Hardball over Becky and baseball

March 25, 1996|By Mike Littwin

THE GAME is over, and the Arundel High School JV baseball team, an easy 13-7 winner in its season opener, is sprinting off the field.

Trotting behind them, trying vainly to keep up, is perhaps the largest media contingent ever to cover a junior varsity game.

"Becky," one reporter shouts, "wait up."

Becky Carlson, 14, a freshman at Arundel High, reserve outfielder and center of controversy, finally stops running. Mainly because her mom says it would be nice if she did.

As the cameramen set up their equipment, Becky turns to her teammates, all male of course, to say: "You guys aren't going to leave me now."

And so, they gather around Becky, whose hair is tucked up under her cap and whose eyes betray her excitement. It has already been quite a day. She plays in her first game. And she holds her first big-media press conference. Not exactly like a trip to the mall.

Among the first questions is this: "Becky, why did you decide to play baseball instead of softball?"

"Softball," comes the answer from one of the guys, "is for girls."

Becky, definitely a girl, laughs. What he means is that softball is not as challenging as baseball. What he means is that it's a game not just for girls but for middle-age men, too. What he means is that it's not for Becky.

"Softball is not baseball," she explains, saying it as if there were nothing more to say.

Maybe there isn't. Softball is not baseball. Cal Ripken doesn't play softball. Neither did Babe Ruth or Willie Mays. Becky doesn't want to play softball, either.

"This is what she wants to do," says her mother, Evelyn Carlson. "She's good enough to make the team, so what's the big deal?"

The big deal is that Anne Arundel County school officials apparently don't want her to play. They've already tried to talk her out of it. This week, they may decide to stop talking and just kick her off the team.

Because she's a girl.

In 1996.

That's the big deal. Normally, this would be one of your feel-good stories. By high school, most girls don't have the physical tools to play baseball with the guys. Becky is an exception. At a school rich in baseball tradition, where they take the game seriously, Becky made the team on merit.

That may not be enough.

At South River High, a girl was told she couldn't even try out for baseball. When she read about Becky, she wanted some answers. Since Anne Arundel officials didn't have any real good answers, they spent 40 minutes on Thursday trying to get Becky to quit. She refused. But now the Arundel coaches, who back Becky, say they fear the decision will go against them.

In Allegany County this year, they've already ruled that one girl who made the varsity baseball team at Flintstone High in Cumberland was an "illegal player."

Yep, that's quite a thing. Instead of rewarding achievement, you crush a kid's dreams. Isn't that what we want from our schools?

The concern, school officials say, is if a girl makes the baseball team, there's nothing to stop boys from playing softball and taking over the sport.

Don't laugh.

In Philadelphia last fall, at a school without an ice hockey team, a boy played field hockey. He even consented to wear the uniform, which, in case you didn't know, is a blouse and a skirt.

The rule apparently is that if there is a comparable sport for both genders, they are to remain separate but equal. The question is whether baseball and softball are comparable. Another question is whether dreams matter as much as rules.

"Becky has a long list at home of differences between baseball and softball," says Evelyn Carlson. "The bats are different. The balls are different. The gloves are different. They throw underhand "

Don't get the idea that Becky's parents are pushing her into this. Her father, Don Carlson, an instructor at the Naval Academy, confesses to mixed emotions.

"I'm supporting her as a dad," he says. "A dad is supposed to support his daughter."

But?

"But," he says, "girls don't play baseball in college."

He thinks Becky could become good enough to play tennis in college, and maybe even get a scholarship. But, he says, it's her choice. Of course, it may not turn out to be.

Don Carlson can't stay for the entire game. He has an appointment and misses Becky's one at-bat. It is something to see. To watch Becky is to know that she's a student of the game.

When she steps up to the plate, she mashes her batting helmet down, just like they do in the big leagues. She taps her cleats with her bat, just like they do in the big leagues. And after working the pitcher to a 3-2 count, she is hit in the back. And this is where you know she's a baseball player: As she heads down to first base, she doesn't rub.

After the game, she's most proud of that. "All I was thinking," she says, "was like don't rub."

It's a baseball thing. If you don't know baseball, you won't understand. If you do know baseball, you know why Becky belongs out there playing.

Pub Date: 3/25/96

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