Social media has introduced the baseball world to Lilli Martineau, the 15-year-old girl you don’t want to face on the diamond
There’s nothing like a beautiful left-handed baseball swing. Watch 15-year-old Lillian Martineau swing a bat and one word comes to mind: ballplayer. Lilli’s story is as old and American as apple pie: baseball, triumph over adversity, and a skosh of gender bias. Hers is a story also patently modern. Aside from bucking antiquated gender conventions, the power of social media has garnered Martineau some lofty mentors and a devoted following.
“Baseball for All put out an Instagram post about this girl who saw videos of me hitting in my garage and then she made a similar set up in her garage,” Lilli recalled. “It is really awesome to see girls want to play baseball and feel more confident in themselves because of my videos.”
As the bleakness of winter (this year more than any) blooms into the eternal hope of spring, the American pastime assuredly beckons. The chorus of baseball idioms bellowed on diamonds throughout the country, in states red and blue, cities and towns Atlantic to Pacific symbolize the birth of springtime. This time last year the absence of that centuries-old sacrament from schoolyards to stadia epitomized the abyss left by the pandemic. Once again that melodious crack of the bat and cries of “I got it!” can be heard on fields big and small. Baseball, one of the scant ties that still bind a fractious nation predates the freedom of Blacks and the enfranchisement of women. Jackie Robinson integrated the game, but aside from a few trailblazers, most of those voices have heretofore been male. Gender discrimination still pervades the national game; baseball is, after all, America’s cultural touchstone. Don’t tell Martineau that. Though enlightened and engaged, like any other ballplayer Lilli is more concerned with her exit velocity and spin rate than gender paradigms.
The 5’8” sophomore, who lives in a Central-Connecticut suburb tucked in between New Haven and Hartford, the Mason-Dixon line for Red Sox-Yankees country (unless you’re a Mets fan like the Martineaus), took part in a seemingly mundane ritual, duplicated by millions across the nation — baseball tryouts. From MLB Spring Training to Little League, it is a benchmark central to the American pastime. Amongst a preserve previously earmarked for the boys, Lillian feels right at home as she prepares a season on the diamond with the Lewis S. Mills High School Spartans. As denoted on the front of her shirt, she is every bit the Spartan warrior.
Imbued with confidence integral to the success of a ballplayer, Martineau paused for just a moment when she was ready to embark upon her first high school tryout. Lilli wanted to change her jersey. Without her last name emblazoned her back a coach might mistake her on the field. It didn’t occur to Martineau that the lock of blond hair flowing from her baseball cap might alone render Lilli a bit conspicuous.
While others might see only her gender, her teammates, and crucially Lilli doesn’t see herself as anything but a ballplayer. Her travel teammates concur. “Lilli’s work ethic is second to none; she makes everyone better,” said 15-year-old SS Ryan Wheeler, Lilli’s teammate with the L7’s Travel Baseball Team.
“She fills a leadership role. Playing with her is like playing with anyone else. It doesn’t matter that she’s a girl — she’s probably better than most of the kids on our team.”
“I think Lilli can shoot for any goal that she wants and if she puts hard work in,” her hitting coach observed. “I think she has a chance to do some really great things as a female competing in a male sport.”
Women have been playing baseball as long as the game has been in existence, and for about as long, have been told that the baseball diamond is the orbit of men, women need not apply. Lillian was told the same when in seventh grade, armed with a skill set and work ethic that would make any coach salivate, that she didn’t belong simply because she was a girl.
After grammar school, most girls, even Melissa “Missy” Coombes, the former left-handed hurler who garnered headlines in the mid-1990’s as ace of the most prominent female baseball team since the AAGPBL, are tracked toward softball.
“My dad didn’t want me to try out for my high school baseball team,” remembers Coombes who notes she struck out eight in her final youth league start. “He had good intentions for me, but he looked at it that maybe I should start playing softball because I could get a college scholarship… It was a difficult transition, the hardest time of my life. I left the game I loved. I didn’t understand. I was such a good baseball player why I was playing softball?”
