Archive: MSBL Las Vegas: Norine Rathbone: A Real Live Detroit Tiger By Norine Rathbone

A Real Live Detroit Tiger
By Norine Rathbone

When Major League Baseball teamed up with Louisville Slugger several years ago to start the pink bat program on Mother’s Day benefiting Susan G. Komen I got jealous. Yes jealous. Here I am a breast cancer survivor and a baseball player watching the men swinging the pink painted wood bats.

From Norine Rathbone – A Real Live Pink Bat

Once again, we women were denied the right to enter professional baseball. Once again, I had to endure another discrimination as a woman. One that touched the very core of my soul—my own womanhood. How come I told myself that it’s not a breast cancer survivor, baseball playing woman? I’m right here. Can’t you see me? It should be one of us not one of them on our own day, our own Mother’s Day.

From Norine Rathbone – A Real Live Pink Bat

Breast cancer strikes women out 99% of the time with only a small 1% of diagnoses being men. So in a moment of jealous passion I decided to do something about it. After all I’m the living, breathing version of their wood-painted pink bat. I am the real live pink bat.

From Norine Rathbone – A Real Live Pink Bat

So in August 2008 I created myself for the public. I really did become the real live pink bat. A 50-year-old middle-aged, slightly overweight woman who went from the Torture for the Cure to the Race for the Cure in Southern Nevada to become their 2008 athlete survivor of the year decided to take on Major League Baseball by letting the boys of baseball know I exist. As Brian Ross from Minor League News coined me, I may be mad but I ain’t crazy, he was right. I was mad at that moment. And scared too that I would be laughed at by MLB for still wanting a dream that I’m now too old to pursue or so I thought.

From Norine Rathbone – A Real Live Pink Bat

I designed my own media presentation book and sent 91 of my mini-me booklets to all the MLB teams. Each MLB team was sent 3 books (the White Sox were sent 4 with the extra going to Eddie Einhorn because I was told he supported women in baseball) to the top management. I never asked for anything from all 30 team. There was no cover or personal letter, just the outside of the envelope addressed to the individual they were sent to. I never expected to hear from anybody in MLB. I didn’t. Not surprised either.

From Norine Rathbone – A Real Live Pink Bat

My intent was to just stand up for myself, a breast cancer survivor who for 48 years wanted to be a Major League Baseball player. Now I saw the opportunity to go for my dream by being the Mother’s Day MLB real live pink bat. It was the right thing to do. Not just for me but for all women who dared to break from their traditional role as to what society and the men think we should be and that included seeing us for centuries as the weaker sex.

From Norine Rathbone – A Real Live Pink Bat

So on November 17, 2008 when a letter came from the Detroit Tigers Minor League Office asking me if I would be interested in coming to their Open Tryout in 2009 I couldn’t believe.

I so wanted to hang up that letter for the world to see but after I called Dan Lunetta, the director of the Tigers’ Minor League Operations, to let him know I was going to come and I wanted to share his kindness he asked me to keep it personal between us. I did. I could tell the world that the Tigers invited me but the Tiger responsible had to be kept in the background. Dan never got one of my media books. I didn’t send it to him. I started at the top with Tigers President Dave Dombrowski. It was Dave’s single act of kindness that started this real live tryout ball game going. He threw my media book to Dan who then threw me for a curve ball by writing to me.

Norine’s web site – Media Book

Now here I am tonight on Tuesday, March 10, 2009 writing to the world about how I went to the Tigers Spring Training headquarters in Lakeland, Florida and how on Monday, March 9, 2009 a small band of five baseball brothers and one baseball sister smoked the rest of the infield at this real live Major League Baseball tryout… Oh yeah. We did. We took them on and we smoked ‘em good.

From Norine Rathbone – A Real Live Pink Bat

The journey to get to yesterday ended up involving a lot of people who, once they knew I was really going to that MLB tryout, stepped up to the plate themselves to help me and my husband Ed get there. Louisville Slugger donated pro bats, batting gloves and a new black and pink-trimmed ball bag. New Balance Athletic Shoes sent me a new pair of rubber-cleated baseball shoes, Dr. Saundra Namimatsu donated the physical therapy to get my shoulder into near perfect condition, some of my husband’s friends donated to pay for our trip, my Sandvipers teammates couldn’t go so they donated their signatures to my batting helmet, and the list goes on. Logoz Shirtz & Promoz even embroidered the baseball bag with my pink batness, cancer quote and tryout date. Righteously cool if you ask me.

