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I Am Woman. Hear Me Cheer.

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Thoughts on the experience of being a woman and a baseball fan

Miami Marlins v Seattle Mariners

[Ed. note: This is the continuation of our mini-series about women in baseball, in preparation for the upcoming Celebrating Women in Baseball Night next Tuesday at Safeco Field. Earlier this week we shared some more about the event and featured an interview with LL alumna, Meg Rowley. For today I asked staff writer Amanda Lane to write something about her experience as a female baseball fan, and wow did she deliver. Enjoy!]

It was the small details that pulled me in. The way the shortstop and second baseman communicate who will cover second base before each pitch. The way an umpire will slowly brush off home plate to give a catcher time to recover when he has taken a foul tip off his shoulder.

I liked taking trips down to Tacoma to sit right behind home plate while my dad pointed out the different pitches and I fell in love with the 12 to 6 curveball. He would remind me to look at where the outfielders were positioned and how far back on the dirt the infielders stood.

I was drawn to the wider story baseball told. How its history told the history of our country. How it was a reflection of our politics and social change. How it could drive or hinder these things.

I loved that baseball was a game that is as simple or as complicated as you choose to make it. It can be as easy as a pitcher throwing a ball and a batter trying to hit it, turning a lazy afternoon in the bleachers into a spiritual experience. Baseball can be as complicated as the stats we keep inventing to explain it. It can be a long equation and a vigorous debate over strategy that becomes an intellectual exercise.

I like most sports, but baseball, well, baseball is different. It recognized me and I recognized it at a young age. Baseball is my first and truest love. It’s not just something I watch. It’s fundamentally a part of who I am.

It’s just that as a female fan, it often feels like baseball doesn’t love me back.

Baseball itself has no romantic feelings one way or the other. It’s a set of rules, a configuration of a field. It’s a rubber center, wrapped in yarn, covered in leather, and rubbed with a special kind of mud, another small detail I love.

The experience of being a female fan is to constantly need to defend yourself as a real, actual, true fan. It gets so exhausting sometimes.

You show interest in a game on a bar television, or profess to be a baseball fan, and many times a man will narrow his eyes in suspicion and accuse you of only watching to see men in tight pants. Then he will start quizzing you on the infield fly rule and the saves rule and other mundane and obscure trivia. If you pass the test, the reward is a surprised exclamation that you’re not like other girls; you’re cool, you’ve been accepted, you win the prize of Male Approval. Like I said, it can be exhausting.

I admit I played this game for many years. There’s a strange conditioning that can lead you to think you need that Male Approval. Maybe I just got older, maybe I’m just too exhausted to play anymore. Either way, I refuse to make my fandom a demonstrative experience to prove I am a real, actual, true fan.

I want to watch my games and write my words and have my fellow fans argue with me about those games and those words like I’m just a human person who loves baseball. This makes it all the more frustrating when I want to buy a tshirt or a jersey and see only giant man sizes. Or when the only women’s clothing is pink and sparkly with loop doopy fonts. (If you like pink, glitter, and loopy fonts, by all means, wear those proudly! My objection comes from it being the only option because that’s all people think women want.)

It’s infuriating to hear teams and leagues talk about how they need to market to women and respond with diamond digs, enticements of jewelry, and “Girl’s Nights” complete with pedicures and wine, because those are the only things people think appeal to women.

There’s an expectation that if you’re a man, you’re a sports fan. It’s nearly a given that even if a man doesn’t know much about a sport, he knows more than women.

Several years back, I caught an inning of a day game during my lunch break. A coworker walks in and stares at the game while his food is in the microwave. “You can tell a pitcher is good,” he tells me, adopting the posture and tone of a mansplain, “when his pitches are the same speed. It means he’s consistent.”

In hindsight, a Well Actually response would have been satisfying, but he probably wouldn’t have accepted it anyway. I just blinked and nodded, “Uh huh” as he left the room, replete with the satisfaction of imparting (completely and totally incorrect) sports knowledge upon me.

That’s the most dramatic example I’ve experienced, but similar things happens constantly. Exhausting.

In high school I wrote a poem about Fenway Park. We were tasked with writing about a place we had visited, and I waxed poetic about the ghosts of baseball’s past that haunted the field; Ted Williams in the batter’s box, Babe Ruth on the mound, Carlton Fisk waving that home run fair. My teacher was himself a poet and a baseball fan. He was delighted enough by my (terrible) poem that he read it out loud to the class, saying afterword that reading a poem written by a girl about baseball was like a boy writing a poem about cooking.

Oy.

But while he may have thought it was unusual or strange for a girl to like baseball, he never questioned that my fandom was real. He was a Mariners season ticket holder and occasionally gave me his tickets to games he couldn’t attend. I learned quickly enough that I’m no poet, but when the subject matter was baseball I was guaranteed a good grade.

This is why I appreciate the online community of baseball fans that I’ve found. For the most part, Lookout Landing and Mariners Twitter doesn’t question that women are fans. Sure, there’s the stray comment here or there, but generally speaking it’s not a huge issue (or maybe I’ve just done a great job of insulating myself).

I met my husband because of my baseball fandom. Our biggest fight, no joke, was over me rooting for the Rangers in the World Series several years ago. It was touch and go there for a bit, but I’m glad we worked it out because talking and arguing about baseball with him is one of my favorite things to do.

It is possible to find a baseball community that will accept you as a fan. It makes the experience of baseball so much more fun to have people to talk to about it, without the exhaustion of demonstrating and defending your fandom.

I have a daughter who will turn two in less than two months. She has been to four games and has enjoyed them all. She will often bring me the television remote and demand that I turn on baba (I decided the no screen time before age two rule doesn’t apply to sports). She understands a little bit of what she sees and she claps and cheers when a Mariners player gets a hit (and sometimes when an opposing player gets a hit; we’re working on it). Taking her to games is a special experience for me. Baseball is often passed down through the generations, but the enduring image is of a father and a son. I inherited my fandom from my dad. It never occurred to him that I wouldn’t like baseball because I was born a girl. He never questioned my fandom and some of my best childhood memories involve baseball and him teaching me about those small details I had come to love.

He died almost six years ago and taking my daughter to her first game last year was an intensely emotional experience. Her first game was a connection between her, me, and the grandfather who would have been delighted by her interest in baseball.

Maybe she’ll grow up to be a baseball fan. I hope that if she does she won’t have to fight to get to the point where she can just be a fan.

I’m pregnant with her little brother and I already feel the different expectations. “I bet you hope he’ll be a baseball player,” I’ve been asked. “Fingers crossed he’s a lefty,” I’ll joke in return because sometimes it's too exhausting to do anything but joke.

I would be thrilled if both my children become baseball fans. But it’s sad to me that there’s already that expectation of my son that doesn’t exist for my daughter.

Sometimes the things surrounding baseball get me down. The perplexion over how to market to women is especially a downer (Hi, you market to us like we’re baseball fans because we are. Women, they’re just like us!). Misogyny in baseball and among baseball fans persists, as it does in our wider culture.

When it gets overwhelming I take a step back and watch this simple game. I watch a pitcher throw to a batter and I relax into that rhythm. I start to notice the little details that have become familiar companions over the seasons. I start to notice new details. I relax into the game.

That’s when everything is okay.

I’m positive you don’t need to be a woman to understand the power of a simple baseball game.

It’s a special thing to be a baseball fan. I think baseball fans see the world a little differently, and appreciate things a little differently.

I am a woman, sure, but I’m also just a human, devoutly in love with baseball.