Chelsea Baker, knuckleball phenom, pitched batting practice for the Tampa Bay Rays recently. Baker's proven skill on the mound is impressive. Baker's knuckleball was taught to her by Joe Niekro, her little league baseball coach when she was seven. Baker's skill with this pitch benefits from the advice of Tim Wakefield. She has even been offered a contract with a Japanese team, and she is still in high school. Because of her command of the mound, the question is being raised as to whether it is time for a female to pitch in professional baseball.
The debate has raged for years: can professional sports be coed? For instance, baseball and soccer are heavily coed at the five year old level. Not so at the professional level. Arguments against coed professional sports range from differences in physical strength to cultural taboos against hitting girls. Arguments for professional coed sports include being able to blend skill sets to improve team performance.
The debate may take many years to resolve. I do know that historically baseball has been on the leading edge of social reform. Segments of society that had been sidelined because of ethnicity or skin color have been welcomed by professional baseball. Starting in the 1840, professional baseball welcomed Irish and Italian immigrants into their ranks even if many in America did not. The only barrier to being on the team was the ability to hit, catch, run or throw the ball.
Today, society's views still color the opinions of many and continue to be just as misguided as they were in the 1840s. I have heard claims that Dustin Pedroia, when he was at AA Portland, was a nice guy but too small to play ball at the major league level. I have listened to others state that Pat Vendetti, the Yankee's AAA switch pitcher, was just a gimmick. It isn't the fans, society, or even sports reporters that determine whether a player makes the team. It is the skill of the player.
I don't know if there will be women on a Major League Baseball team. Only time will tell. After seeing young Ms. Baker's command of the ball, I have little doubt the flames of the ongoing debate will be fanned. If women do make the cut, it will be because they have proven that they can catch, throw, hit the ball, and run to help the team to win games. That is the way it has always been in baseball.
The Sea Dogs return to Portland for a five game, four day series against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats starting on Friday, July 11 at 7:00 p.m. Saturday, July 12 features a double header beginning at 5:00 p.m.
Remember to bring your glove, and I'll see you at Hadlock Field.