In A League All Their Own

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Baseball: a great American pastime. And like many other “traditional” practices in the American timeline, there is an evident history of inclusion — or lack thereof — that, over time, shows to have only meant “white males” in variable senses of the label. It wasn’t until 1947 that game-changing players like Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby and Hank Thompson were “integrated” into the Major League, and with much opposition and negativity for the length of their careers.

Even the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, made mainstream-famous from the movie A League of Their Ownwas meant for immediate termination upon the return of their husbands from war, regardless of its social progress. “The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League gave over 600 women athletes the opportunity to play professional baseball and to play it at a level never before attained,” as stated on the Official Website of the AAGPBL.  “The League operated from 1943 to 1954 and represents one of the most unique aspects of our nation’s baseball history.” Even with this step being a major movement forward for women in sports, there remains a great stigma over a female presence in sports at all, let along mixed gender teams and even coaching.

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But, could we be on the cusp of a major development in gender-blind teams? Could new generations and a growing progressive mentality on the female figure in all facets of sport be inching closer and closer to an “even playing field”? Though, as in most aspects of society, we are still far from a stasis between races, genders, sexualities and more, there are some ladies out there showing us just how things are swinging in the right direction!

Mo’ne Davis, 13, playing for the Taney Youth Baseball Association in Philadelphia and Kayla Roncin, 12, from Toms River, New Jersey, are the only female players in the league annnnd playing for teams still aiming towards the Little League World Series! These two powerhouses are known more for their technical prowess than for their apparent difference in genitalia. Each girl, in her own right, has had a brilliant season — nay, career — and are taking their respective teams straight to the top.

ESPN.com retells a major recent feat thusly: “Roncin, a 5-foot-9, 120-pound seventh-grader-to-be, already had crushed a two-run home run when her one and only pitch — a low fastball — got the batter to pop up. A diving catch by center fielder Jon Giordano secured the 7-6 victory.” Mirroring Roncin’s accolades, ESPN further highlights: “A week later in Bristol, playing against a Delaware team that had been to the regionals the past four years and the World Series last year, Davis, who at 5-4 and 105 pounds will enter eighth grade in the fall, struck out 10 batters and gave up a lone questionable hit in 5 1/3 innings of an 8-4 victory.”

If the Taney team meets Toms River in the regional final, it would mean the Little League World Series would have its 17th female participant out of the 8,781 players who have competed in 67 years up until this year.

Just like any other adolescent with a pension for athletics, these two girls have grown up with sports idols, endless hours of practice and play, and a real brawn-and-brain combo for the goals they plan to succeed at. Their teammates may have awkwardly snickered during the girls’ tryouts years ago, but the boys are surely not laughing now! ”No matter who you are, you should be able to do what you like to do and what you’ve always dreamed of doing,” said Davis via ESPN.com.

“To me, she’s the most inspirational and courageous kid I’ve ever been around … to be the only girl at this high level that we’re playing right now,” said Avallone, the Toms River team manager, about Roncin. “I’m sure there have been some rough times for her … (but) she’s kept her head straight and played some great baseball.” And, at the end of the day, isn’t that the point?! 

The fight upward is a decades-long race, with roots back from when Janine Cinseruli, Terry Durkin, Christine Jones Marino and 20-some-odd other young girls across the United States filed lawsuits against Little League baseball for the right to play, receiving hate male, jeers, insults and adversity at ever turn just to do what the loved and excelled at. Yes, a civil rights movement, and yet, also a simple act of children knowing right from wrong where adults could not. “Girls can’t play” continues to be a sign we need to take down and toss in the trash. Along with the naysay attitudes.

 

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