Poor right field. The outcasts of Little League and adult slow pitch softball.
I’m sure a lot of folks remember Mo’ne Davis, who, in 2014 became the first girl to pitch a shutout in the Little League World Series and was also the first African-American girl to play in the LLWS. “Throw like a girl” memes exploded, except now, the phrase was a compliment. Davis went on to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, she won the Best Breakthrough Athlete ESPY, and Time magazine named her one of The 25 Most Influential Teens of 2014, among other honors.
— Little League (@LittleLeague) December 1, 2014
Fast forward six years, and it turns out that Mo’ne Davis is still playing ball. This spring, Davis is a freshman at Hampton University, making her NCAA Division I softball debut on February 8, 2020. She’s not pitching anymore, but rather has become a middle infielder. In her debut, Davis started at second base and went 1-for-3 with a run scored and two RBIs.
As of this post, Davis has a .333 batting average with 8 RBIs and 5 stolen bases through nineteen games.
Davis’s decision to attend Hampton, an historically black school, comes in part due to the aftermath of her LLWS successes. Following the tournament, Davis had the opportunity to meet President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Then in 2015, she took a twenty-three-day Civil Rights barnstorming trip to the South with her Philadelphia youth baseball team, the Anderson Monarchs. The team had the opportunity to travel in a 1947 black-and-white Flxible Clipper bus, the same type of vehicle Negro League players traveled in. They also met with civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis, who had marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965. After attending predominantly white schools from elementary through high schools, Davis decided to take the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of African-Americans who went before her.
With the Houston Astros’ sign stealing scheme making the news these last couple weeks, I find myself reminded of one of my own experiences with stealing signs. While my own venture into sign stealing didn’t make any headlines, I can certainly identify with the advantage that it provides.
One summer, when I was playing in a girls’ softball league, the coach of one of the other teams invited me to join his team for a tournament (an experience I also mention in this post). This tournament was external to the league in which we played against one another, and it’s no small compliment when another coach thinks enough of your ability to invite you to join his own team, so I naturally jumped at the opportunity.
While I don’t remember all the details of that particular tournament, there are a couple things that continue to stick out to this day. The first was the birth of my ballplayer nickname, Duke. The second revolved around learning the signs for this team I played with for the duration of the tournament.
Naturally, in order to be an effective part of the team, I needed to know all the signs that might get flashed at me from third base whenever we went on offense: bunt sign, steal sign, take a pitch, etc. I learned the signs, and I played pretty well throughout the tournament. One would also naturally assume that once we all returned to regular league play and I was back on the opposing side, this coach would change his own team’s signs.
The next time my league team faced off against this other coach’s team, I found myself playing third base. Out of curiosity, I found myself watching the team’s coach, who would also serve as the third base coach, out of the corner of my eye. I wouldn’t turn and stare, of course, but I used my periphery vision to the best of my ability to watch what signs he flashed to hitters and runners.
The first time he flashed what I recognized as the bunt sign, I was still wary. If the other team did change their signs, in anticipation of playing against me, I certainly didn’t want to creep up too close to the plate, lest I find myself on the receiving end of a hard line drive to the face. So I took half a step forward, but also made sure to stay on my toes in anticipation of a bunt.
Much to my surprise and delight, the hitter squared around and lay down a bunt that happened to roll up the third baseline. Anticipating the possibility, I was able to get on top of it quickly and threw her out. I couldn’t believe my luck.
The rest of the game, I didn’t hesitate to move up any time I saw that bunt sign flashed. I couldn’t believe that this coach didn’t stop to think about the fact that the opposing third baseman knew their signs because he had given them to me himself. On a couple of occasions, I found myself tempted to yell, “Watch the bunt!” to my teammates, but I knew that would be a dead giveaway, so I kept my mouth shut. I just continued to watch the coach, and they didn’t have a successful bunt attempt all game.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not condoning what the Astros are accused of doing. Even by Major League Baseball standards, what I did was perfectly legal, since I used no technology to steal signs and take advantage. If anything, it was the other team’s blunder in not changing their signs once we returned to regular league play. And I definitely wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity my situation presented.