“They’re two different sports…they really are,” said Lilli. “They’re both great but there too different sports. As her hitting coach noted, if she took up softball, every recruiter in the country would be blowing up her phone faster than a silver bullet. Lilli could not care less. She is a baseball player.
March 8, 2018 was a red-letter-day for every young ballplayer in the towns of Harwinton and Burlington, CT; the first day of tryouts for the Har-Bur middle school baseball team. It also happened to be International Women’s Day. Lilli, a seventh-grader, then 12, anxiously awaited her first proper interscholastic baseball tryout. Set to deliver a speech on diversity and leadership, a mother’s instincts proved correct. “A couple of weeks before tryouts,” remembers Katie Martineau, “I had said to both Lillian and [my husband] Chad: ‘Do you think we should call the school and let them know Lilli trying out for baseball,’ — right away Lilli was mad at me, it didn’t cross her mind there would be an issue, she just doesn’t want to be separated.”
Just as social media brought Lillian’s story to you and fostered the incredible network of support she now enjoys, it also can stir the proverbial pot. Katie had seen the tepid whispers of narrowness on Facebook. Lilli had also been, like female ballplayers before, the subject of derision. One wouldn’t know that when they speak to the confident self-assured teenager, who asks for no quarter on the field and wants for none.
Lilli thought all would be well, after all, she just wanted a shot to make the team; sink or swim on the merits of her bat.
“I kind of let it go, but I just had this instinct, I don’t know about this and I started hearing little rumblings that there were parents definitely not thrilled with the thought of her trying out.”
Whispers abound, they talked about the backlash as a family.
“We told her hey, this is stuff you’re gonna kind of have to deal with,” remembers her father Chad. “People get upset when things are different. Don’t let it bother you. She doesn’t.”
The cauldron of anonymous chatter and petty rumor bubbled to the surface when Lilli performed the most mundane of school-time sporting rituals. She walked over to the bulletin board (yes, boomers, they still have those) next to the middle school gym and placed her name alongside those endeavoring to try out for the baseball team.
Straightaway, perplexingly, Lillian was called into the nurse’s office.
There an adult, charged with caring for children walked over to Lilli, looked into her young eyes, and told her “no.” In one fell swoop, an adult had the audacity to crush a young girl’s dream, one that she had worked for her entire life.
Nonchalantly, in her soft soprano tone, she recollected:
“It all worked out in the end.”
At twelve Lilli wasn’t yet given access to social media. Her parents were privy to the online vitriol that spiraled into a fevered protest where fathers — and mothers — of seventh-graders espoused the many reasons why it would be damaging to their children for a 12-year-old girl to play middle school baseball with their sons. They attempted to shield their daughter from the worst of it.
When Lilli’s father picked her up from school at day’s end, the blond tween with the stoicism of a 10-and-5 veteran finally broke down when she stepped into his car with tears in her eyes. “She is not a crier,” said Chad. “I was like, dude, what’s going on?”
For those concerned with gendered labels, Lilli’s younger sister Brooke walked past Dad while he was conducting this interview. “Hey, buddy,” could be heard in the background.
Lilli told her father what had happened:
“The Nurse told me I couldn’t play baseball.”
“Her father was bemused, her mother, an executive who has experienced her own version of sexism in the banking world, was less shocked by the incident itself, but equally taken aback by the manner it was handled.
“The school could’ve called us,” Katie reflected.
It seemed parents, worried that she might take one of the coveted spots available on the school baseball team, voiced their concerns to the district. If she wasn’t good enough, so be it; but she was. The erstwhile school administration must’ve forgotten what year it was and concurred Lilli should play with the girls. Lillian was temporarily barred from trying out for the school baseball team. Lilli was, however, “welcome” to play softball. (Brooke, now 12, as was Lilli then, it should be noted, plays softball by choice.)
