The Best Baseball Story of the Year – by Mary Jo Stegeman, Founder, Chicago Pioneers
The best baseball story of the year did not take place at Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, or Wrigley Field. It did not happen at the College World Series, World Baseball Classic, or in Williamsport. The best baseball story of the year happened at the beginning of September, when young players ought to be in school. It happened at a place in the middle of nowhere, in a “Brigadoon-like” setting where the mist gently rolled in each night and the fields disappeared, and where the fog burned off by the morning sun each day so baseball could be played. It happened in a place where dreams come true everyday for 12 or 13 weeks each summer and where, during this particular week, a miracle took place.
“They” said that girls, except in the 40’s and 50’s, could not play baseball. “They” said girls are not strong enough or big enough to play the game the way it should be played. “They” said America’s pastime was for boys and another sport altogether was baseball for girls. And “they” said this even though it is 2009, in the country known around the world for liberty, justice, and opportunities for all, where baseball is the national pastime…”they” said it and believed it in the United States of America.
So what magical thing happened during this 13th week of summer in the 14th year of Dreams Park? What miracle took place at the inaugural Cooperstown Classic? Thirty-three boys baseball teams and one girls baseball team, the first United States’ girls baseball team to play at Cooperstown Dreams Park, played the game they love to play. For the first time in the United States, an established girls baseball team experienced playing baseball like so many generations of boys have been able to do.
The Chicago Pioneers played baseball under blue skies, in the late summer sun, and on a team with teammates of their same gender and peer group. Girls played all the field positions, girls were part of all the dugout conversations, girls were on the receiving end of all the coaching strategies, and most of all, these girls of summer, these baseball girls were not asked why they were not playing something else (softball). OK, maybe a few were asked this, but when asked, the girls replied proudly and matter of factly, “Softball is a different sport; I play baseball.”
Many players, parents, coaches, umpires, park staff, spectators, and lovers of baseball witnessed their first games played by a baseball team of all females. I think many were surprised to see for themselves that girls can hit with bases loaded, can pitch one-hit shutouts, and can lay down the perfect bunt. They were surprised to see that girls can make double plays, make diving catches in the outfield, steal bases, hit walk-off hits, pick off players, throw out greedy base runners from center field…in other words, many were surprised to see that girls can play the game… right.
Hence the miracle of the 13th week at Dreams Park in 2009. The Chicago Pioneers girls baseball team played baseball and was accepted by the coaches and players of the other teams as a good baseball team…..mind you, not a good girls baseball team, a good baseball team. The girls played games, just like the boys; traded pins, just like the boys; won and lost games, just like the boys; ate pizzas and had fun playing baseball, just like the boys.
The overwhelming and inexplicable acceptance of the Pioneers by those at Cooperstown Dreams Park that last week of summer in 2009, was nothing short of a miracle… a miracle experienced by those 34 teams, their parents, friends, and coaches, the park staff, umpires, and those others lucky enough to have been there to see what “they” have said could not be done…. boys and girls teams playing baseball together and accepting each other as equals.
This is the story that “they” do not want to tell; this is the story that “they” do not want to cover. Girls not only want to play baseball, they can and are playing baseball, and not just in Chicagoland. Girls are playing baseball across the United States and around the world. Just like any other, baseball is a sport and girls want to play it. And not as an individual girl on a boys team or an individual girls team in a boys league, but the way boys and girls play all their other sports…. on teams and in leagues with players of their own gender and peer group. This is the girls dream, but for now they have to be happy just being able to play the game they are passionate about playing for as long as “they” will let them. And so you ask, what are their dreams…the girls I mean…their collective dreams are not much different than the boys…to play baseball in high school, receive a college scholarship, and play in the majors, of course. Cooperstown Dreams Park allows the girls, just like the boys, to keep dreaming that dream.
As the founder of the Pioneers, I am often asked why am I doing this and what is my dream? I am doing this so that girls do not think that there is something they cannot do because of their gender. If a girl thinks, because of her gender, she cannot do something like play baseball, as she grows up what else will she think she cannot do? For like in just about any career she could choose or any path that life’s journey will open up to her, the ability to play baseball has nothing to do with, among other things, a person’s race, creed, eye color, hair color, height, nationality, shoe size, or gender.
And my dream? My dream is that in 5 or 10, 20 or even 50 years from now, there will be no need for an essay like this, because girls baseball will be as common and everyday as girls soccer, hockey, bowling, golf, tennis, swimming, volleyball, track, lacrosse, water polo, boxing, skiing, fishing, snowboarding, speed skating, figure skating, gymnastics, basketball, …you get the idea. My dream is that girls will be able to begin playing baseball in little leagues of their own and continue to play, if they so choose, in high schools and colleges, because they enjoy it and there are girls high school baseball teams and college scholarships. “They” also say, this is impossible…I say, ” ‘There’s a first time for everything…things are happening everyday.’ ”
One last thing, “they” say. “They” say, “There’s no crying in baseball”. Well again, “they” are wrong. I saw for myself tears welling up in the eyes of grown men and women as they witnessed our nation’s pastime being played as it could be – as it should be, by all those who truly love it, male and female. After all, how can something be called a national pastime if only half the population is welcome to play it?
Those at Cooperstown Dreams Park during the 13th week of summer in the year 2009, experienced a remarkable thing, an extraordinary thing. 13 teammates who just happened to be girls played real baseball, and those boys who played with them on the same fields, accepted them and played them just like they would any other baseball team. It is now up to those who were there and were witnesses, to spread the news of this miracle that “they” are not interested in telling. It is up to us because by virtue of being there, we can testify because we saw with our own eyes and now truly believe that “Baseball = Girls, too!”
May God Bless You All!
Mary Jo Stegeman, Founder
Chicago Pioneers Girls Baseball Program, established 2006
GPB Editor’s note: In the case of both articles, above, it is incorrectly stated that the Chicago Pioneers 12U division team is the first all-girl team to play in Cooperstown Dreams Park (CDP). Actually, the BaseballForAll / Women’s Baseball league, inc., Sparks have been playing at CDP in 2003, and each year since. However, the claim of being the first US team is accurate: the BFL/WBL Sparks has included girls from around the world, but mainly, both USA and Canada.