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A Game of Their Own: Voices of Contemporary Women in Baseball

A Game of Their Own: Voices of Contemporary Women in Baseball

by Jennifer Ring
A Game of Their Own: Voices of Contemporary Women in Baseball

A Game of Their Own: Voices of Contemporary Women in Baseball

by Jennifer Ring


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In 2010 twenty American women were selected to represent Team USA in the fourth Women’s Baseball World Cup in Caracas, Venezuela; most Americans, however, had no idea such a team even existed. A Game of Their Own chronicles the largely invisible history of women in baseball and offers an account of the 2010 Women’s World Cup tournament. Jennifer Ring includes oral histories of eleven members of the U.S. Women’s National Team, from the moment each player picked up a bat and ball as a young girl to her selection for Team USA. Each story is unique, but they share common themes that will resonate with young female players and fans alike: facing skepticism and taunts from players and parents when taking the batter’s box or the pitcher’s mound, self-doubt, the unceasing pressure to switch to softball, and eventual acceptance by their baseball teammates as they prove themselves as ballplayers. These racially, culturally, and economically diverse players from across the country have ignored the message that their love of the national pastime is “wrong.” Their stories come alive as they recount their battles and most memorable moments playing baseball—the joys of exceeding expectations and the pleasure of honing baseball skills and talent despite the lack of support. With exclusive interviews with players, coaches, and administrators, A Game of Their Own celebrates the U.S. Women’s National Team and the excellence of its remarkable players. In response to the jeer “No girls allowed!” these are powerful stories of optimism, feistiness, and staying true to oneself.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780803269941
Publisher: Nebraska
Publication date: 04/01/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 408
File size: 7 MB

About the Author

Jennifer Ring is a professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Reno. She is the author of Stolen Bases: Why American Girls Don’t Play Baseball.

Read an Excerpt

A Game of Their Own

Voices of Contemporary Women in Baseball

By Jennifer Ring


Copyright © 2015 Jennifer Ring
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8032-6994-1


The Dream and Its Challenges

In August 2010 I accompanied my daughter, Lilly Jacobson, to the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, North Carolina, for tryouts for the women's national baseball team. She had been a member of the 2006 and 2008 teams, achievements that I hoped would calm her nerves about the 2010 tryouts. That maternal wish for calm and confidence was in vain: with each successive tryout Lilly seems to feel that she must prove everything about herself as ballplayer all over again. Anxiety about the tryouts and Lilly's desire to make the Women's National Team for the third time dominated the summer of 2010.

Access to baseball had been a challenge for Lilly since Little League, as it is for most American girls who want to play the national pastime. Not a year went by between Little League and college when Lilly could rely on playing the following season. The availability of a team to play on was so fragile it seemed as though baseball would simply disappear on her. From the time she was twelve years old, adults had been urging her to switch to softball, trying to entice her with visions of the college scholarship to follow high school if she would play the preferred game for girls. But she didn't like softball, and the more she was pressured to drop baseball, the more fiercely she dug in. Her unwillingness to play softball became a matter of principle with her: she would not succumb to cultural pressure, nor be forced out of the game she loved. She was, and would continue to be, a baseball player.

The battle was joined in earnest when she began playing Babe Ruth baseball, the continuation of Little League for children age twelve to fifteen. She went from being the starting first basewoman and a prolific hitter on her Little League team to being a marginalized player who played only the minimum required innings on her Babe Ruth team. The coaches and the players at that middle school level take themselves much more seriously than do those in Little League, believing that their play will prepare them for high school baseball, then college scholarships, and the possibility of professional baseball. The slim statistical likelihood of this career path is no deterrent to the baseball fantasies of even the most mediocre players and their parents. The swaggering environment of boys and their fathers preparing for a future in baseball did not leave much room for "wasting" a place on a team for a girl who was regarded as having no future in the game. One parent volunteered to my husband and me that Lilly "should be playing softball. No girl will play high school baseball in this town as long as I live here." We didn't know if he had the power to make the threat stick, but he probably didn't need to; plenty of people in town agreed with him.