“At first I was pretty upset by it,” remembered Lillian, “there shouldn’t be a problem with me trying out — I knew I deserved to at least try out. It was just unsettling…what could I do about it? I’m not going to go up to someone’s parents (the gregarious teenager giggled as if she might’ve wanted to) and tell them they shouldn’t say that.”
Lillian’s parents got on the phone with a lawyer, then marched up to the superintendent’s office alone to advocate for their despondent daughter.
“I said my daughter can play; people know her in this town,” recalled Chad, a veteran, and retired police officer. “What you’re doing is nuts. I have 10–15 girls that play sports over my house every weekend. What do you want me to tell them, they’re not welcome in your school anymore? Think about what you’re doing.”
The school was having none of it. Lillian was a girl, there was a softball team. She was free to try out for it. Baseball was the providence of boys.
“Too many girls are being told they can’t play baseball just because they are girls. It’s an uphill battle. Lilly represents thousands of girls who want to continue to play baseball and represent their school,” explained Justine Siegal of Baseball for All, founded to address the baseball gender chasm, one of the starkest in sport.
Soon, Superintendents were calling lawyers, both the tenants and spirit of Title IX were being invoked, and Lillian, who just wanted to play ball, was garnering unwanted tribulation for loving the game of baseball.
“Girls are being told in certain schools they can’t play because of their gender. It’s just some adults’ opinion — and that really starts early on.
“Adults are the gatekeeper to the field. Often the boys just want the best players on the field. We’re seeing too many adults write rules in their handbooks or simply tell them they cannot play, ”added Siegal, the first female coach employed by MLB.
After a heated exchange, an age-old battle over gender discrimination in sport loomed. The Martineaus weren’t looking for a protracted legal dispute, only for their daughter to play ball. While Lillian had her first taste of gender bias, her parents tried to protect her from the nitty-gritty of strident administrators, stubborn parents, and looming legal battles.
“Who the hell is going to tell any kid, before they’re sixteen, what they can or can’t do? We don’t believe in that,” said Chad, who immediately extolled the virtues of his wife Katie. “We’re always positive with both of our daughters.”
She views herself like another just another player,” said Katie, “We didn’t want to have that totally taken away from her — we didn’t want her confidence taken down a notch.”
“She’s got a great support system,” said her coach Glenn Katz, “Her family is great; how they support her and their thought process behind it is ideal for what she is trying to accomplish — go at this 100-percent until you’re told it doesn’t work anymore. Give it all you’ve got. Lilli is very good at handling things because that’s her mindset.”
Despite pressure from without, after like-minded community allies flooded the school with emails and a bit of jurisprudence, the former superintendent quickly changed course after the Martineaus persistence. Lilli was able to attend her first tryout. Prospective baseball players in private schools, it should be noted, are offered no such guarantees. Even when girls do play baseball, they are often subjected to subtler forms of bias to marginalize them, whether it is riding the proverbial pine, as the idiom goes, or being cut on the pretense of ability. All was well with Lillian’s interscholastic entrée under one condition: a mutually agreed-upon third-party would observe the tryout.
“Parents have a huge role in the success of their kids and helping to keep them grounded through the adversity,” said Coombes. “Obstacles come your way, that’s part of life. When there’s a will and you want something bad enough, you’ll find a way.”
Lillian knew she could hack it, her travel teammates knew they could hack it; the decision as to whether she could cut it with the guys was, in the end, all up to Lilli’s right arm and left-handed swing: “In the end, I was able to try out and made the team.”
“I think just the adversity that she’s faced is just going to help continue to build character and you know give her resilience and what I like to call grit,” Lillian’s mother added. “It’s all about our perception. With an adverse situation, you could look at it from a ‘poor me’ perspective or pull yourself up from the bootstraps and look at the silver lining in the lessons learned.”
There were times when one of the boys would make a play and you would hear cheers; Lillian would make a play and parents wouldn’t even clap. Former MLB second baseman and father of three Jeff Frye echoed a common theme — kids are seldom the problem, it’s usually the parents.
