April 2011

Why Kindness

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
-Mother Teresa

Today, I was doing a live radio interview, when I mentioned
that through my own sport experience, I have learned that when others are mean, to be kind back. A listener asked whether this response of kindness was really a masked act of submissiveness – a trait often taught to women.

I was really surprised by this question because I had never
considered my life philosophy of being kind as a gender issue – to me it has
always been a philosophy based on peace, a belief in progress, and a feeling of
love.

During my undergraduate days at St. Olaf College (MN), I
studied nonviolent leadership. I examine the works of Gandhi, Thich Nhat Hanh, Jackie Robinson, Dr. King, and many other incredible people. And it was during those college days that I learned anger can be combated with love.

But it took me 10 years to see how I would implement this
ideal in my own life.

There was a moment when I was coaching the Brockton Rox (CanAm,
2009) that I neared my breaking point. Of course, I never thought of quitting.
But I wasn’t sure what my next move should be. I sat alone in my car, away from
the stadium, to make sure no one could see me wipe the tears from my eyes. And
I realized that I could not control how others would act towards me but I could
control how I would act towards others.

I decided to do something nice for the Rox players. So I went
off and got them some snacks (young ball players love to eat). And from then on,
I went about my coaching duties by working hard, helping others, and smiling at
those who wished I was gone. I even baked the team brownies after I was
released from coaching away games.

Perhaps there is a difference between being nice and being
kind. Maybe being nice is a learned social response filled with pleasantries;
one that admittedly many women are taught to master. But to me, being kind
comes from the soul and it is fueled by a love for one another. It stems from a
belief that we are connected and that we need one another.

Six months, after my experience with the Rox, I ran into one
of those men who wanted me off the team. And he said to me, “You know I
couldn’t stand that you were on that field but I couldn’t help but like you.”

I think that anger can start a movement for social change but
kindness is best to sustain it. For me, being kind when others have been mean,
has given me a sense of peace. It is that feeling of peace that then gives me
the power to fight. Because when I have peace within, I can then venture to
give peace out. And with peace, I believe comes a better world.

And why not have that better world start on a baseball field.

Throwing the 1st Pitch at Indians Game

“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”
-Confucius

I have had so many dreams come true over the past few months
that I am beginning to loose the words to describe my gratitude. On April 17th,
another dream was fulfilled when I threw the ceremonial first pitch before an
Indians game.

I wanted to wear an Indians T-shirt when I threw out the first
pitch. So I stopped in at the souvenir shop 30 min. before my meeting with the
Indians. Well, I should have known better because I am not a very quick
shopper. When I finally made my decision there was a huge line to pay; there
was no way to I could make my meeting and wait in that line. So I played diva
for the first time in my life.

I went up to the person who looked like he was in charge. I
offered, ” I have never done this before or asked for any special treatment”
and I continued, “But I am throwing out the first pitch today and…” He stopped
me there. And his response was, “You go to Springfield College right? You threw
BP to the Indians? I went to Springfield”. We chatted a bit and the next thing
I knew, I was pushed to the front of the line, and off to my Indians meeting.

And then and now, I am embarrassed to have even asked for that
special treatment.

Yet, feeling good in my new Indians shirt, I found myself
waiting on the field for my turn to throw. Indians pitcher, Vinnie Pestano,
came over and introduced himself. He would be catching my pitch. Then it was my turn to throw. I vaguely heard my name being announced over the loud speaker as I walked up to the mound.

The only thought that went through my head was how beautiful
the mound was. I set up in the stretch position. Gripped my four-seam fastball.
And threw a perfect strike.

When Pestano came over to sign the ball for me, he offered me
his mitt, “Take it” he said. “You can use it more than me. That was right over
the outside corner.”

Another one of my dreams had just come true. And I just smiled
at him because I could no longer find the words to describe what my heart felt.

Happy Jackie Robinson Day!

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing”
– Edmund Burke

Happy Jackie Robinson Day! Obviously Robinson is a huge hero of
mine. His ability to perform under the microscope that he played under is
incredible. To take the hatred that was directed towards him and to turn it
into hits, steals, and defense is beyond remarkable. He carried the hope and
dreams of so many with such grace and perseverance. But I imagine that at
times, he must have felt like the loneliest man in America.

Being the first woman to coach first base in professional
baseball was the most difficult thing I have ever done. The experience cannot
be compared to Robinson’s. But while I went through my own journey, I often
thought of Jackie.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to have coached with the
Brockton Rox of the Can Am League (2009). It was amazing, humbling, and fun.
But there were also those lonely moments. Those moments where I had to dig deep into my soul and decide who I’m going to be and how I am going to act.

