As I stood in a crowd of all ages, genders, and skin colors, and watched the US women’s national soccer team win their fourth World Cup, I found myself getting choked up. I saw all of the little girls in Rapinoe and Morgan jerseys utterly captivated, and remembered the joy I felt 20 years ago as a 9-year-old watching Brandi Chastain fall to her knees clutching her jersey in her hand, overcome with elation. Megan Rapinoe’s outstretched arms will be an image in the annals of history alongside Chastain. Both were defining moments in sports history, and a defining moment for me and so many young women like me.
Even though I’ve loved baseball since I was a child, I remained simply an enthusiastic fan and student of the game rather than a player. I tried one season of softball, but my heart wasn’t really in it. As a young athlete, my heart belonged to soccer because it was a sport where I felt seen. I felt represented. I felt like there wasn’t a limit on my dreams because I had seen them play out in front of me on television and saw how it captivated a country. I wasn’t shuttled to a different sport. I played the same sport with the same rules as the men. I even played with boys until my early teenage years, which was common practice among youth soccer teams in my area.
The USA Baseball women’s national team is not afforded the same stage and audience as their soccer-playing counterparts. In fact, many people, even baseball fans, don’t know they exist. Every game of the Little League World Series is televised, but not a single Women’s Baseball World Cup game was given coverage. The US team faces an uphill battle in international competition, playing against countries that have professional women’s baseball programs, which are lacking in the United States. Even Mo’ne Davis, possibly the most famous female baseball player of the modern era thanks to her historic performance in the 2014 Little League World Series, shifted to softball in college and gave up pitching because she was less comfortable with the underhand pitching motion.
The modern conversation about women in baseball tends to focus on standout players like Davis holding their own with the boys. Melissa Meyeux was the first female baseball player to be added to Major League Baseball’s international registration list, which meant she was eligible to be signed by a major-league club. She, too, was forced to switch her focus to softball. USA Baseball women’s national team pitcher and shortstop Ashton Landsdell has a commitment to play baseball at Georgia Highlands College. Even the FOX TV show Pitch — the first time Hollywood has focused on women playing baseball since A League of Their Own — was about the first woman to play in the major leagues.
But it’s not just about the ever-elusive first woman to play Major League Baseball and showing she can hack it against men. It’s about having a women’s game that exists alongside the men’s game — equal cultivation, equal investment, and equal air time. This is what the US women’s national soccer team — four-time World Cup champions — is still fighting for, despite being the most successful women’s team in the US in any sport.
Once the glass ceiling is shattered, we still have to pick up the pieces and build something better for those following our lead. There is hope, however. Justine Siegal, who holds a PhD in Sport Psychology and is the first woman to coach for an MLB organization, founded Baseball for All — an organization that provides resources and opportunities for girls to play baseball. Its young participants have already inspired stories that are slowly but surely elevating the women’s game.
But these girls still do not have women they idolize in their sport playing at the highest level. Girls who love baseball deserve their Brandi Chastain moment. They deserve their Megan Rapinoe moment. They deserve to live in a world where they can dream of competing in the sport they love on the world’s biggest stage and be adored by girls (and boys!) everywhere. They deserve to live in a world where they can be unapologetically themselves as they compete — not be afraid to show emotion when they lose and exude unbridled joy at their successes. They deserve a league of their own.
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