As Siegal, a 3B/P in high school and college despite much discouragement, lamented: “Girls are being told in certain schools [they can’t play] because of their gender. It’s just some adult’s opinion — and that really starts early on.”
“People will say a girl can’t play — not all boys can play either. Allow someone to be evaluated by their merit,” said Coombes. “That’s what’s great about Lilli’s generation — adults make these comments about gender and race and ethnicity — but young kids today, a lot of them, don’t see that and they kind of don’t understand what the big deal is.”
“It’s a different world now,” said Jeff Frye, who had a ten-year MLB career. “Why should girls be discouraged from playing boys’ sports. It’s not really accepted by a lot of people, but I have an open mind, if a high school girl is playing baseball and has a dream, why can’t she pursue her dream? I don’t think there should be any restrictions. I am a firm believer that if you put your mind to something you can achieve it. I don’t think [girls] should have to play softball.”
Three years later she is just one of the guys. District 10 now has a new superintendent. Lillian enjoys a bevy of support and fits in well with her teammates. This year it seemed of no great consequence that Lilli was trying out for the Mills baseball team.
“I played with girls growing up, though it’s not everywhere all the time that’s a bridge that’s been crossed.” said current District 10 Superintendent Howard Thiery. “I’m excited for Lilli.”
Like many young boys and girls, Lilli developed an innate love for the national pastime playing catch with her father and watching the New York Mets, her favorite team (well-chosen) on television.
“This kid was infatuated with baseball, man, like early,” Lilli’s father Chad explains. “The Mets really weren’t putting together good teams besides Wright and Reyes; most of us we’re changing the game in the sixth inning. This kid would just sit there and watch the full game; just watch…That was like her Cartoon Network.”
“Her Dad is a big piece of why she is where she is,” said Coombes, whose maternal influence echoed Lilli’s. “Without my Dad taking to time to get the extra work in there’s no way I’d have been where I was.”
“Well, I mean just like anybody else really, I just played t-ball and then I played Little League and then I kind of decided to stick with it,” remembers Lilli, who recalls that friend switched to softball. “I’m just going to stick with baseball it’s what I know, and I just went from there.”
Along with middle-school baseball, Lilli played on multiple travel teams, including Team Connecticut Baseball, of George Springer and Matt Barnes fame, and threw a one-hitter on the mound. Her current travel team, comprised of (mostly) boys throughout Connecticut is the L7’s. Lilli’s team has faired well against 18-and-under competition and she’s been able to attend local showcases. The left-handed batter who throws right-handed now plays first and pitches, featuring a 71-mph 4-seam fastball, circle change, and knuckle curve. Rich Brereton who currently pitches for Duke recommended Lilli to hitting-coach Glenn Katz two-years-ago, who has since been working with her on hitting and strength to generate maximum power from her still-growing 135-pound frame.
“She came down one day and that was it,” said Katz, who opened IST Sports Headquarters 20-years-ago after a season in the Rays MiLB system. “My first perception of Lily was, she’s extremely coachable. I had no thought in my mind that she wouldn’t make adjustments and be able to excel and pursue whatever she’s looking to accomplish because of her work ethic and her personality. The skillset was there, as long as she wanted to work, I knew we could mold her into a more elite player, from her want to be that.”
Though she smashed the initial glass roadblock in her midst, it ought not to be lost that every time Lilli steps out onto the field, she is under a microscope. Teammates only care whether the person beside them on the diamond can play. Gender is often an issue for those watching rather than those on the field, especially when she Lilli was younger.
“There is so much pressure on her, anytime she does something,” Lilli’s father observed. “A boy makes an error, ‘well that’s common, you know they’re supposed to, right?’ Everyone is supposed to, that’s why they keep track of it, but when she makes an error ‘I told you girls shouldn’t be playing you know look at her she sucks.’ When a kid 0–3 with three strikeouts, no big deal, the boy gets in the car and they just go get ice cream after. When you’re the girl on the team and you go 0–3 it’s ‘I told you!’ It’s different.”
