Monday, August 9, 2021

Bat Girl

 It was 1985, and I was a 14 year old Tigers fan, fresh off the high of winning the World Series.  I had a half-baked scheme to become a bat girl for the club.  Living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, logistical difficulties didn’t seem to trouble my young teen brain.  I figured I’d move in with my grandparents in Livonia for the summer, and make them drive me to the ballpark for games.  Thoughtful girl.  Turns out, fretting about living arrangements and rides would not be necessary.


I penned a letter to the Tigers, asking to be considered for a bat girl position.  I can’t remember all of the content, but I’d wager my 401K that there was at least one mention of Kirk Gibson in there.  He had become my Tiger long before the Who’s Your Tiger campaign was conceived.


During the summer of 1983, I was visiting my cousins in Farmington.  One day, my aunt and uncle announced we’d be going to a Tigers game.  We all packed into the car and drove downtown to the corner of Michigan and Trumbull.  It was the picture perfect day for baseball—warm, but not withering, and sunny.


I had never been to an MLB game before that day, had never really been interested in baseball.  I spent most of my sport watching on Lions football and University of Michigan basketball.  My fourth grade teacher Bill Emblom loved baseball.  It was mostly lost on me, but I do remember him putting up in huge letters around the top of the classroom  “We Miss You Roberto Clemente,” and making us sing the Carl Yaztremski song.  He also gave out baseball cards to those he deemed worthy, and I never made the cut.  I remember him saying something to the effect that he knew I didn’t value it enough.  He also said basketball was a dumb sport—"throwing a ball of air through a hole in the sky.”


I can’t explain it, but being at the ball park that day, I instantly fell in love with baseball.  I don’t remember the opponent or the score, but I remember loving everything about being there—sights, sounds, smells and snacks.  And Kirk Harold Gibson.   


1983 was the perfect time to become a Tigers fan.  In 1984, I began the year with a small sheet of paper tucked in my bedroom mirror.  I started keeping tally marks in W and L columns.  Imagine even a novice fan’s delight to see 35 marks in the W column to only 5 on the L side.  Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey were my voices of summer.  I lived in the sticks, even by UP standards, and we couldn’t get cable.  The radio was my lifeline to live baseball action.  Many nights, on west coast trips after everyone else had gone to sleep, I’d sit in the darkened living room with cool night air wafting in the windows, while the game played on my parents’ stereo.  Other times, I’d fall asleep listening to the game on my bedside pink clock radio.


I went to at least one game in person during the 1984, but of course, no playoff games, and definitely not the World Series.  I watched from afar, but had the time of my life, never thinking that the club wouldn’t make it back again until 2006.  The thought was so far from my mind that I enjoyed the whole run without a hint of anxiety.


Back to 1985.  I studied the paper religiously, learning every players name.  Chester Earl Lemon particularly sticks out in my memory.  Definitely a young teen—middle names were important.  Our driveway was a quarter mile long.  I walked out to the box, put my letter in, and raised the flag.  Now to wait.


I have to say that I did not expect the answer I received from Dan Ewald.  The linen paper with a watermark and Tiger logo felt expensive in my hands, but the words infuriated me.  “At the present time the stadium does not plan to employ females as bat boys.”  My fury was swift.  I penned a scathing reply as fast as the pen would move.  The jist of my rage was that I could do just as good a job as any boy, and how wrong they were for denying me based on my gender.  Far from calling myself a feminist at the time, the injustice still wrought me into an indignant and righteous fervor.  Looking back, the irony of the letter is that my stationary at the time was purple paper with tiny purple hearts arranged in neat rows.  The message couldn’t have been further from the presentation.


My injured ego suffered, but my fandom did not.  I didn’t stop loving the Tigers at all.  I didn’t boycott them or stop listening to games.  Far from it.  At some point, I had convinced my kid sister that Kirk Gibson wanted me to marry him.


Fast forward to 2021.  One evening, scrolling through twitter, I read about a woman in New York named Gwen Goldman, who had applied to be a bat girl 60 years ago, rejected for being female.  Her daughter had written to the Yankees and asked them to make things right.  They obliged and Gwen became honorary bat girl for a night, with the red carpet treatment, throwing out the first pitch, taking out the lineup card and rubbing elbows with current players.  Reading the story brought all my memories and wounded feelings back and I instantly quote-tweeted the story at the Tigers, stating my own similar experience 20 years after Gwen’s.  I never expected anything to come of it, but several people with a lot more followers than I have picked it up and asked the Tigers to act.  The club tweeted to me that they would be in touch and want to make things right.  Childhood dreams sometimes do come true.

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