The phrase “throw like a girl” has long been hurled at boys as an insult, and used to demean them and insinuate that they were less than the other boys. In the 2014 Little League World Series, pitcher Mo’ne Davis took the world by storm, showing them exactly what a girl could do, and earning the first win for a girl in Little League World Series history.
Locally, the DC Force all-girls baseball team is continuing what Mo’ne and other girl baseball players around the country have done. In their first tournament, they needed girls from other states to field a complete team, however now they have grown to 2 teams and have about 45 girls and compete in tournaments around the country.
Ava Benach, self-proclaimed “manager, coach, or Queen” of DC Force, works with a team to provide local girls with a baseball outlet for as long as they want it. Girls often go out for their local Little League teams, and in the 8U leagues, there are about 100,000 girls playing. However, by the time they reach high school, less than 1,000 girls are still playing. This is partly because some girls simply lose interest, but it’s mostly because from a young age, girls are pushed to transition to softball. Softball and baseball are completely different sports, and some girls prefer one over the other, and Ava believes they should be given the opportunity to play whichever sport they want to. Ava’s children are involved in Little League, and she when she sees girls on other teams, she will talk to them and their parents to see if they have interest in joining an all-girls team in addition to their Little League team. “We don’t strive to be their primary baseball outlet,” Ava told me. “We want to give the girls a secondary option where they are with all girls. It provides a different environment for them and allows them more opportunity to play baseball. Boys get to stop playing baseball when they’re done with the sport. We want to make sure the girls get to choose when to stop playing, too.”
In addition to playing local co-ed games against teams with both boy and girl players, DC Force travels to a few national tournaments each year. In July, they participated in Baseball for All’s national tournament, which took place in Rockford, Ill., home of the Rockford Peaches, which many are familiar with thanks to popular movie A League of Their Own. The 13U team rocked their way through the tournament, and won it all. While the games were played in a sports complex, the opening ceremonies took place on the Rockford Peaches’ field. Player Paloma Benach, 13, said “it was awesome for me,” regarding getting to play in the Peaches’ hometown and take part in ceremonies on their field. “I felt like I owed them something, so we all played our hardest.”
This isn’t the only example of success that they’ve had, either. In 2013, they participated in a co-ed tournament in Orange County, California, and won. Paloma, Rebekah Camp, and Anya Bergfeld participated in the Rockford Peach Orchard Classic with the Eastern Women’s Baseball Conference, where they took home the silver. This past Columbus Day weekend, they played in a rain-shortened tournament. While the finals never happened, the weather held off long-enough for them to beat an all-boys team 17-0. “I know our 13U team could go up against any travel baseball team and do just fine,” Ava said. Her girls continue to prove that every chance they get.
The Washington Nationals got wind of how these girls have rocked baseball on a national level, and they invited them down for a day at Nationals Park. Manager Dusty Baker sent the team a letter congratulating them on their Baseball For All tournament win. The girls were invited to come onto the field before a game against the LA Dodgers. While hanging out on the warning track behind Homeplate and soaking in the sights, they got to meet Dusty, who spent time talking with them and signing autographs. They also got to meet Nationals beat writer Chelsea Janes from the Washington Post. I asked the girls what the experience was like, and I was met with a chorus of superlatives, such as “exciting,” “kind of surreal,” and “like a fantasy.” DC Force rock star pitcher Brittany Apgar, who is one handed, by the way, was honored by the Nats before NLDS Game 5, where she presented the line-up card.
While the girls play on co-ed teams in addition to the all-girls DC Force team, many of them see something different in playing without the boys. “It’s a lot easier for me,” 13-year-old Rebekah Camp said. “There is much less pressure.” Understandable, as many view baseball as a boy’s world, and there can be a lot of unwanted focus on the lone girl on the team. Mistakes are often amplified, putting additional pressure on the girls to play as close to perfect as possible. Being on a team with all girls allows them to blend in more with everyone else, and returns the sport to more of a team game, as they stand out less as individuals. The girls aren’t letting this stop them, though, from accomplishing all of their baseball goals. Both Rebekah and Paloma are going to be trying out for their high school baseball teams.
— DC Girls Baseball (@DCGirlsBaseball) September 15, 2017
DC Girls Baseball gives local girls an additional outlet to play the sport that they love. It connects them with other girls who love and play the sport, and allows them to travel throughout the country and compete. Through baseball, the girls are gaining confidence and learning leadership skills that will benefit them throughout the rest of their lives. They are learning to follow their dreams and not allow societal pressures dictate what they do. As they improve their baseball skills and some work towards playing with the boys on their high school teams, they will always remember to throw like a girl.