Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Second Baseman's Wearing Nail Polish!

When my daughter Erin announced that she wanted to play Little League baseball, the registrar tried to get her to sign up for girls' softball instead. Erin turned her self-described icy glare onto the man, and snapped, "I don't want to play girl's softball. I want to play Little League, like my brother did."

I could see this wasn't going to go well, so I volunteered to coach a team which would include Erin. When it came time for the coaches to select players, two other girls, Stacy and Susan, had also signed up, and none of the other coaches would take them. "You can have all three," one of them said to me. "I don't want a bunch of kids on my team who throw like girls." The other coaches laughed. So I had three girls on my team who threw like girls.

There's all kinds of talk these days about neurological hard-wiring that may explain some of the differences between males and females. And it does seem that most boys hurl a ball from the shoulder, while the natural inclination of most girls is to flip from the elbow, a far less efficient operation.

Erin's brother, Casey, offered to help me coach the team. I wondered whether that had anything to do with the fact that Susan had a killer smile and blonde hair halfway down her back, but I wasn't inclined to be overly analytic. He and I took the three girls out on the field, and after about a half-hour of demonstrations and guided arm movements, all three girls were throwing from the shoulder, slinging fireballs across the infield.

Not that their male teammates were uniformly impressed. Dean, a chunky little sparkplug with a blond pageboy haircut, looked Erin up and down, then tugged at my arm and hollered, "Hey, the second baseman's wearing nail polish!"

"You're right," I said. "She is. So what?"

Dean made a face. "Well, don't blame me if she gets beamed."

It didn't take long, though for the team to settle in. The first time Erin slapped a single past the shortstop to drive Dean in from second base, the little guy turned at home plate and continued on to first base, where he gave his teammate a whopping high-five. And after Susan whacked a triple down the right-field line, and Stacy, our first baseman, snagged a vicious liner and stepped on the bag to double off the runner, gender suddenly became a non-issue on the Magnolia Mets.

That was 33 years ago, before Little League became the first step to the majors for the best players. The idea then was to teach the kids some fundamentals, ground them in teamwork, and most of all, make sure everyone had a good time. But I'll admit, I felt some wicked satisfaction when, at the conclusion of the 15-game season, the Mets stood in first place and the young players received their championship trophies.

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