Honorary Team New Balance – Norine Rathbone

Meanwhile I took the time to contact the media both here in Las Vegas and over there in Lakeland Florida including the little leagues and the Central Florida MSBL in Orlando for moral support. I didn’t want to go it alone. I needed somebody to lean on once I got to the East Coast. Oh Lord what have I gotten myself into with this real live pink batness of mine. I must be crazy. Surely I was. Who is going to believe me at that tryout that I, at my age, my gender, my size could be taken seriously for a spot on the 40 man roster for any one of the five Tigers’ teams from MLB down to their Minor League divisions.

From Norine Rathbone – A Real Live Pink Bat

Breaking the Gender Line in Baseball – Norine Rathbone is the Joan of Arc of women trying to break the gender line in MLB baseball. She may be mad, but she ain’t crazy – By Jill ADLER & Brian ROSS for MLN Sports Zone

Three hours before Ed and I left for the airport on Friday, March 6th, Rich Musumeci the manager for the Orlando Marlins called me to ask me if I wanted to play baseball on their men’s team Sunday as a pre-warm up for Monday’s tryout. I was thrilled. Of course I said yes. Then he told me that they changed their team website to breast cancer pink in honor of the real live pink bat. Rich wrote about me on their home page which is still up for now saying that the Marlins are proud of the Detroit Tigers for stepping up to the plate to invite me to come. I called Brian Ross to tell him that news. He freaked but for a second… then he beamed with delight.

From Norine Rathbone – A Real Live Pink Bat

By the time we arrived in Tampa the next morning, Ed and I, we were exhausted. We slept most of the day then called Rich to get directions to the playing field for Sunday. His teammates, he said, were excited and the Orland Black Sox team were okay with me playing for the Marlins against them.

From Norine Rathbone – A Real Live Pink Bat

The next day when we arrived in Orlando I donned the Marlins jersey. First baseman Josh came over to greet and then started to cry as he told me he lost his mother-in-law to ovarian cancer and a friend to breast cancer. However, the great news is that his grandmother is a breast cancer survivor. Either way, it’s still emotionally tough dealing with the loved ones who have passed on and those who are survivors. Many of us who have survived deal with survivor guilt, why are we still here but they couldn’t make it.

From Norine Rathbone – A Real Live Pink Bat

The real live pink bat is touching lives. He was thrilled to tell his story about his family with me. It meant that much to both of us. I hugged him. Then we went to warm up to play ball. Business as usual after an intense moment of emotional sharing. And it was intense. I had to fight back my own tears. There is no crying in baseball for any reason.

From Norine Rathbone – A Real Live Pink Bat

I ended up coaching first base for the team for the whole game. I never did play an inning until the ninth when Rich asked me if I wanted to bat. No pressure. Take a hack. Yeah right! It was the bottom of the ninth, we were behind two runs with two outs. A man on first and the batter would be the tying run if he or she got on. Clutch time. I faced Larry Hingle, former AAA pitcher for the Houston Astros. No this was not my tryout but it definitely my baptism into the world of professional baseball. A preview of where I was going the next day.

From Norine Rathbone – A Real Live Pink Bat

Hitting against a left-handed pitcher is tough for a righty. It’s murder for a hooker. That’s what they call us lefties because we tend to hook the ball to right field. Larry threw the first pitch, an outside fast ball that I managed to get a piece of fouling it off to the third base right where my husband was filming me with my camera. I do sports photography in Vegas aside from my day job. Just missed knocking him out with the baseball as the Black Sox manager whistled a wow she can hit from between his lips. Oops. Sorry honey.

After my new teammates stopped cheering for getting a piece off of Larry, his next pitch was low but across the plate. Another fastball. Just how I like them but really too low to zig it over his head for a center-field line drive. I eked out a solid grounder right back at him which he easily made a fielder’s choice to first for the final out of the game. Yes we lost the game but not because I made the last out. The last out just ended the game. We lost the game as a whole team for a whole nine innings of play. It was a team effort from both sides with one team winning and the other team losing.

