There’s a 13 year-old pitching prodigy ruling the ranks of Florida’s Little Leagues, who’s been known to send opponents back to the dugout in tears. And this pitcher is a she, and the only girl on the team.
Her name is Chelsea Baker, and her stats are impressive: on the mound, she boasts a 65-mph fastball, as well as a knuckle curve she learned from MLB knuckleballer Joe Niekro. She hasn’t lost a game in four seasons, and has pitched two perfect games–one of them, an all-star game.
A Google alert directed me to the feel-good story on Good Morning America‘s website, which included clips of her mom, who recalled looking forward to having a daughter she could dress up and put in pageants, her dad, whose pride is pretty much written all over his face, and one boy she’d just struck out, who, when asked if it’s worse being struck out by a girl than by a boy said with a shrug: “Some people might make fun of me, but I can deal with it.”
Warm fuzzies all around, right?
Fraid not. Here’s a quote from Chelsea:
Some of the challenges playing with all boys is getting all of the negative comments that people say. Most of the negative comments come from the parents–you ain’t ever gonna be able to stay with the boys, you should switch to softball and stuff like that.
Most of the negative comments come from the parents??
She doesn’t seem deterred, but I kind of had to wonder. What happens to us as we grow up? Is physical growth correlated with a shrinking of the imagination? Do we become so ensconced in The Way Things Are that we give up on imagining The Way Things Could Be? Does exposure to one too many naysayers mute our natural, yay-saying self?
Chelsea’s is an unusual example (not least because the knuckleball is something so few have mastered), but it points to more universal questions–especially for women. In the piece, she sounded so confident, so sure of herself, so unconcerned with what other people think, so full of belief in her potential to do nothing less than change the world.
[When] people say negative things about me, it just makes me want to try harder. I think I’m breaking barriers. I’m doing a new thing that not many people have done. I really want to prove people wrong because it will probably change your world.
How many of us hit those tricky, teenage years just as confident as Chelsea, dreaming just as big, as unconcerned with what other people thought as we were with whatever real world obstacles might be lying in wait? And then, what happens? Maybe, deep down, we really do change, decide we want different things, lose interest in what we were once most passionate about. And there’s obviously no doubt that we all need to put food on the table, and would probably prefer to have at least some measure of social acceptance. But at the same time, how often do we let our dreams go, because we’ve gotten the message that they’re just a little too wild, a little too far out of reach, a little too… big? And where might we be if we’d decided to chase them?
Of course, life offers no guarantees. And it’s a pretty safe bet that we’ll find ourselves facing a curve ball or two along the way. But the thing is, if we’re taking our swings from a foundation of who we really, truly are, well we might just have a better shot of, you know, hitting it out of the park. Unless Chelsea’s pitching.