Girl makes break on base paths Arundel's Carlson is 1st Md. female on JV baseball team

March 20, 1996|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,SUN STAFF

Becky Carlson lifts her Arundel High baseball cap, tosses her hair and ponders the question: Why play baseball is this a gender thing, or what?

She drills it as she would a hanging curve.

"This is not about me being a girl and trying out for a boys sport," Carlson says. "It's about me being an athlete and trying out for the sport I love to play."

And she puts the cap back on to stay.

Carlson, 14, has made her school's JV baseball team the first girl in Maryland to do so and will suit up Friday in Arundel's opener against visiting Calvert Hall. A reserve outfielder, she earned a berth on a club steeped in baseball lore: Arundel, defending Maryland Class 4A champion, owns a record seven state titles.

"We've had girls interested [in playing baseball] in the past, but Becky really did it," says Bernie Walter, Arundel's varsity coach of 23 years. "She doesn't expect special treatment, doesn't need any. Physically, she's done better than some boys out there."

Coaches are impressed with Carlson's gritty play, the headfirst slides and diving catches.

"Tough kid, hard-nosed, solid," Jeff Lloyd, Arundel's assistant coach, says of the 5-foot-7, 130-pound freshman. "If her hair is tucked under her hat, you'd never expect she was female."

Jeff Karr, her JV coach and one-time New York Mets farmhand, touts Carlson's spunk and calls her "one of the guys."

So do the guys. "She can hang with any of the boys on this team," says pitcher Ryan Frostbutter, one of several Wildcats who has played beside Carlson in summer-league games.

You thought her tryout was a whim? Carlson's baseball career began at age 7, on a coed T-ball team. By 10, she was batting fifth in her Little League lineup.

At 13, she played left field for Gambrills Athletic Club and made a diving catch of a scorching line drive in the Continental Amateur Baseball Association Championships in Oklahoma.

"Nice catch, girl!" the other team hollered as Carlson trotted back to her position. "I try not to grin after doing something good," she says. "I just put my head down and smile to myself."

Last summer, she made Gambrills' Babe Ruth team and pitched two shutout innings in a state tournament game.

"The hitters were as scared as I was, because they didn't want to get struck out by a girl," she says. One batter did just that, striking out on a curve. Then he slammed his bat to the ground and shouted, "That's it I quit."

Her smile was hard to suppress that day, Carlson says.

Baseball is her favorite sport, not her best one. Arundel's tennis team made a hard pitch for Carlson, a state 12-and-under champion. Her siblings, Andrew and Lindsay, are reigning Maryland high school doubles champs.

"Nobody [at Arundel] took my baseball tryout seriously until I went out on the field," Carlson says. "The tennis kids said, 'Oh, give it up. Tennis is your sport.' "

She disagrees, for now. But Carlson realizes her baseball days may be numbered. "As I get older, the guys on my teams get stronger, and I drop further in the lineup. It's disappointing," she says.

"But I love this game. And if I work hard . . . making varsity would be, like, a dream."

So far, she's had plenty of support on and off the field.

"The guys on the team have been great," she says. "The girls at school are all cool with it, too. Everything I've heard has been positive."

Come Friday, however, Carlson can expect to hear hoots from opposing players, her teammates say.

"I guarantee she'll take some flak," JV pitcher Austin Decker says. "There are teams that don't like Arundel at all, and they'll target Becky. But she's got a great support system; we can heckle with the best."

Not that she needs any help, says Decker.

"If not for her heart, Becky wouldn't be here now."

Pub Date: 3/20/96

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