That’s the point I’m trying to get across to Major League Baseball to let me swing the wood-painted pink bat for one inning on Mother’s Day. It takes a whole team with a whole nine innings to win or lose a game. One at bat with the real live pink bat is not going to lose the whole game for any one of the 30 MLB teams if one of them would just let me do it. Besides that what if I do hit the baseball and get to first base? What then?

Well the Marlins and the Black Sox went crazy with my grounder. Screaming from both dugouts that I had hit the baseball. You see it’s not about that I made the last out. It’s about me going to bat for us women, for us breast cancer survivors, for the opportunity of the coming day, and for what the real live pink bat represents—the human side of breast cancer awareness. The personality behind the bat. A name and a face to cold hard side of breast cancer research. It’s not just about donating money which is all good to do but it’s about teaming up with that research so that the public sees and feels the human side of it as well. We are not the cancer, we are people dealing with the cancer.

From Norine Rathbone – A Real Live Pink Bat

After saying our goodbyes, hugs and high fives to my new baseball brothers along with taking their good luck wishes to the tryout, Ed and I left for our hotel home. As we sat on the second floor balcony while we washed my uniform, we both realized just how ready I was to take on the world of Major League Baseball. Then came the call from Lakeland journalist Chuck Welch. I had contacted him earlier in the week to see if this baseball fanatic from Florida was interested in a real live story about me. He was.

We talked for an hour with Chuck letting me know that he was going to write a pre-story before the tryout registration started at 9:00 am and that he would meet us at the stadium to say hi. Can you tell I’m excited? Chuck laughed and said yes. We headed off to bed to dream about our date with a baseball destiny never imagining anything other than I was going to give off the best performance at first base that I could be, run the 60 yard like a track star and swing for the fence at bat. They were my goals for the day. This was business, a job interview for the position of being a Major League Baseball player for a one-day contact to swing the pink bat on Mother’s Day. My business suit? My uniform. My attaché case? My baseball bag.

Arriving at the stadium the next morning, I was surprised to find myself in a sea of young hopefuls also applying for the same position. Some 250 in all applicants eager to display their baseball skills for one or two spots in pro baseball Major or Minor League. I had my work cut out for me when a strange thing happened. Chuck wished me good luck, hugged me like a man and I told him thanks coach. He liked that.

From Norine Rathbone – A Real Live Pink Bat

No one noticed I was a woman in uniform. This was too good to be true. I loved it.

Although I need to lose another 25 pounds that I’m self-conscious about, I looked like a middle-aged man in a baseball uniform. I never got that look. You know the one. The one that we women get in baseball that says we “girls” can’t play baseball and “are you serious that she wants to play” once over from their roving eyes. It wasn’t there. Yay me! I kept my mouth shut, then spoke low and deep when I had to grunt a give me a registration form from within the testosterone crowd. This was just way too good even for me.

From Norine Rathbone – A Real Live Pink Bat

After I filled it out handing it to the Tigers staff and getting my 303 assigned number, I left Ed with my equipment near the gate to the training fields we were to use for the day. Heading off to the rear stadium restroom, upon my return trip back I noticed a Channel 9 news van in the parking lot. The newsman gave me a nod from one male to another or so he thought. I nodded back to him in a manly fashion. This just keeps getting better.

I had no idea that my life as a real live baseball player was about to be birthed from that nodding moment on.

Back to my husband. I told him about the van in the parking lot and instructed him to give the newsman my pink bat photo media card. Ed’s turn to leave now and he did, leaving me to carry all the camera equipment plus my baseball gear. When the Tiger directors announced where we were to go, I carried it all. Well for the moment I was still the baseball guy and nobody carries bags for a guy! So it was all me.

As I walked with the group of infielders to the field on our right, I finally saw Ed heading back my way. He was looking intently for me so I yelled him my way. Did you give the guy my card? Was he here to film their tryout camp? No says Ed. He’s not here for the Tigers and their tryout. I was surprised why. Ed then told me that the newsman and a reporter were looking for me. Just me.

