by Lynn Mills

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SHERMAN OAKS SUN JUNE 9-15, 2006 VOL. 3 NO. 19

A Little League of Their Own

Girls of summer give the boys a run

BY LYNN MILLS

It’s a sunny spring Saturday at Sherman Oaks Little League (SOLL). Games are on, stands are full, and every once in a while, a ponytail pokes out under a cap. Someone will say, “Is that a girl playing?” Invariably they’re told, “Just watch. She’s good.”

For many girls who play in SOLL, this may be their only chance to play organized baseball. Generally girls are steered towards softball and can’t hope for college scholarships on men’s teams. Only a handful of women have ever played in the big leagues, and the last time there was a women’s professional baseball league, Eisenhower was in the White House.

The girls in SOLL play in the moment, purely for the love of the game, and Sherman Oaks is a welcoming place for them.

“From my point of view, I think it’s great having girls in this league,” says SOLL president Dave Schwartz. “I love to see them out there playing and having a great time and competing with boys — and many of them do that very, very well.”

Little League went co-ed in 1974, and it was estimated in 2003 that 100,000 girls were participating in baseball, and 10 had played in the Little League World Series. A flip through yearbooks over the past seven years shows the number of girls at SOLL is generally between 20 and 25.

Schwartz coached a team of eight and nine year old boys with three girls and says it was a pleasure. “I think at that age, they listened more and paid more attention.” In the draft, managers are requested to take multiple girls instead of one whenever possible to make the girls feel comfortable. “And nobody has to be convinced to take girls on their team,” he adds.

The girls are treated like one of the guys, with one exception: in the stands many mothers of opposing team members cheer for the girls, even though they’re playing against their own sons. “I hear them say, ‘Girl power!’ and ‘Show those boys how to play!’” laughs Georgia Huston (just turned 12), a catcher with a low passed-ball percentage, who never shrinks from leaping in the air or diving in the dirt for errant pitches. She and sister Veronica, 9, started playing “t-ball” in kindergarten. They mirror their favorite movie, A League of Their Own, which chronicles two sisters in “The All American Girls Professional Baseball League”

— Georgia is the poised catcher and Veronica is the feisty pitcher with a fierce right arm. Georgia says she enjoys playing with boys because they’re generally more easy-going than girls. “If you have an argument with a boy, the next practice, he’ll be like, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ And we’ll just forget about it.”

The question for girls, especially petite ones, is at what age will the boys’ strength and size overpower even a highly skilled girl? The majority of girls who play in SOLL are in the T-Ball and coach pitch divisions, with a drop-off at the higher levels. SOLL has a Juniors Division for 13 to 15 year olds that play at Encino Little League and thirteen-yearold pitching phenom Marti Sementelli is the only girl who has moved up to Juniors in recent memory.

In Little League, Marti was the strikeout queen, with an uncanny ability to place the ball and psyche out batters (her 500th career strike-out last season was covered by the news media). Despite a bigger field and bigger boys, Marti (at 4’ 10”, 80 lbs.) is proud that she has continued her success in Juniors. Some of the other teams that don’t know her think it’s rally time when she walks out to the mound — until she starts pitching. “When they’re up, they don’t do as well as they talk about doing, and I usually get them out. I like striking out all the boys; that’s a good feeling.” At an age when many baseball-playing girls move to softball, she doesn’t want to switch. “It’s a totally different game. I want to keep playing in Juniors and then maybe play in high school and then keep on forward.”

To Major League Baseball? “Yeah, I’m hoping,” says Marti confidently.

Georgia is also petite, but her fantasy is to play for the Cubs, though she acknowledges that is probably unlikely. She says, “You know how Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier? I want to break the gender barrier.”

However, women’s baseball may be gaining momentum. National organizations such as American Women’s Baseball Federation, Women’s Baseball League, and USA Baseball fi eld women’s teams across the country. There are two women’s leagues in California -- one in San Diego and another in the Bay Area.

Who knows where the girls of summer will end up playing? For now, Sherman Oaks Little League is the place to be...