“Every time Lilli walks onto the field people are wondering whether she is good enough,” explained Siegal, “And no boy has to walk on the field and hear who’s that boy, is he good enough?”
Said Coombes: “when you are the girl playing…you know failure is not an option.”
“It’s always a little bit nerving at the beginning of the game because the other team probably hasn’t played against a girl in baseball before so it’s a little bit different,” Lilli confessed. “If I make it the team that I’m playing for, I made it for a reason. There’s definitely more attention on me because I’m the only girl on the field most of the time.”
Not yet old enough to drive herself to practice, Lilli’s experience has rendered her with resilience far exceeding that of an average teenager. Anyone who has been to high school knows that each one is its own little hormone-laden biosphere of humanity replete with the tension of a pressure cooker in the most ideal of circumstances. As many observe, baseball often serves as a metaphor for life. Lilli, a popular and well-adjusted adolescent operates in that daily milieu while playing two sports and practicing daily, a mere glimpse to which her many followers are privy.
“Yeah,” beamed her teammate Wheeler when asked if she was as tough as the guys, “She never gets put down — definitely a fighter. She’s out there to prove her point that a girl can play baseball. It’s incredible to watch.”
“My experience has definitely been able to make me a more outgoing person. I think I’m more comfortable with myself and pressure situations,” explained Lilli. “You do get used to it, I mean the pressure is still always there but it becomes easier to deal with it and get back into a good mental state.
“I have to be a little bit more outgoing than some of [the people I play with], just so that they get to know me and realize that I’m just like one of them — I mean obviously not just like one of them (she interjected with a giggle), but I’m just another teammate. Me being a little bit more outgoing and them realizing that I’m just there to be a good teammate and play baseball helps everyone get more comfortable with me being on the team.”
The affirmation Lilli receives on social media (combined with that Katie, Glenn Chad, and others instill) has also helped imbue her with confidence and render the occasional naysayer voiceless. Unlike most, Lilli’s foray onto the online mélange that is social media was not motivated by the vainglorious search for esteem that saturates most feeds. It occurred it could harness attention from recruiters and serve as a forum for guidance. Martineau has piqued the interest of coaches around the country by posting videos on Twitter (@lillian_martineau)and Instagram (@lillian_baseball) of her picture-perfect swing, quick-to-the-ball with a patented left-handed follow-through that harkens a natural batswoman. Lilli notes among the first to notice a kindred spirit and reach out was Missy Coombes.
“We’re Twitter friends from a distance and obviously I’m a big fan,” Coombes, pitcher, coach, teacher, and mother, avers. “Specifically, I remember it was a tweet that she put out of her pitching…she has really solid mechanics and she’s working on a few things. I commented, she responded to my comment on her tweet and that was where it all started.”
Coombes, probably the first female pitcher many digitally savvy users remember, was not alone. Her social media posts have motivated men and women, young and old; especially younger girls, something that has given her inspiration.
“Honestly just go for it,” Lilli exclaims. “You know you can achieve so much more than you think you can. I know a lot of people say that but it’s really true. Once you set goals for yourself and even if they’re a little bit ambitious, just go for it and you work hard it’s gonna happen.”
Lilli’s fervent desire to improve along with the anthology of videos that critique her performance has elicited advice from many in the baseball community and an ever-growing fanbase, the process by which yours truly found this amazing young woman. She shared a video of herself barreling up pitch-after-pitch in her garage-turned batting cage, then tweeted a postscript on her feed.
Jeff Frye’s, @03jFrye, humorous but unvarnished Twitter posts that eviscerate YouTube hitting gurus couldn’t help but attract the young woman with the sweet swing who also caught his attention. Lilli’s parents monitor her accounts but are happy with her newfound fame and cadre of accomplished support. Despite his rub-some-dirt-on-it old-school exterior, Frye, like Missy espouses old-school fundamentals and modern innovation, as evinced in his #Shegone podcast, of which Lilli is a big fan.
