Tuesday, October 13, 2015

You Give Me Fever: Why Girls Who Love Pro Sports Should Have an Equal Voice in Them

It's October and baseball fever has kept me turning at night. For years I've had a close relationship with the game, but it would be even closer if I felt I had a voice in it.

When I was a little girl, Sandy Koufax was considered the best pitcher on earth. I had not seen Sandy on TV, I had only heard the talk of her greatness. She inspired the first notion I'd ever had about what I wanted to be when I grew up. A major league pitcher. So, I sketched a square in chalk on the brick wall of the apartment building next to our house, and started practice pitching in it with a rubber ball. It got so that I was a pretty good aim and could easily pitch the ball inside the box. All the while I would imagine I was Sandy. "Here's the wind-up... and the pitch..." my announcer brain would say. I wasn't throwing curves or sliders or change-ups. I didn't know what it meant to put something on a ball. I just took aim and threw it. I kept my secret that I was heading for major league baseball to myself until one day I told a kid in the neighborhood that I was going to grow up to be Sandy Koufax. He told me that would never happen because I was a girl, and girls could not play baseball. He told me Koufax was man. I couldn't believe it. I'd never heard of a boy named Sandy much less a man named Sandy. I looked for pictures of Koufax and found out my brother was right. I was devastated. Girls could never go to the majors.

But still I loved baseball anyway and kept my heartache to myself. There were no little leagues for girls back then, and no one to encourage me to play the game. There were no baseball coaches to teach me how to throw a cutter, though what was the point if I could never be world famous at it? I watched the Cubs on our black and white TV, when it was working, with my dad. In fact, it was baseball that bonded me to my father. It allowed us to root for something together. And while the game played he explained to me it's finer features. My whole family watched the Cubs, and in Chicago baseball and football was what gave us an identity. Our teams represented the dreams we could not fulfill ourselves, and gave us a chance to live out our desires through the men who made it to the field as the best. I didn't care that it was men either, because it was male athletes who gave me my first taste of what it meant to achieve something special. Then, much later, along came Billy Jean King, and Navratilova, and Evert, and Graff and the world of athletic achievement opened up for me and other girls. It gave us something real to dream about when it came to sports. Yes, we can play baseball and basketball and even football, but tennis is a female sport, in my view. Men thrash at the ball and reduce its elegance. And tennis paid women big. It was King and Navratilova who spoke up about inequity in pay for women and Williams sisters who showed girls that tennis is something to aspire to and make money at.

Sports are aggressive and good for us, as females. We need to experience healthy competition that has nothing do with our looks or how fast we can shake our booties. Sports takes you out of the skinny girl mentality, out of the sexual object category. That does not make us less of a woman. It makes us more.

Baseball as my career choice was not feasible. The best female players can't compete against the best men and to that I take serious heed. But that does not mean we shouldn't be umpires and announcers in big time, big pro sports. We are mercilessly discriminated against in that department. I'm tired of the spokes models they hire to talk to the players on the sidelines. I'm not saying they are particularly unqualified, but they don't seem to speak from athletic experience. And none of them have crew cuts. Finally, a woman is in the booth on ESPN who talks the talk better than most of the lackluster men that sit in the booths. Half of these guys sound like they might be knitting while they call the game. There is no excuse for not hiring female athletes who can bust a few chops up there. None other than fear on the part of the men who dominate the microphones is holding us back.

I love baseball but stopped watching it a few years back when the Cubs broke my heart. When you love a team you have to accept the consequences, and the consequences hurt. They hurt my family members, too. After my father died it became too painful to follow them. The Cubs were called lovable losers and I wanted no part of that. My role models changed once I discovered Lily Tomlin. She made my dream of becoming a performer come alive the same way Sandy had done it for me for baseball, only I saw no roadblocks ahead. Lily became my best-pitcher-on-the-planet and I credit her for inspiring me in a big-league way.

So for years I had only peeked in on the Cubs to see if they were sleeping. But this season I got wind from my brother Brian that we were something special this year. I didn't want to believe it but then I tuned it one night to see Jake Arrietta, the Cub's ace. His pitching dazzled me, along with young farm club hitters and defensive play-makers. The Cubs have beat the Pirates to go on to post season play for the first time in twelve years, and they have a chance to take it all. Maybe. Suddenly my dad has risen from the dead. And just as suddenly all of those feelings came flooding back to me, my disappointment that I couldn't play in the majors, and even my disappointment that I was a girl. But had I not gone on the to majors when I landed Saturday Night Live? That was pretty much a man's territory when I arrive there, and it has since changed. Baseball should change too.

I've got baseball fever this year, and it's running high. I love but we need women on the field as umpires. Women in the booth as announcers. Girls are now playing baseball and soccer all of their young lives. We know the game up close and personal now. No matter how beefy the beefiest woman is, she is not going to out-beef the beefiest man. I get that. She's not gonna hit the ball as far as Schwarber hit it in the game against Pittsburgh, nor should she have to. But you don't need big muscles to sit in the booth. The women who know the sport and have played it and watched it all of their lives deserve a slice of the beef. Meanwhile, I will be watching post season baseball. I love it. I'd love it even more if I had a real voice in the booth. I would've called that homerun Schwarber hit off Cole in the one game playoff a lot differently than the guys in the booth did. It was a show-stopper. They missed that. It sucked all the air out of the ballpark as it sailed toward the river. It was four-hundred and forty-nine feet of of pure passion from a team once dubbed lovable losers. And the guys in the booth didn't get the metaphor. They blew it. Big time.

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