sent me. Their impact is truly incredible. Your good wishes and belief in me make my heart swell. And just as you have given me your heart, I give you mine. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Believe in Your Dreams

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.
– Eleanor Roosevelt

Today, I got another email from a parent whose daughter was unjustly cut from her school baseball team. Today’s blog is dedicated to Hannah – the beautiful, shy, red head, who has a cannon for an arm and a gold glove in her hands. You are welcome to play for me anytime.

If you tell a girl she can’t play baseball, what else will she believe she can’t do?
Throughout my baseball career, I have been told what I can’t do. I can’t play.
I can’t coach. I can’t ______ (just fill in the blank). And I am not alone.
Girls, like Hannah, are being forced out of baseball. They are told they can’t
do it. Sometimes they aren’t even allowed to try out. They are simply told
baseball is not for them.

I have a confession… Susan Boyle’s “I Dreamed a Dream” is one of my favorite songs. When listening, I close my eyes and imagine Boyle on that stage, with a dream. She is awkward and doesn’t seem to look the star part. The audience expects her to fail and perhaps they want her to fail. But Boyle knows what she is capable of. And when she opens her mouth, she sings that song of greatness. And then they all believe.

As a female baseball player and coach, I know all to well about not looking the part. About being awkward. And about having a dream. We all know that feeling. That moment when we are told we are not good enough. Not because of who we are or what we can accomplish but because of how we are seen. We are told things, like: we are not tall enough, or pretty enough, or smart enough. Or worse, the unspoken excuses: our skin is the wrong color, our religion is different, or we are not the right gender. And then we just think to ourselves, if only they would see us for who we are, then they could see us for what we could become.

We all have our Susan Boyle moment. That moment when it seems no one believes in us. Yet there we are, with an opportunity, standing with our own dream. And they may be laughing at us. But we must believe in ourselves and know that when we open our mouth to sing or when we wind up to pitch, greatness will be sure to come.

Hannah – Believe. Your moment will come. Your greatness is within. For I know what the better question is… if you tell a girl she can play baseball what else will she believe she CAN DO?

Being Strong

“A strong woman is a woman determined to do something others are determined not be done.”
– Marge Piercy, American novelist

The other night, I was brushing my teeth, when the mirror finally caught my attention. For the first time in a long while, I saw my shoulders. And I saw that I was strong.

My strength and conditioning trainer, Michael Zolkiewicz, reminds me often, “To pull my shoulders back and walk like an athlete.” Through my years in boys’ baseball, I learned that acceptance often comes at the price of feigning invisibility. This included downplaying achievements, rarely talking, and never showing that I may be stronger than them. In short, eyes to the floor and shoulders in.

As I was sharing some of my angst over the limelight of Spring Training with Springfield College’s Head Baseball Coach Mark Simeone, he tried to comfort me, “But you are used to being different and being stared at.” And I replied, perhaps too quickly, “But I’m much more comfortable staying at home.”
And then with a breath of confession, murmured, “I just don’t live my life that
way.”

I am in the gym 6 days a week strengthening my arm and overcoming a pitching injury that once left me unable to wash my own hair. Between the medicine ball
training, the never-ending variety of planks, and the exhausting plyometrics, my
arm has become strong, durable, and pain free. Today, when I was throwing BP to the Springfield College team, a varsity player looked at me after his 6-hit
rotation and offered, ” You K’d me like three times.”

I think it’s time for me to redefine what acceptance is. Invisibility is no longer an option. And while I’m being noticed, I will pull my shoulders back, walk like an athlete, and know that I am strong.

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