The book: “A Game of Their Own: Voices of Contemporary Women in Baseball”
The author: Jennifer Ring
The vital statistics: University of Nebraska Press, 353 pages, $29.95
Find it: At Amazon.com, at BarnesandNoble.com, at Powells.com
The pitch: It was March 5, 2011. For the first time in U.S. history, two high school baseball teams faced off and each had the audacity to have a girl as their starting pitcher – Marti Sementelli for Van Nuys’ Birmingham High, facing Ghazaleh Sailors of San Marcos High.
“It didn’t hurt that the game took place in media-obsessed Los Angeles, between two highly rated large urban schools,” Ring writes in the introduction to this book. “More than a thousand girls in the Untied States play high school baseball on ‘boys teams,’ but the story would not have had such an impact if it had been a game between two small-town schools.”
It didn’t hurt that Sementelli pitched a complete-game 6-1 victory, giving up two hits. Sailors gave up two runs and three hits in her three innings.
“Both girls pitched beautifully,” Ring continues, “but the attitude of the press with whom I sat was the same bewildered astonishment that characterized news stories about girls playing baseball in the early twentieth century and still dominates news coverage of girls who play baseball today.”
Isn’t that right, Mo’Ne Davis?
While Davis’ Harper-Collins published biography came out this month – and why not, since the 12-year-old continues to create buzz for her athletic skills that were on display in last summer’s Little League World Series? – this is one that she might want to thumb through to gain a little more perspective for what’s in front of her, if not completely read it if she has the time to plow through these 17 chapters. Sixteen of the pages are on Sementelli, who last season was pitching for NAIA-affiliated Montreat College in North Carolina, but she has now joined the school’s softball team. Sailors was a junior pitcher and second baseman for the University of Maine-Presque Isle and, according to the NCAA, was the only female playing NCAA baseball in 2014.
Ring begins this with the premise that no matter how good they were, “all the girls who grew up” to play on the 2010 USA Baseball Women’s National team “were told to leave baseball at age twelve and to find another sport. Most obliged. A few refused.”
Ring knew this from some degree of experience. Her daughter, Lilly, was a member of that national team in 2006, ’08 and ’10, “but I knew her story couldn’t possibly be unique,” she writes in the preface.
Encouraged to pursue a book that chronicled the lives of 11 players from the U.S. national women’s baseball team from her 2009 project, “Stolen Bases: Why American Girls Don’t Play Baseball,” Ring diligently does it in a methodical approach that, because of its repetitiveness, nearly loses the affect it may have intended.
These aren’t so much inspirational stories about how each female has endured on an otherwise male-only team, and they are often written too simplistic, as if to be included in a Parade magazine story. It’s likely just a product of the author’s inability to take more than just a clinical approach to each story, considering Ring’s expertise is as a professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Reno.
It’s not as if these “voices” don’t need to be heard. They do. Including on where else maybe they find their niche in sports, if they don’t want to be defined as a baseball player and might, in the growth process, figure out they’re better in other sports.
Like the chapter on shortstop Sarah Gascon, the Rancho Palos Verdes native who somewhat in passing mentions she played for the Eastview Little League in San Pedro. Ring never get around to document what high school Gascon attended (Mary Star, as a three-sport star) before she went on to take a volleyball scholarship at Southeastern Louisiana. Gascon currently is trying to stay with the U.S. Olympic handball team.
If the purpose here is to advance the cause of females in baseball, so that the next time two girls face off in a “boy’s baseball game” somewhere in a large, medium or small town it’s not some odd occurrence, that’s very admirable. But it will take a lot better prose to capture and inspire a generation of young readers who may have to soon decide whether they really want to stay on a baseball path from youth sports to high school and beyond, or simply feel they’re worthy enough to pick a different field of expertise and not default that softball is the only option.
== Daily News staff writer Jill Painter’s piece on the 2011 game between Birmingham and San Marcos in 2011. Compare it to one by the L.A. Times’ Bill Plashke.
== A more compelling piece by John Walters piece for Newsweek last year about how “Baseball Can’t Truly Be America’s Pastime Until It Lets Women Play”
== The link to the U.S. National Women’s Baseball team