I decided before I had kids that if I had a girl who was interested in the sport, I would steer her away from softball and towards baseball. I have not had the chance to do that because my boys are both, well…boys, so it has not been an issue. I have long wondered why girls play softball in this country. I still don’t have an answer, but the issue has hit the opinion section of the New York Times in an op-ed penned by Emma Span.
Both men and women swim, ski, snowboard and run marathons and sprints. Both play tennis and soccer and basketball. Softball, though, is a completely distinct sport, with different pitching — underhand — and different equipment, including a larger ball. It also has shorter distances from pitcher to home plate and between bases, fewer innings and a smaller outfield. Yes, Division I softball is demanding, far from the beery fun of middle-aged weekend leagues. But the women’s version of baseball is not softball. It’s baseball.
Completely different sport. She goes on to talk about Title IX and a brief history of women in baseball, and how major league baseball essentially banned women from baseball in 1952. The problem is even bigger, though:
Even where no official rules keep them out of baseball, girls face enormous pressure to switch to softball. “They get chased right out of middle-school baseball,” said Jennifer Ring, the author of “Stolen Bases: Why American Girls Don’t Play Baseball,” whose daughter fought to play in high school and played a season on Vassar College’s Division III men’s team. When a girl persists in playing, Ms. Ring said, “you can’t count on it being a good experience, because you have to explain why you’re even there.”
Last year, 474,791 American boys played high school baseball, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations; 1,259 girls did. In some cases these girls were the only ones in their entire state. No college scholarships lie ahead, as they do in softball.
It seems silly to me, but at the very least its something to think about, and I’m glad its getting attention in the New York Times.