The last couple weeks at work have been pretty brutal for me, so the laughs I got from this video are very welcome. I especially love how so many little kids will run after a ground ball like a football team after a fumble. Thanks, AFV, for this amusing compilation.
Given the number of views this video has accumulated, I’m amazed I never came across it before now. The stereotypes depicted here by Dude Perfect are hilarious — all the more so because we’ve all encountered at least a few of these in our own baseball or softball experiences. The Nervous Nellys and Outrageous Umpires particularly struck a chord with me.
This poem is short, but I think sports fans can all identify with it. It’s unfortunate that money has become such a pervasive force in professional sports, but then, I suppose it is the money that makes them professional and not amateur.
Money to the left of them and money to the right,
Money everywhere they turn from morning to the night,
Only two things count at all from mountain to the sea,
Part of it’s percentage, and the rest is guarantee.
I work with a lady who recently was telling me about how relieved she felt the day her oldest son made the decision to quit playing football. I think sports are important in terms of developing character, leadership, and teamwork, as well as maintaining a healthy populace. But I certainly can understand a parent’s concern about injuries. The numbers in this infographic are from 2012, but I imagine the numbers today are still relatively close.
Baseball has seen some pretty awesome nicknames over the years: George “Babe” Ruth; Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra; Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown; Jim “Catfish” Hunter; Leon Allen “Goose” Goslin; Leroy “Satchel” Paige; among others. When I was playing softball through my high school years, I also had a nickname. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not trying to imply that I belong in the same company as these baseball greats. It’s just that, on those rare occasions when I stop to reminisce about it, I can’t help but think that it’s pretty cool to be able to say that I once had a ballplayer nickname.
The summer in between my freshman and sophomore years of high school, I was playing ball on a team with the local parks and rec girls’ softball league. In the later half of the season, the coach for one of the other teams in the league approached me and said that he had signed his team up to participate in a tournament outside of the league, and would I be interested in joining their roster for the tournament? It’s one heckuva compliment to have another coach be impressed with you enough to invite you for that kind of thing, so naturally, I was all over it.
I was loaned a uniform, number 16, and my dad came out with me to cheer us on. I don’t recall the exact location of the tournament, only that it was seemingly in the middle of nowhere on the outskirts of the metropolitan Kansas City area. Nor do I recall how we as a team finished in the tournament, but thinking about it doesn’t leave a sour taste in my mouth, so surely it couldn’t have been awful.
I also don’t recall the exact details of how this one particular play unfolded, only that at one point in the tournament, I found myself rounding third, heading home at full speed in what promised to be a close play at the plate. I reached home at virtually the same moment as the softball. As the catcher was still scrambling to get control of the ball, she was blocking my path to the plate, leaving me no choice but to plow through her to get where I was going.
I slapped home plate, and there was a pause as the umpire tried to locate the ball. The catcher didn’t have it. “Safe!”
There was cheering. There was congratulations. Then eventually, that half-inning came to an end.
Playing shortstop for the team in this tournament was Lauren, who was a couple years older than me, and who also happened to be the shortstop for our high school varsity team. I had spent my freshman season on the JV team, but my goal for my sophomore year was to make varsity, so naturally I admired the girls on the varsity squad. So it was quite an ego boost when Lauren expressed her approval at my base running.
“You know what?” she said as we ran back out onto the field to take our defensive positions. “You’re too tough to be called Precious. From now on, I’m calling you Duke.”
There was a ripple of agreement throughout the field and in the dugout. And the name stuck. For the rest of the summer, whenever I was playing softball, my on-field name was Duke. Then, when the school season began, Lauren ensured the name continued. Even after Lauren graduated, no matter what team I played on, whether it was with the school or on a summer team somewhere, there always seemed to be a parent or a coach or a teammate from a previous team to perpetuate the nickname.
A couple summers after the nickname was bestowed upon me, I was playing ball with a summer competitive team, and we had a tournament up in the Twin Cities area. My parents decided to turn it into a family road trip for that weekend. As we loaded up the SUV with our bags, I discovered that my dad had purchased a glass marker and wrote “DUKE” in big, orange letters across the rear windshield. I have to admit, I was a bit embarrassed by it. But it was also really, really cool.