From Norine Rathbone – A Real Live Pink Bat

They read Chuck’s article online that morning and came to film me for their news. Ed took me to them quickly. The tryouts were starting I didn’t want to miss out. I came so far and a half a century too. Ed introduced me to Melissa Sogegian, the reporter. They were looking for me but missed me. Bay News 9. They were looking for a woman. Think about it. Even they stereotyped me looking for a womanly baseball player which they did not find. And must to both their surprise, to their delight, they were thrilled to come do a segment about me taking on the boys of baseball. I never asked them to come. They came looking for me.

I shook Melissa’s hand and ran to the field.

Lining up with the other four first basemen, the directors had us line up by position. There were eventually six of us for first base, two would come later. We were the smallest group standing closest to the infield when a golf cart came our way. The two men in it stopped next to our line. The driver pointed to me then called me out. I started to sweat thinking my manly jig was up but I didn’t waiver up my pseudo gender. After all, they thought I was the old man in the baseball suit. I just played along with it. I had to have some fun at this Major League event.

From Norine Rathbone – A Real Live Pink Bat

Yes sir, I said to the gray-haired thick-mustached Tiger suit. He proceeded to tell me that “I know who you are. I know what you do. And we are honored to have you at our tryout.” The jig was up. But I never, never expected to hear that, which just came out of that man’s mouth. Glen Ezell. EZ for short. The director of player development for the Tigers and the man who was in charge of the whole darn tryout camp. I never did remember who the other man was sitting next to him. I was mesmerized by his command and at that moment he was the Major League General and I was his private selection for the day.

EZ then pointed to the other players saying they would all be watching as they competed against me. Then he pointed to the crowd behind the fence, friends, family and fans all eager to see us in action. “They’re going to be watching you too.” Looking back into my face he told me this was business. To keep my mind on my business. I grabbed my Sandvipers uniform pulling it toward him and saying this was my business suit, I was ready to do my business. He said good girl. My time as a man just ended. Oh darn it was so much fun too.

From Norine Rathbone – A Real Live Pink Bat

Then I joined the ranks of my baseball troop as we headed to the infield like an army taking to war. Pickett, Trotta, myself, and Chris. I never did ask the first two what their names were. We stood at first base waiting to start. Looking across the field, the four of us realized we were a small infantry of three men and a woman taking on two huge battalions of Spartan warriors. In all about 150 men to 4. Not good odds in a real live war. But we’re baseball players. First basemen. I told my troops we could take them all. Bring it on. We were ready to do battle. At that moment we became the fighting Tigers.

Those 150 men mean that each one was going to get four grounders, left, front, backhand and a rolling one. By the time Greg and Mr. Puerto Rico showed up to join our six-man corps at first base we would each end up taking about 100 hits from the opposing sides. And I meant taking hits. They came at our heads, our feet, some 20 feet over and 50 feet out to each side, wild and wacky they came along with the straight and narrow. We dodged them like bullets when one of us was at the base where we were supposed to receive them. The mighty six defended their first base territory telling each other we all hoped to make the Tigers team. We deserved it. We were men even me. There was no woman on the field yesterday. Just six men fighting for a spot on a professional baseball team. And six men who were determined to show up the other 150 infielders with our skills. We did. We gave ‘em hell.

We smoked them hard. We jumped, we dove, we ate dirt to defend our honor and our base. Every time they shot off a cannon ball our way that went anywhere but to whomever was defending the bag, they made us look good. We intended to keep it that way. We did. With everything we had in our baseball arsenal, the mighty six took on the world and won. We won on the battlefield yesterday. We six walked off the field with our heads held high that day.

From Norine Rathbone – A Real Live Pink Bat

But not before I executed some pretty awesome moves myself including a baseball text book perfect one-hopping throw to third base followed by a perfectly executed double play with the short stop throwing my own cannon ball at me from second base and me turning the bag just in time to catch the ball back at first. My only mistake was that I didn’t come off the base fast enough straddling it as I reached for the ball with my glove. EZ caught my footwork error telling me how to take the inside corner for the play so I would avoid getting hurt where I had left my feet at the end of the play. But it was text book alright. Major League text book. No shame in that even with my feet out of place. I got the job done just as it was supposed to be.

