Even if you're not a big sports fan (or, if your only frame of reference is our guide to understanding a red-hot basketball team), you probably noticed by the news frenzy over the weekend that the Sonoma Stompers, a minor-league baseball team in Sonoma, California, now counts among its roster two women. The announcement was certainly exciting: with the exception of one-off players (like Ila Borders and Eri Yoshida), there hasn't been a truly co-ed professional baseball team in the U.S., with multiple women on the field, since the 1950s Negro League.
And it was all true, especially when I thought about how, in the year 2016, I am in literal awe that such a thing hasn't happened. I go to a lot of baseball games. I take my daughter, in fact, to a lot of baseball games. But I still found it crazy that even at the independent level of baseball that's home to the teeny-tiny Sonoma Stompers, there'd been no professional team willing to sign two women.
So, clutching our baseball caps and second-row tickets, I drove my six-year-old daughter to Friday night's historic game in Sonoma. And what I discovered was a mood and atmosphere that surprised me.
Yes, as expected, it was a mini-frenzy. From the start, the parking lot was packed, with a long line of people waiting to get in. Some took pictures of the posted starting lineup, showing Kelsie Whitmore in left field and Stacey Piaga on the mound. Inside, a swarm of news cameras, notebooks and microphones buzzed around the small grandstand. We found our seats. A woman walked by us and asked, to no one in particular, "Is there anyone else too excited to even handle this game?!"
And I admit, it got to me. During the national anthem, sung by a small-town local, I thought about how actually proud I was to be a baseball fan in America, where society evolves and rules change, and where gender equality becomes more and more of a (slow, gradual) reality. But it really walloped me when I looked down and my daughter was drawing a picture in her notebook of Stacey Piagno holding a baseball bat.
I thought about all the times she and I have played baseball together on our front lawn. All the times I've told her she can do anything she sets her mind to. And then, about all the times I'd taken her to Major League Baseball games, where she never saw herself reflected anywhere on the field, except maybe as a ballgirl. How actually, I'd been lying to her, and she couldn't do anything she set her mind to, because there was no place for her on the field.
Her small little drawing, with the caption "Go Stacie Go!," said otherwise. The announcer, who introduced Piagno through a crackling P.A. speaker, said otherwise. Piagno and Whitmore took to the field with the rest of the team, and Piagno's first pitch was a strike, and the place went bananas.
And then? Here's where the surprising part comes in: it suddenly felt like the most simple thing in the world. As the teams went through their familiar motions, and the age-old game proceeded, having two women on the field wasn't exotic, or foreign, or cute, or novel, or grandiose, or even particularly thrilling.
It was just normal, the way it should be.
The kids carrying "Girl Power" signs sat and watched the game with their folks. The local girls' softball team waited in line for hot dogs. A guy near me muttered "good curveball." Eventually, the visiting team stranded a runner with a pop fly -- to Whitmore in left -- and the mood in the stands seemed more "Whew, we got out of that inning" than "Goshalmighty wow there's girls on that there field!"
You can read how the rest of the game went -- Piagno got pulled in the top of the third, Whitmore walked once and struck out once, and the Stompers lost. It wasn't the type of debut that makes for an exciting story.
But realistically, how often is societal change like a Hollywood movie? It doesn't always look like a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth. Most of the time, it just looks like a fielder tucking her long hair under her ballcap, or a pitcher signing autographs for young women who've been told they "throw like a girl" their whole life.
And sometimes? It looks like my daughter asking on the drive back if we could play baseball in the front yard when we got home.