The summer after high school graduation was my last season of organized ball. Nobody has called me “Duke” since then (and, please, don’t start now). While I don’t necessarily miss being referred to or cheered on as “Duke,” I sometimes do miss just the concept of the whole thing. For four years, I was a ballplayer with a pretty cool nickname, and seemingly everybody knew what it was.
Today marks the five year anniversary of my first post on this blog. While I started this project as a way to stay in touch with the game and to encourage my own continual learning about it, when I reach milestones like this one, I find that it’s kinda fun to share something a bit more personal. A high school softball nickname isn’t something that comes up in everyday conversation, but it does make for a fun story in appropriate circles.
Thank you, my readers, for following along on my blogging journey. That it’s been five full years seems a bit unreal to me, but all the posts are there as proof, even to my own eyes. I look forward to the next five years and hope you’ll continue to hang out with me here as well!
Congratulations to New Jersey high school softball pitcher Mia Faieta for striking out all 21 batters she faced on Friday in a state playoff game. Faieta’s performance led Cedar Grove to a 4-0 victory over North Warren. How about this for an impressive scorecard?
Not only did Faieta toss the ultimate perfect game, but doing it while in the state playoffs makes it that much more impressive, because you’re not just facing any ol’ team from across town at that point.
Perhaps the most interesting factoid about this feat is that Faieta’s performance did not set a state record for New Jersey. That record still belongs to Nicole Webb of Manchester Township, who struck out 22 due to a wild pitch on a strikeout in a regular-season game in 2003.
It feels like only yesterday that I wrote my 500th post on this blog. It seems quite surreal that I now find myself sitting down to work on this one, post number 1,000. To commemorate the occasion, I thought I’d focus on a play from my softball-playing days that I look back on with pride and fondness.
During the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I played for a competitive softball team called the Drifters. We were a pretty solid team, and with the exception of a few stints in the outfield or at third base, I spent most of the summer playing shortstop.
I honestly cannot recall where we were playing or who we were playing against, nor can I recall what inning we were in, but I do remember that this particular memory happened around mid-summer and that it was after dark. The artificial lighting illuminated the field so completely that it might as well have been noon, and bugs buzzed around the infield as though they wanted to be a part of the game, too.
We were on defense, with me at shortstop, and we had one out in the inning with a runner on first. The girl at the plate slapped a groundball to second base, and everything that happened from there was essentially the product of hundreds of repetitions during practices.
With a ball hit to the right side of the field, I automatically moved to my left to cover second base. Our second baseman fielded the ball cleanly behind the baseline and tossed it to me as the runner who had been on first came barreling towards me. I caught the ball and pivoted.
All I can remember seeing was the front of the baserunner’s jersey. I couldn’t see our first baseman, but I also knew that I didn’t have time to look for her. With the runner coming straight at me and not bothering to slide, I dropped my throwing motion to a sidearm and fired as hard as I could around the runner, making my best guess at first base without being able to locate it visually. The baserunner came into second base, still standing.
Next thing I knew, I heard cheering and my teammates were running past me towards the dugout. I blinked, confused. Holy crap, did we get her? I thought wildly. I jogged towards the dugout, where our coach greeted me with a huge smile and a high five. I sat down on the bench, still too stunned to believe it.
We had turned a 4-6-3 double play, and I hadn’t even realized it. It was the first (and only) double play of that sort that I’d ever turned.
Watching Major League Baseball on television, an infield double play like that appears to be one of the most routine plays out there. You don’t realize just how difficult it is to pull off until you’re out on the field trying to do it yourself. Every piece of it has to go right: the ball has to be fielded cleanly, thrown cleanly, and caught cleanly, and it all has to be done with rapid fire precision. The tiniest misplay or hesitation can blow the entire play. At the amateur level, the only double plays you ever really see are the result of unlucky line drives or miscues by baserunners. That play we turned with the Drifters was the only one of that sort that I’ve ever seen at that level, and I didn’t even get to see the end of it. But I sure was glad to be a part of it.