Throughout her youth baseball years, Lilly's goal had been to play high school baseball. This was not a particularly original thought; the majority of her Little League and Babe Ruth teammates shared the same ambition. By the time she showed up as a freshman on the first day of Reno High's fall prep baseball season, it was clear that she faced a tougher battle than the boys did. Reno High School had perennial ambitions of winning the state championship and had the wealthy parental support to provide the best of everything in the way of equipment, facilities, and budget. It was one of the good teams in northern Nevada, but not quite the state powerhouse it aspired to be. Nonetheless, the coach, who had been a star catcher at the same high school and whose son was now on the team, took the team's success seriously, as did the parents whose donations funded it. This school, along with the other wealthy schools in the district, attempted to recruit the "best" players in youth baseball with zoning variances. High school sports is a high-stakes game in the United States, and it does not reflect the spirit of democratic public education my husband and I naively believed in at the time. The four months of daily preseason training throughout the fall were run like a boot camp, until final cuts for the junior varsity (JV) and varsity teams were made in February.

Lilly held her own during the preseason. She was trying out with the same boys she had played baseball with since she was seven years old. She knew that some boys were bigger and stronger than she was, but some were slower and less skilled, and she was confident that she had performed well enough to make the JV squad. To her surprise, as well as that of her teammates, she was cut. Tears of heartbreak and bewilderment streamed down her face as she left the meeting during which the coaches told her she needed to get "bigger, faster, and stronger." She knew that. So did the boys. That's what fourteen-year-old baseball is about. The coach offered no precise measures of evaluation. Although he referred to the "five baseball tools," his evaluation of the players was not objectively quantified. The only Hispanic and Asian boys trying out for the team also failed to make the cut, but with no objective measurements of where they fell short, there was no way to prove that any discrimination had occurred. The coach probably believed he was basing his decisions purely on baseball criteria, with no thought to the players' race or their sex or the size of their parents' donation to the program. It was the first adult betrayal of Lilly's life and was particularly destructive because it was received as an authoritative dismissal of her ability to continue to play and grow in the game she loved more than any other.

For the first time in her life, Lilly did not want to go to school. The implied lesson to Lilly, as well as her classmates and teammates, was either that she wasn't as good a ballplayer as she knew she was or that a girl could be excluded simply because she was a girl. My husband and I refused to validate either message with inaction. We are an academic family, with education a key value, and we never envisioned transferring from a good academic school because of sports. But we began looking for a high school Lilly could transfer to and found one in the district with an academic magnet program.

Wooster High School in Reno is a less well-heeled school than Reno High, with a less well-endowed athletic program. Coach Ron Malcolm welcomed Lilly to baseball practice and tryouts and was grateful that she could contribute to the team. The boys on her new team followed his example. Coach Malcolm was teaching open-mindedness along with baseball. Lilly's three years of high school baseball, one on JV and two on the varsity team, were an unmitigated joy to her. Her teammates became her brothers and best friends at school, and she was respected and admired as the first girl in the state to play varsity boys' baseball. Her baseball skills flourished in the supportive environment. She was a gifted natural hitter — a lefty with a sweet swing — but Malcolm and his assistant coaches recognized her potential as a pitcher and taught her to pitch. During her second season at the school, she earned a spot on varsity as a middle reliever with a nasty curve ball and change-up, which Coach Malcolm used to great effect behind his two heat-throwing starters. Good coaching helped her to become the player she needed to be to compete in high school, validating the concept that teaching, rather than recruiting and parental wealth, has a place in high school sports.

As she was preparing to graduate high school, Lilly was invited to try out for the 2006 USA Baseball Women's National Team. She hadn't know of its existence before Jim Glennie, president of the American Women's Baseball Federation, a man with his fingers on the pulse of women's baseball, emailed her about June tryouts. They were to be held at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, spring training home of Lilly's beloved Oakland Athletics. The invitation was an unimaginable thrill, although Lilly was stunned to see so many other girls at the tryouts who were also accomplished baseball players. She had been so isolated as "the only girl" playing baseball in Nevada that she hadn't been aware of other girls at her skill level. It was the first time she had been on a baseball diamond with other girls. Equally thrilling, and also somewhat intimidating, was the opportunity to play for Coach Julie Croteau, a modern-day women's baseball legend. Lilly made the team and returned from Taipei, Taiwan, with the gold medal they won, ready to attend college.