“I did not expect to hear from these people from my little baseball Twitter account, but it was great,” beamed Lillie “I mean, obviously, Jeff gives awesome advice on his Twitter feed with #shegone nation — swing tips, being game ready…because he contacted me other people were able to reach out to me so that was that was great.”
“I think Lilli is very unique, she is not the only young lady doing this,” said Frye. “She is not settling; she doesn’t expect any special treatment because she is a girl — she is going to go out there and earn her spot.”
Frye, about Lilli’s height and 30-pounds heavier than her at 165-pounds when he was drafted, was a.290 career hitter who spent a decade as an infielder with four-MLB teams including Texas and Boston where he was a progenitor of the super-utility player, hitting .312 in 1997 while spending a bit of time in Ted Williams’ old LF haunts in front of Fenway’s Green Monster.
Frye’s career underscores the adage that one need not be built like Pete Alonso or Mike Trout and hit the ball 800-feet to be successful in the game of baseball, something to which Coombes and Siegal can attest.
Lilli and her inner circle don’t eschew the biological differences between full-grown men and women. They acknowledge that while it can be done, it is an exercise in perseverance and dedication to compete with men on the field. Each Sunday the Martineaus trek over an hour each way to Norwich, CT so Katz, who played at the University of Connecticut, can tweak her ever-evolving swing and help her overcome any physiological strength disparity at his state-of-the-art facility that has churned out multiple blue-chip prospects.
“With Lilli, I am very honest because I know she can handle it,” said Katz, who often points to himself as a prototype of her potential competition as she ages. “The reality is that she’s competing against males. In the world of sports, there is a reason why usually there are male sports and female sports, generally, males are a little bit stronger. I’m just very honest with her, she handles it very well and puts the work in.”
“I go to the gym, I work out a lot I train I hit, do it as much if not more than the people I’m competing against, that’s what closes the gap a little a bit, they’re working hard I got to work just a little bit harder to make sure that natural advantage is a little bit less.”
Earnest as Lilli is to improve as a ballplayer, while more-and-more aspiring athletes become tethered to one sport, Martineau doesn’t just play baseball. The Spartans will move into a more difficult division with tougher competition next season, something that Lilli is eager to face. A natural athlete, she already earned a varsity letter in basketball as the starting Power Forward for the Spartans. She plans on playing both sports throughout high school, quickly asserts that in the sporting arena it’s hardball above all-else. She uses the agility and athleticism of germane to hoops to cultivate her skills on the diamond.
“When I’m out [on the court], I look the same as everyone else, there’s nothing to worry about,” Lilli explained. “The team environment is the same for each sport. We’re a team we’re all working together. I think a difference is just strength level. Don’t get me wrong, the girls I play with are super strong, athletic, and really talented basketball players but because the majority of male athletes have the advantage of getting bigger, faster, stronger quicker than girls do. I think that doing more weight training or heavier weight training than some of the girls that play basketball definitely gives me a little bit more of the head start than some of them might have strength-wise.
In basketball a lot of the time I’ve said to myself: ‘Just go out and do it!’ You’re out there to just play the sport and do the best you can. Some of my teammates say, you can’t just go and do it, you gotta fake it. ‘No, you don’t have to’…Just go do it, you know how! I think that confidence level definitely has come from baseball.”
“I’m totally against being specialized in one sport,” said Frye, who has a 30-year-old daughter and two sons whom he coached playing youth sports. “Most importantly they need to have fun — that’s what made me play, as soon as you make it a job you get burned out.”
While Lilli notes there is no offseason — she works at her dream daily, she still enjoys, with encouragement, some of the same teenage pastimes other parents often lament like going to the mall with her friends.
In her typically nonchalant style, Lilli mused: “I definitely have a busy schedule but I really enjoy it. I like keeping myself busy and I think for balancing it all out it kind of just works out.”
Lillian even has a plan for after she hangs her cleats up. A fan of MLB Network’s Kelly Nash, she plans on, like Nash, pursuing a career in sportscasting. The admiration is now mutual.
