The Promise of Spring

Ernie Banks once told the New York Times, “Spring training means flowers, people, coming outdoors, sunshine, optimism, and baseball. Spring training is a time to think about being young again.”

I would submit that, with a six-month old in the house, it’s impossible not to be happy and hopeful, especially during this time of year. It happens every spring.

Sixty years ago, the film It Happens Every Spring copped an Oscar nomination for reminding us that this is the season when optimism is in abundance. Ray Milland played a college professor and research scientist who discovers that the liquid he’s created in his lab repels wood. Suddenly he realizes the possibilities and takes a leave of absence to go to St. Louis to pitch in the big leagues. Naturally, he becomes a star player and takes his team to the World Series.

When the 2009 Major League Baseball season finally gets underway, on Sunday, April 5th, I’m sure every one of the 30 teams will be confident that they each have what it takes to win the Series this year.  Of course, whether they realize the potential and promise of the spring is ultimately up to them, but this is the season when their futures seem brightest of all.

Similarly, it’s not too early to start thinking about what the future may hold for my daughter. Obviously, when my wife and I take her to her first baseball game this year, we’re certain she won’t understand the minutiae of the game. But that’s not the point. As the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum in Cooperstown constantly reminds its members, baseball connects generations. So, while I expect I won’t be playing catch with her anytime soon, it’s not too early, as Lord Tennyson suggested, to start dreaming that her “tomorrows will be the happiest time of all.”

Perhaps she will be another Katie Brownell, the 11-year-old who pitched an all-strikeout perfect game in the Oakfield-Alabama Little League in 2005, and whose jersey from that game is now on exhibition in the Hall? Or maybe she’ll be like 12-year-old Bunny Taylor who, only 31 years earlier, in 1974, became the first girl to ever pitch a no-hitter.

She could also do worse than to turn out like Bernice Gera, Kathryn Johnston or Maria Pepe, all of whom were arguably true athletic pioneers.

Gera, you might remember, was the first female umpire in professional baseball. She gained national attention in 1972 when she umpired a Class A minor league game between the Geneva Rangers and the Auburn Phillies of the New York-Penn League.

In 1950, Kathryn Johnston, disguised as a boy, played Little League in Corning, New York. She had tried out with her brother, only she cut her hair and called herself “Tubby.” Well, Tubby made the King’s Dairy team, playing first base. Even after she came clean and told her coach she was a girl, she was permitted to keep playing.

The next year, in 1951, Little League officially banned girls from participating. But Maria Pepe changed all that. In 1972, the 12-year-old Hoboken, New Jersey, girl suited up and pitched three games for a squad called the Young Democrats, but Pepe was later kicked off the team. The National Organization for Women (NOW) subsequently intervened and sued Little League Baseball on Pepe’s behalf and, in 1974, the New Jersey Superior Court ruled that girls must to be allowed to play.

Of course, when it comes to pioneers, my daughter could also follow in the footsteps of Amelia Earhart, who flew a red Lockheed Vega 5B plane solo from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, to Londonderry, Ireland, in 13 ½ hours back in 1932.  Asked afterwards about her solo nonstop trip across the Atlantic, Earheart became a role model for all people when she said, “My particular inner desire to fly the Atlantic alone was nothing new with me. I had flown Atlantics before. Everyone has his own Atlantics to fly.”

No pun intended but, at this stage of my daughter’s life, the sky’s the limit. Like Earhart, she could be an aviator. Like Gera, Johnston, Brownell, Taylor and Pepe, she could discover that baseball is her passion. My daughter could do all of that, or she could surprise me and take after her mother, who averaged 14 points per game during her senior year in high school, thereby finishing as the second leading scorer on her basketball team. And you know what?  That would be cool too.

That’s the beauty of the spring. The possibilities are endless.

Image by: Mike McKee, SXC

1 thought on “The Promise of Spring

  1. Lovely column about the hopes and dreams you have for your daughter. Maybe she’ll be the one to finally crack open the stained grass window, the one women have been gazing through for so long, wanting to join the baseball game on the other side but still not “allowed to” by the powers that be.

    Bernice Gera, the first woman to umpire a professional baseball game in the modern era, broke on through to the other side for one game in 1972, but since then there has been such a paltry, hypocritical effort on the part of both professional as well as amateur baseball to encourage our participation as either players or umpires that her triumph has been largely forgotten and ignored. In the thirty-seven years since her groundbreaking feat, there has been a pathetically grand total of exactly six women who have followed in her footsteps. (Eight, if you include two others, of which I am one, who have worked independent ball.) And baseball claims to embrace the idea of women as equals in this arena? Baloney! It’s easy to disguise intolerance in the form of passive acceptance, when what is actually needed is a sustained, concerted effort to find, recruit, train, and nurture the careers of women umpires. There is currently no infrastructure in place to foster this kind of pro-active support, and the longer baseball “waits” for women to magically appear, clamoring to be on the field with the guys, the longer it will take for this to happen. There is no energy being directed towards this undertaking, so our numbers have stagnated and even regressed in the last thirty-seven years rather than grown and prospered. Until baseball wakes up and realizes that women on the fields of play are something to be welcomed as an asset rather than to be spurned and rejected as unsuitable for so many absurd, obsolete reasons, your daughter will have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever earning a job as a professional umpire. She may even be discouraged and ridiculed for wanting to be an amateur umpire who works high school or college baseball, even little league.

    Good for you, Douglas Gladstone, for dreaming of the possibilities in your young daughter’s life. But if she chooses to become an umpire, you better be ready to have a constant shoulder for her to lean on, because it is indeed a long, hard road. One that I personally would not trade for all the world; I’ve been umpiring for almost thirty years, and my life would have been a lot different and a lot less happy if I had been discouraged from following my dream by all the naysayers, doubters, bigots, and idiots who still, in this day and age, believe we should be doing something else. My mother Jaqueline is the reason I umpire; she was the one who suggested it to me as something I might enjoy and be good at. She discerned something in me I could not see in myself at the time, and because of her love and fearlessness I have walked a path few women have trod and emerged a better, stronger person for it. Perhaps your daughter will find her rock in you, and will be strong, happy, and healthy enough to be the one to change things at last. Believe in her, Douglas, and your love and support will see her through the worst of times as well as the best. That is all a parent can do, really.

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