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Throwing to the Rays

Roy Hobbs: Red, it took me sixteen years to get here. You play me, and I’ll give ya the best I got.

Red Blow: I believe ya.

-The Natural

 When I walked out of the clubhouse, through the tunnel, and onto the right field of the Rays’ Spring Training stadium, I felt like a big leaguer. It was just like in the movies, the pitchers were warming up in the outfield, the hitters were practicing base running, and Manager Joe Maddon was leaning against the dugout fence, fielding questions from a circle of reporters. It was my first outing in the Grapefruit League and I was pumped to be throwing batting practice to the Tampa Bay Rays.

The movie experience began from the beginning. I was taken through the clubhouse and dropped off at the equipment room. To my left was a wall of
Rays clothing and to my right were rows of bats, helmets, and any other
equipment a player could ever need. I walked out of the room in a full Rays
uniform and a pile of sweet Rays gear.

 Joe Maddon was the first Manager I spoke to at the Baseball Winter Meetings. We briefly discussed my baseball background, talked logistics, and then with a smile he said he wanted to make this happen. With his personal email address in my hand and an affirmation that my dream was possible, I spent the next few days approaching more MLB teams. And the conversation began with, “You know the Rays are going to…”

When Johnny Damon introduced himself to me I knew this would be a different BP experience. For a morning, I felt like I was a part of the Rays team. Manny Ramirez and I talked over the water cooler. I watched some BP from behind the cage and chatted with Don Zimmer and Sam Fuld.  I was hanging out, just as any coach would.

It was the fourth and final round of batting practice when I stepped behind the L-screen and readied to throw. The Toronto Blue Jays were already on the field preparing for game. So, both the Rays and the Jays were staring and waiting for me to toss the first pitch. With my heart beating fast, I wiped the sweat off my hands, looked at the batter, and fired in a strike.

I could hear ‘Hey Soul Sister’ over the loud speaker. “Just sing to the music,” I told myself.  ….”I’m throwing my best BP yet,” I admitted silently. …I then wonder, “Why does Maddon have his arm up in a throwing position. Is he talking about my mechanics?” I throw a ball as I ponder whether my mechanics are ok. ….So, I start singing again. “This is fun,” I thought smiling. And then the strikes reappeared.

With Maddon being the first manager to believe in me and my mission of baseball for all, perhaps it should be no surprise that the Rays did what no other team had done. They directly encouraged my efforts. And the one simple but powerful statement I kept hearing over and over again from both players and coaches, was: “I think what you are doing is great.”

When I was done throwing BP, I spoke to the reporters, signed autographs, and conversed with fans. And as I walked back through the tunnel and into the clubhouse, I thought, “This is way better than the movies.”

Top 5 Best Moments: Cactus League

When I heard that David Letterman spoke of me during one of his monologues, I have to admit that I thought that was pretty cool. For fun, I thought I would do my own Top-Ten list of Dream Moments from throwing batting practice to the A’s and Indians. And instead of just listing the moments, I give a brief description of what made it special. But because I am only half done with my journey, I am doing a top-5 list, with the other half coming after my BP trip to Florida.

My Top Five Dream Moments

5. Being interviewed by NPR’s All Things Considered.

All Things Considered is one of my favorite radio programs. So
it was a real honor to do this interview. But here is what really happened… I
just got off the field from throwing to the A’s. My daughter, Jasmine, and I
were sitting in the car. I wanted the door closed and she wanted it open. She
was hungry and I was trying to focus on the interview. Needless to say, my
focus was not on the interview as much as it was on what Jaz was doing right
next to me. In the middle of one of the questions, I hear this alien-type noise
coming out of Jaz. I try to nudge her to be quiet but instead I get her right
where she is holding her phone. The phone goes flying. She gives me a dirty
look. I give one back. And I realize that I really don’t know what the
interviewer just asked me. Admittedly, this wasn’t one of my best interviews.
But when I think of that moment, I will always remember the joy of a
mother-daughter relationship and the crazy alien sounds that Jaz was making.
And to me, it’s a pretty funny memory.

4. Signing autographs for kids when I was throwing at the A’s camp.

For me, it’s always an honor to mean something to a kid. I
heard that one boy walked up to me three times before he got the nerve to finally
ask me for my autograph; that is so sweet. I thinks kids are the source of
life’s magic and to have one want my autograph is really cool. I sign all my
autographs with: “Follow Your Dreams.”

3. The last round of BP when I was throwing to the Indians.

I was really nervous when I threw BP to the Indians as I was
feeling a lot of pressure to do well. So in the beginning it was a bit hard to
enjoy myself. But when I heard, “Last round,” from an Indians coach, I stopped
throwing and took a moment. And I thought to myself, “Here I am throwing to the Cleveland Indians. This is cool. I’m going to just let myself enjoy this
round.” And I did. When I walked off that field and shook General Manager Chris Antonetti’s hand and he said, “Good job,” that moment was completed. And it was amazing.

2. Walking into the Indians umpire’s locker room and seeing my Indians jersey hanging for me.

When I saw my number 15 on that Indians jersey, I couldn’t
stop smiling. I was instantly that kid who had dreamt of being a Cleveland
Indian. As I put that uniform on, I thought of my grandfather and all of the
games we had gone to together. That is when the dream became a reality. And my ear-to-ear smile came straight from my soul.

1. When I learned that Christina-Taylor Green’s family was supportive of my efforts and “proud of me.”

I wore Christina-Taylor’s Little League memorial patch while I threw BP. I have tried to honor her memory. Christina-Taylor was the only girl on her Little League team and dreamed of one day playing in the pros. I feel very connected to her spirit. So, I am truly humbled knowing that the Green family is happy with my efforts. For them to be proud is very meaningful for me.

Being a Coach

“Don’t underestimate the people. Let them decide.”
-Thaksin Shinawatra, Politician

 During the bus rides to our away games, I would listen to Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son.”  I was the only female assistant college baseball coach in the country – but that didn’t matter so much to me. What mattered to me was being a good coach; to help these young men become better baseball players and better people.

I was 16 when I told my hero/baseball coach that I wanted to be a college baseball coach. Immediately he laughed, and promised that no man would listen to a woman on a baseball field. Despite the lump in my throat, I ignored him, and decided I would still go after my dream. The truth is I didn’t really believe him.

It was my third year coaching at Springfield College, when a Varsity player came up to me to ask for some fielding advice. He needed help. He didn’t go to the Head Coach or even to the other two assistants, who all had some pro experience; he came to me. He asked. And I helped. Just like any coach would.

My 12u girls’ all star team, the Sparks, play annually at Cooperstown Dreams Park. Imagine 103 boys’ teams and our 13 girls. During one of our games, when Chelsea Baker, the knuckle ball pitcher, who has thrown two perfect games, was
pitching, we had over 700 fans watching the game. The fans, composed of mainly twelve year old boys who were also tournament participants, could be heard chanting in succession: “Baseball-For-All!” The boys were cheering for the girls – their fellow baseball players.

I like to joke that every time a girl strikes out a boy, she just made him a better father. Boys and girls, women and men, can enjoy the game of baseball together. I know being a female limits some of my understandings of what it is to become a man. But I do know something of what it takes to become a good father, a loving husband, and a happy person. And to me, that’s the job of a good baseball coach – to teach how we can become better – on and off the field. Man or Woman.

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.

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