Lilly chose Vassar College after high school. Vassar's long and celebrated history in women's athletics was certainly in the back of her mind, and it was an added bonus that Vassar had, in 1869, been home to the Resolutes, the first collegiate women's baseball team in the United States. However, her primary attraction to Vassar was academics, as well as the allure of the East Coast to a West Coast native. Reluctant to be defined as "the woman baseball player" from the minute she set foot on the intimate campus, she decided to take a year away from baseball. Her high school baseball years had concluded on such a high note that she preferred to savor the memory rather than shoulder the burden of proving herself all over again with an entirely new men's baseball program. The pressure of being "the only girl on the team" was weighing heavily on her, in spite of her unquenchable love of the game.

Shortly after she received her acceptance letter from Vassar, the coach of the golf team invited her to visit the campus. Lilly had learned to play golf at Wooster High at the urging of the school's athletic director. He wanted her to play a fall sport and suggested either football or golf. She chose the stick and ball game, as usual. She lettered in golf at Wooster (as well as baseball and skiing) but was still a beginner at the game. She was flattered by the opportunity to become a college athlete, but it struck her as odd that she should be invited to try out for a sport about which she knew so little, while collegiate baseball seemed out of reach. She made the Vassar golf team, but by the end of her freshman year in college, it was clear that she missed baseball too much to give it up, no matter what the challenges. She nervously approached the golf coach and told him she had decided to try out for baseball when she returned to Vassar in the fall. He quickly assuaged her fear that she was letting him down and responded with encouragement: "Of course you should try out! After all, this is the home of the Vassar Resolutes!" But Vassar Baseball was no longer for women; it was now a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III men's team. There was no softball team at Vassar, but if there had been, Lilly would not have been interested. She had avoided softball all her life and regarded it as an insult both to her baseball skills and to the game of softball itself to assume that she could simply pick up softball and play at the college level. Baseball was her sport, but always, the challenge was to find a team and the playing time to be able to continue to grow as a player.

Lilly returned to the San Francisco Bay area for a summer job after her Vassar freshman year. She trained intensely all summer for fall Vassar Baseball tryouts, enlisting the help of local junior college coaches for pitching, hitting, and baserunning practice. They invited her to practice with their summer league teams, to ensure that she had access to game time during their scrimmages. She also played on one of the three teams that made up the California Women's Baseball League, organized by Melanie Laspina, who had played women's professional baseball during the brief existence of a league in the 1990s. Laspina had recruited a few serious women ballplayers to the amateur league and also some recreational enthusiasts. Play was good-natured but inconsistent — not an environment for elite training, although Lilly enjoyed being on a baseball diamond every weekend.

Lilly also spent part of the summer in Reno, to continue working with the fitness and baseball coaches who had helped her during high school. She consulted her strength and speed trainer, Rob Conatser, and resumed private batting lessons with her beloved batting coach from the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), Jay Uhlman. She asked Jay to teach her to play outfield. Together they would spend an intense hour in the batting cage early in the morning and then go outside to Peccole Park, the Nevada Wolf Pack's varsity diamond, where Uhlman would hit hundreds of fly balls and teach her the intricacies of tracking a ball off the bat from several hundred feet away. They quit each day only when it was too hot to continue. Finding access to adequate training resources to prepare for men's collegiate baseball at Vassar took two states and many hours on Interstate 80, leveraged around Lilly's full-time work schedule. The hardest challenge was finding a summer team to play on.

Lilly wanted to learn to play the outfield because she was conflicted about pitching. She knew that being a left-handed pitcher gave her the best chance of being needed on a men's team. A pitcher with an accurate arm and good control of off-speed pitches is always an asset, and pitchers are not expected to hit or run well. For a woman seeking a place on a men's team, being a pitcher eliminates the need to be as fast as a man on the base paths and to possess the strength of a man when throwing from the outfield or batting. But as a left-hander who wanted to be an everyday player, the only positions available to Lilly were first base and the outfield. She wasn't as tall as the men who are preferred at first base, but she could work on speed and arm strength to become an outfielder.