Heading off to home plate, the mighty six were called up first to swing for the fence. Batting in the third slot, I told EZ who by now was at the mound with a pitching machine, okay begging him, to adjust the machine for my vertical strike zone. Though I’m 5 feet 8 inches I was still shorter than my three of my own first base comrades. He did. In fact he was very accommodating to my turn at bat making me wait off the plate in a relaxed mode until he was perfectly satisfied with the pitches he wanted me to take. What a commander looking out for his troops. Talk about respect for his army of men and one woman.

From Norine Rathbone – A Real Live Pink Bat

I was so nervous facing the gun that I only managed to fire off four solid grounders to the right side. Darn, I can hit line drives 200+ feet but that didn’t happen today. They never got to see what I can really do at the plate. But that didn’t matter, when my time was over swing for the fence everybody applauded including the crowd of onlookers. I was still thrilled even with my gender cover blown. Hey they gave that to me and I enjoyed toying with their minds about it.

For the rest of the tryout I stayed in the dugout finally meeting Dan Lunetta, getting my photo taken with him and my real live pink bat which I only use for display. It’s not made to be hit with. No. Not the Rick Redman Louisville Slugger pink bat. He had that made for me and no way I’m going to destroy it with baseballs. Rick is the vice president corporate communications for Louisville Slugger. He likes the real live pink bat woman.

From Norine Rathbone – A Real Live Pink Bat

Dan and I talked, giving each other respect. And even though he personally invited me to come to this tryout he was still surprised that I came all the way from Vegas. I had to. How can I turn down the respect from his letter in the first place. I came for him as well as for me. I came for Dave Dombrowski the big man in Detroit who let Dan know I exist in the first place. The Tigers management cares about me. And they like the real live pink bat concept. Everybody at the tryout does. I am right about my mission to swing the wood-painted pink bat in a Major League game on Mother’s Day. It’s a good story for everybody especially during this economic lesson we’re all learning by trial, error and greed.

From Norine Rathbone – A Real Live Pink Bat

After I left Dan, I met Marilyn his secretary. She’s one of my biggest fans now. I love her to pieces. We had a great visit and Ed took our photo together with my now famous PB. After she left to go back to the office, I did a PB video to put on my youtube account for when I get home. It filled the time while we waited for the tryout to end. We just had to stay to the end.

From Norine Rathbone – A Real Live Pink Bat

I was not going home without my photo with Major League General Glen “EZ” Ezell. My commander and chief of the day, I wasn’t going back to Vegas without thanking him, getting a photo op with the man who commandeered my short-lived Tigers career on the baseball battlefield. It was almost that patriotic for reals being in uniform. I had pride. Tiger pride. Army pride. I’m a baseball player pride. I busted my butt for it all pride. I earned it pride. American baseball pride.

As Ed took our photo, seriously with the PB and then playfully with me showing him how to swing the pink bat, I told EZ that I was proud of how great I played. Yes how great I did, not just good, but great. I did a great job yesterday. I can say that forever about my one day as a real live Detroit Tiger. I told him that I did a great job in spite of my age and gender. He stopped me. Waving his right hand aside high in the air as if to dispel throwing something out behind himself, he told me to put the age and gender aside. He told me I was a real baseball player. That my age and gender had nothing to do with the fact that I can play real baseball.

Looking at his face, straight into his eyes into his soul I knew he mean every word. EZ and everybody who was at that Tigers tryout look past the gender to see who I really am. A real live Detroit Tiger. A real live baseball player. Yesterday, March 9, 2009 I was no longer just a gender in baseball with a dream. I made it to professional baseball as a bonafide baseball player. And no professional contract could afford enough dollars to pay for that man’s highest regard for my baseball skills. I came to take on all the infielders.

Yesterday, on March 9, 2009, the mighty six slaughtered them all on the field. We took no prisoners. We showed no mercy. We were a band of baseball brothers. I came to honor them and they gave their respect to their baseball sister by making her one of their own. The few, the proud, the baseball Marines.

Today I came home knowing that I am a professional baseball player. Not a contracted one. I probably won’t get any contract from this tryout. I’m too old to play a full season. But a pro just the same.