About 4 weeks into the season, I had been kicked out of the
Rox locker room. The short reason was because I was a girl. So, the result was
that I couldn’t get my post game meal. In a Gandhi-inspired protest, I would
silently sit by the door of the locker room after the games, while the entire team
would walk past me to go get their dinner. I would wait to see if someone would
remember me.

After one game, our 23-year old catcher came out and asked me
if I would like dinner. He then sat outside that locker room door and together
we ate. We chatted about the important stuff and also the not so important
things. It was nice. And I felt that I was not alone.

I’ve always wondered why Robinson’s teammates didn’t stand up for him sooner. Why didn’t they just collectively decide not to sleep in hotels
that wouldn’t take him or to not eat at restaurants that wouldn’t serve him.
After all, while management may say “no” to Jackie Robinson, could they really
say “no” to the Brooklyn Dodgers?

I think that without Branch Rickey, there is no Jackie Robinson. It is the people in power that can give the opportunities. My Branch Rickey is Mike Veeck. He helped me get that job with the Rox. And I will always be thankful for Veeck for believing in me, but even more importantly, for believing what baseball can be.  A game of equality, a game of progress, and a game of hope.

Again, Happy Jackie Robinson Day! To a day where we can remember that when we put ourselves on the line and reach into our souls, we can become more than we ever thought possible. And when we do that, we can often find, that we are not alone.

The Greatness of Being Small

“If you come to fame not understanding who you are, it will define who you are.”
-Oprah Winfrey

I was once asked what it is like being famous. Without hesitation I replied, “It’s a big responsibility.” Now, I would argue whether I am really famous or not, but my role in baseball has put me in the spotlight. And it was the eve before I threw batting practice to the Rays that I came to one of my deepest realizations: It is not about how big we are – the beauty is in seeing how small we are.

Please let me explain. And I apologize in advance if at any point I sound like I am preaching. This blog post may have a hint of self-existential therapy :)

The evening before I threw to the Rays, I was in the hotel lobby, just finishing a Skype interview with a college class, and I came across a news article on Christina-Taylor Green. And at the end of the article, I was surprised to find a quote by me.

I felt such a sense of humility. This was a story about the Green family, about a national tragedy, and about a little girl – and I thought what am I doing in this story?

And at that moment I felt so small. And a peaceful feeling came over me. And that peace came from knowing I was part of something so much bigger than me. And I didn’t feel insignificant: I felt a sense of meaning.

I think there is an idea that the bigger we are, the more famous we are, the more we do – that is when we become significant. But from my own experience, I don’t think that’s true. To me, the significance comes from seeing how small we are and yet knowing how beautiful it is to be a part of the big.

Today I was praised by a top college official for “all my good press.”  I smiled, thanked the person, and shared, “It was very humbling.”  It is humbling to know the Green family and to honor the memory of Christina-Taylor. It is humbling to represent the baseball dreams of so many girls and fans.

And it is humbling – and meaningful – to know that I am just a small part of what I see as our collective greatness and beauty.

Turning Down the Dodgers

“They do everything with such passion and to such detail. You don’t play with that detail without loving it. I don’t care if somebody’s bossing you around, making you do it, you still have to concentrate from your heart.”
-Orel Hershiser

The truth is that the L.A. Dodgers asked me to throw batting practice to their team. Perhaps the surprise is that I turned them down.

In celebration of April Fool’s Day, I am sharing a story that I have yet to tell. It’s the story behind why I never threw BP to the Dodgers.

In early February, I emailed the Dodgers to ask if I could throw BP to them. I was particularly interested and persistent in my communications with the Dodgers because of their connection with the Green family. Christina-Taylor’s father, John, is a scout for the Dodgers. I wanted Christina-Taylor’s memorial baseball patch on a Dodger uniform. And I longed to throw BP to the team that Christina-Taylor had once dreamt of playing for.

The Dodgers called me back and said they were thinking about having me throw; I was told it was a matter of logistics. A week later they called to say it wouldn’t work out. I thanked them for their consideration.

A few days before I left for Arizona, I got an email from the Dodgers asking if I was available to throw to them on Sunday, Feb. 20th. My email response,
“I would love to throw to the Dodgers and I am available on Sunday. But I
can’t. I promised the Indians they would be the first team I threw to. They are
my home team and I want to keep my word with them.”

So, I turned the Dodgers down. Not an easy thing to do but I knew it was the right thing to do.

But I have to admit it would have been so cool to wear Dodger Blue.

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