Lilly simply enjoyed hitting too much to give it up for pitching. She often remarked that hitting was what she loved most about baseball: both the feel of hitting the ball well and the mental duel of each at bat. Jay Uhlman had taught her to be smart and patient at the plate. She had a great eye for the strike zone, knew which pitch she was looking for in each at bat, and possessed the patience and discipline to wait for it.

Good outfielding is a beautiful skill that appears effortless when it's done right. But that apparently effortless grace requires knowledge of where a pitch is going, the ability to track a ball from the moment it leaves the bat, unhesitating bursts of speed to the right place, and a strong arm. The fielder must recognize immediately where the ball is going, sometimes turn her back on a hit as it leaves the bat hundreds of feet away, sprint to where it's headed, and at the last second, turn back to face the ball, with her glove ready to receive it. Shorter hits require racing full speed toward a pop fly with perfect timing so that the momentum of the run is transferred to the throw to the infield that follows the catch. Or racing in toward a pop fly and diving to get a glove beneath the ball before it touches the ground. Lilly learned to hurl herself, "laid out" and parallel to the ground, to snatch a line drive from its trajectory. She practiced wind sprints and speed drills for outfielding as well as baserunning. She lifted weights and played "long toss" with whomever she could find, to strengthen her throwing arm.

By fall Lilly was ready for everything except the curve ball that life threw her. A week after she had returned to Vassar for her sophomore year, and about a month before Vassar Baseball tryouts, Lilly's father died. She was shocked and devastated as she flew to California for the funeral. She chose to return immediately to Vassar to resume her classes and continue with her quest to make the baseball team, knowing that was what her father would have wanted her to do. Withdrawing from any part of her life would have deepened the depression that plagued her for the rest of the year.

Personal tragedies strike athletes just as they do anybody else and occasionally call for extraordinary emotional fortitude on the eve of the most important contest of their lives. Some athletes choose to carry on rather than withdraw, but many pay a price in terms of performance. Lilly did not want to withdraw from school, or from baseball, even in the midst of her grief. Her life was school and sports, and they seemed to provide the comfort zone she would need to begin healing from her loss. She immersed herself in her studies, continued to excel in her classes, and resumed training with the baseball team. After a month of fall practice and scrimmaging, baseball cuts were made, and she survived; she was the first woman to play NCAA baseball in over two decades. But unbeknownst to her, she had been playing on an undiagnosed stress fracture in her foot. She had been fast enough to make the team while ignoring constant pain. Only when she returned home to Nevada for winter break did Rob Conatser, her strength and speed trainer, notice something amiss and send her to an orthopedic clinic for X-rays. A stress fracture had turned into a regular fracture and then begun to heal itself. The orthopedist in Reno fitted Lilly for a boot, which she would have to wear for about six weeks.


Excerpted from A Game of Their Own by Jennifer Ring. Copyright © 2015 Jennifer Ring. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


List of Illustrations,
Part 1. Baseball and American Women,
1. The Dream and Its Challenges,
2. Cary, 2010,
3. From Cary to Caracas,
Part 2. The Veterans,
4. Tamara Holmes,
5. Donna Mills,
6. Jenny Dalton Hill,
Part 3. Softball and Baseball Players,
7. Tara Harbert,
8. Veronica Alvarez,
9. Sarah Gascon,
10. Jenna Marston,
Part 4. Baseball Girls,
11. Malaika Underwood,
12. Marti Sementelli,
13. Lilly Jacobson,
14. Meggie Meidlinger,
Part 5. Gender Segregation, Equality, and Women's Baseball,
15. America's Team,
16. Grassroots Women's Baseball,
17. USA Baseball,
Appendix A: Player Interview Questions,
Appendix B: USA Baseball Women's National Team Rosters and Current Women's,
Baseball Leagues and Teams in the United States,
Suggestions for Further Reading,

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