For any amateur sociologist of gender the world of co-ed softball is fertile ground for research. As an umpire who has called balls and strikes at hundred of coed games, I can conduct field research up close and personal.
First, the nomenclature. The rules book refers to female and male players. All over 18, they are men and women. But in the coed softball world it’s guys and girls. Always. Regardless of age, marital, paternal or maternal status, it’s guys and girls. It might be sexist but that’s how it goes. Of course, if you are a guygirl or a girlguy, you are always welcome at the game.
Before the game begins, different socialized patterns emerge. In Perinton, the girls spent pre-game discussing hair, nails and for what occasions shaving was obligatory. One girl said pre-game is about sharing what happened during the day. Guys spent pre-game checking that bats had authorized USSSA stickers.
In Henrietta, I overheard the coach of a women’s team worrying that a couple of players had bad days and might be in bad moods. In a guy’s game, the rule is simple: there are no moods in softball.
Much can be observed in batter/catcher conversation. In Perinton, Lyndsey (who took some of the pictures in Brighton) came up to bat.
Lindsey — aka LuLu — plays on leagues all over the county, saying she is more a tomboy than a girlie girl. But not having seen the girl catcher in a while since her wedding, Lindsey observed the natural etiquette: “So it’s missus, now,” to which the girl replied. “Yep. But I haven’t changed my name yet.”
It was universally agreed that no guy would remark on — and be hard pressed to remember — a recent wedding of a guy or a girl. Before the first pitch, a guy might tell another guy; hey man, good to see you — if it’s true.
At most games, I do have one pet peeve. When girls are at bat, often they reflexively don’t swing at the first pitch even if it’s perfect, looking back at me and the catcher saying, I don’t know why I didn’t swing.
Three theories on why girls don’t swing at perfect first pitches.
Internalized male authority: Often girls will say someone taught them — usually a father or a male coach — to take the first pitch. It’s a misguided strategy in slow pitch softball, but maybe those patriarchal voices are still in their heads.
Gendered norms: Guys are taught to be aggressive: to go right after the pitch and smack it, itself often a misguided strategy. Girls are taught to patiently assess the whole situation and all options, in this case sometimes too passively.Socio-biology: Given the biological laws of reproduction, girls are naturally more selective. They can’t be like guys swinging wildly at whatever comes their way. That’s why girls wait for the pitch that’s just right for them.
I’ve canvassed several girl catchers on these theories and all have accepted some validity.
In the first game of the triple header at Brighton Town Park yesterday, there was one gendered moment. The Brighton On East team was getting slaughtered again (they are 0 – 8).The girls didn’t want to play the last inning, preferring just to go home or the bar — exercising their girl power not to care too much. But the guys were unable to break their internalized male code — play to the bitter end — and we muddled through one more masochistic inning.
In the second game, the catcher was Jessica, an Irondeqoit police officer (many of her teams’ players were also officers). Jessica was fun to banter with. For the story, she offered to handcuff anyone who illegally tried to steal second base.
On one play, the scoring runner — a guy — made contact with Jessica at home plate. Any collision at home between a guy and a girl can be a charged gendered moment. With inexperienced players who don’t know where to best stand or slide, inadvertent collisions can be more common than with more seasoned players.
Collisions can bring out the chivalric in the guys who get protective as they might with a girlfriend or sister, sometimes overprotective. In Webster, two teams had bad blood all season when one team accused a guy runner of trying to steamroll a girl catcher.After the play in Brighton, the coaches and I had a discussion — not argument — over how players should best avoid collisions. Afterward, Jessica and I both agreed she didn’t get any special treatment in the discussion. Not that Jessica doesn’t deserve chivalry, but because of her occupation and hard nosed exterior, everybody thought she could take care of herself. Had she been one of the catchers wearing pink shoes, Jessica might have been viewed differently. The third game featured Leah, the kind of catcher who makes the game fun for the co-ed umpire. Leah self-described as a “low identity investment softball player” — her performance and the final score were of limited priority.
Not that she wasn’t yelling out encouragement to her teammates, but her three strikeouts on nine missed swings weren’t going to cost her any sleep. Actually, Leah blamed her teammates for the strikeouts as they kept making her laugh between pitches. After one whiff, she did let out a sleight vulgarity for which she apologized. That’s me at softball, Leah said, either smiling or cursing.
Leah’s team was mercy ruled 21 to something small. But she had a swell time at coed softball at Brighton Town Park.
All the girl catchers unanimously agreed the umpire is the most appealing guy on the diamond. Girls, select the umpire if you want a long term mate or just to make out. He’s steady, fair and even tempered. And he doesn’t look that dorky in his uniform.
ALSO ON UMPIRING