Baseball is not softball: Breaking barriers

Baseball makes me think of my grandparents.

My grandmother loved baseball. She also loved telling stories of how she and her brothers got into Buffalo Bisons games at Offerman Stadium by turning in baseballs hit out of the park during batting practice. I don’t know the exact validity of her tales, but in depression-era East Side Buffalo, it certainly sounded plausible. If anything, my grandmother could sell a story.

My grandfather taught me how to keep score. I don’t remember why I wanted to learn to keep score, but I do remember calling him during summer afternoons when I was watching a Blue Jays game on CFTO and trying to keep my own scorebook. Since then, I have never gone to a baseball game and not kept score, at least for part of the game.

For all the tales about baseball, I never wanted to play. Then again, I never really wanted to play softball either. But one thing was clear: Softball was for girls. Baseball was for boys.

And for some reason, I never questioned it.

Justine Siegal has changed my mind.

The 36-year-old Siegal became the first woman to throw Major League batting practice when she tossed to a group of Cleveland Indians players at spring training in Goodyear, Ariz., on Monday.

Justine Siegal became the first woman to throw Major League batting practice.

The mother of a 13-year old girl who is finishing her Ph.D. in sport and exercise psychology at Springfield College has always played baseball. She came from a baseball-loving family and wanted to play hardball, not softball. She made several teams through her teenage years and went on to coach at the collegiate level and professional level.

She is the founder of the non-profit group Baseball for All, an organization to help provide instruction and meaningful competition for girls in baseball.

Because baseball is not softball.

For the record, I enjoy watching (and reporting) on both sports. But while similar, there is an argument to be made that they are fundamentally different sports. There are meaningful differences in the game that go beyond the size of the playing field and equipment standards. Softball is not to baseball what women’s basketball is to men’s basketball. They are different sports which, for some reason, have been assigned a gender.

In the story on Siegal on MLB.com, the baseball-playing mom notes:

If you tell a girl she can’t play baseball, what else will she believe she can’t do? This is the greatest game on earth, so why shouldn’t we all play it?

That, however, doesn’t mean everyone has to play baseball.

My daughter thinks she can do anything and she’s ready to tell anybody that. She just has a belief that you can really do anything. That’s the whole point. My daughter actually doesn’t play baseball, and that’s fine with me. All I’m trying to do is show that we should do and be whoever we want to be.

At heart, it’s about opportunity to become your own person.

Siegal never quits demanding her own chance and the platform to spread the word that girls want to play baseball, too.

She got my attention. And gave me another role model for being true to myself and pursuing my dreams, regardless of what the conventional standard may be.

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