My Mother’s Day mission? Oh yeah that will never end until they let me swing the wood-painted pink bat because that’s the right thing for the boys in baseball to do. To let me, a breast cancer survivor baseball-playing professional for the day swing for the fence in a Major League Game for reals. That is doable. And that needs to be done.

It’s the right time and it’s time to do it once and for all. The public wants it. The players want it. The Tigers showed their support of me pursuing it. Yes that’s what needs to be done now. I know I can do it. I’m a Tiger now. I don’t have to prove my worth in the baseball arena anymore. I just have to do the pink bat. Because it’s the right thing to do.

It’s not about Norine but about what her life symbolizes for everybody in this whole country. That’s why it’s the right thing to do. Honest to God as he’s our witness.

Plus we have three bulls and a horse to confirm that baseball sign from heaven. Read on. Remember the news crew come to my tryout? They dropped out of the sky to find me then disappeared the same way before the tryout was over. Then it was our turn to drop in on them…

The Bay News Channel 9 team of Melissa Sogegian and filmman Tony along with Ed and I had a real live baseball adventure. It’s a baseball sign all four of us are sure of. There are always baseball signs whenever something good is about to happen in a real live game. Pre-game signs are omens of athletic success.

After the tryout Ed and I headed back to our hotel to change. Got in the car and headed off to find Moe’s Southwest Grill. We got lost looking for it. But saw a tremendous brush fire burning in the northside of Lakeland. As a professional photographer I did what I’m trained to do. HEAD FOR THE FIRE! HAVE CAMERA NEWS AT 11.

As we drove down country road after another trying to get closer, we found an entrance with a beautiful scenic with three bulls and a horse grazing with the fire in the pasture behind them. They didn’t even care. I wanted the picture but Ed said we were driving to the end of the road first which we did, turning left to find a deadend some 300 feet later. At the end of the road was the Bay News 9 van and Tony the cameraman.

From Norine Rathbone – A Real Live Pink Bat

What are the odds? In the middle of Central Florida. In the middle of nowhere? In the middle of a cow pasture? With us just rambling the countryside with no direction as to where we were going?

I jumped out of the car and yelled… HEY I KNOW YOU! Tony turned around and much to his delightful horror of surprise starting screaming for Melissa because he couldn’t believe it was us. We rounded the van, Tony and I, to where Melissa was monitoring her screen. MELISSA! IT’S ME! THE REAL LIVE PINK BAT! She turned and almost fainted then started screaming at me for being there. They didn’t get to finish my tryout and were going to interview me when they were called away from a bomb threat in downtown Lakeland then headed out to this brush fire.

So what did we three all do? What every good photographer, journalist and reporter does. We did the interview in front of the brush fire in a cow pasture. No bull from me about this.



From Norine Rathbone – A Real Live Pink Bat


  1. Congratulations, Norine! This is months late, but you still deserve the accolades. I am a survivor of Prostate Cancer, a “no big deal” compared to what you have gone through, but it still makes a psychological impact when you hear the statement that ” You have some malignant growth, and I think that I can remove it without any problem.”. He did, at least so far, but there is still the five year check, and the “will it come back, somewhere else?
    For you to put all of that aside, overcome the significant damage to your chest and muscles, overcome and work with physical therapy to get to the point that you are able to, successfully play at a professional level is truly inspiring. You are an inspiration, not just for women, for girls, boys AND men! It was with extreme pleasure that I read your story of success, I commend you on all you have accomplished and wish you continued success in all of your endeavors. I truly hope to hear AND see you, sometime in the near future, playing for one of the MLB teams for your one day contract, You have earned it, YOU DESEARVE IT! Keep fighting for it, surely, to you, it must come!


    David Handler
    Retired RN

  2. Your famous Norine and I am proud to call you my friend, my sister in baseball, my compadre. What a great story. Keep pushing for swinging the Pink Bat and hopefully with one of my favorite west coast teams. You are a great role model and inspiration for all cancer survivers. As you know my 21 year old son who plays baseball for Metro State College was born with a neuroblastoma. His first year of life was a touchy one. However we are very lucky and he will soon graduate from college in 2010.

    Keep up the great work. I hope to see you on Sunday umpring one of your games. I luv ya man.

    Mary MacDonald
    Owner, Las Vegas Umpire Association

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