“Lillian is clearly a human who has figured out work ethic wins the game. Self-confidence is a superpower. And you can’t get more confident than when you go out and compete with men. I’m beyond impressed,” said Nash, via email.
“I’m in awe of girls in baseball. Baseball for girls didn’t exist where I was growing up. We played softball. We stayed in our comfy little lane. I coached girls’ baseball. They have touched my heart with how fearless they really are. I’ll forever be rooting for females on their grind. I love to see it.”
“You may have bumps in the road, but everything always works out for a reason,” said Katie, who works in banking, an industry she describes as dominated by white males over-55.
“As long as she stays true to her core values and as long as she still loves playing at that level she can and reaching for levels above then I think it’ll help her in life no matter where she goes.”
I do speaking at industry events and I talk about the next generation of talent because we do have to bring that next generation of talent and be more of an inclusive profession for women and diverse candidates.”
Women have played at every level, including the Major Leagues, now that the Negro Leagues have been accorded their just due. Three were have known to play and compete alongside men in the NNL, to make no mention of the many unnamed women who donned uniforms from the game’s evolution.
“In 4th grade, I read this book on this female pitcher who actually pitched against Babe Ruth,” Martineau correctly recalls. “I want to learn the history; I want to be able to speak out on women playing baseball.”
“Her Idol is Jackie Robinson,” said Chad. “She’s watched 42 and wore out the DVD.”
Lilli was reading about Jackie Mitchell. Though something of a gate attraction, Mitchell, just two-years older than Lillian Martineau, toed the rubber and struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in an exhibition for the MiLB Chattanooga Lookouts principally for publicity. What is known, according to MLB Historian John Thorn is that girls and women like boys and men have always loved the grand old game from its roots. Anecdotes of girls on the ballfield trace back to 1755. Though often funneled toward softball where players like ESPN’s Jessica Mendoza have captured Olympic gold for the USA National Team, women have always played baseball. Wrigley the chewing gum mogul for whom the eponymous Cubs stadium is named founded the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that played from 1943–1954.
Mitchell, a southpaw, went on to barnstorm with the famed House of David baseball team and was an accomplished hurler with a local women’s team. Though Ruth lamented women in the game, the Chattanooga Times published the syndicated column that closed with: “The prospect grows gloomier for misogynists.”
Said Mitchell’s mother in 1931: “She can box, and run, and shoot as well as play baseball it is made her healthy, and that’s why we think it’s wonderful for her to go as far as she can in athletics.
“Obviously I think that women have come a long way and we have a long way to go,” Coombes noted. “Women just need the opportunity. I learned this when I was a Silver Bullet, women were banned from playing baseball not because they weren’t good enough…because they were banned.”
“I think it’s so cool to have a young lady who works so hard in trying to be a baseball player,” said Frye of Lillian. “The thing about her that’s really going to inspire a lot of people, she is constantly working at getting better. Lillian doesn’t need any encouragement she works hard on her own with her own dedication.”
Added Official MLB Historian John Thorn, who has joined Lilli’s growing quorum of Twitter admirers:
“Women were playing baseball at its beginning and may play it at the highest professional level, on the basis of ability, not as a gate attraction. The only question should be, “Can she play?”
She can, indeed. Lillian made the team.
Joshua M. Casper is a writer from Brooklyn, NY who is proud to say he throws like a girl, whatever that means. His areas of expertise include the cross-section of history, sport, and culture. A confession by the writer: in high school, (sometime during the dark ages) he too might’ve shared some of the gender bias that pervades athletics. Then he pursued his own dream of becoming a play-by-play announcer and started with women’s junior college basketball. Exposure, as Branch Rickey said, can change minds. And so, it was. Let no man or woman hold another down. Baseball is for all, and so too should be anything anyone endeavors to work toward and attempt to achieve. Should everyone get a trophy? No. But we should all be allowed to try for it.