In the spring of 1979, I was an instructor at the United States Military Academy, located at West Point, NY.
Sports were greatly emphasized at the academy. All personnel and their dependents were encouraged to participate. It was time to sign up for the summer programs. Both Sonia and Alex decided to play baseball. I did advise Sonia that girls usually played softball and she might encounter some resistance. Her reply was that she wanted to play baseball because softball was too slow.
Resistance began when I registered my children for baseball at Youth Activities, the registrar took pains to tell me that softball was available for the girls and baseball was just too rough for girls. When I asked if girls were prohibited from playing baseball, he reluctantly registered Sonia to play baseball.
That same day I began receiving telephone calls and it seemed every officer was concerned for my daughter's safety. Suggesting I should not let her play with the boys. No other girls had signed up for baseball. They all said that Sonia would be much happier playing softball with the other girls.
On selection day everyone who had signed up for baseball gathered at the practice field along with the various coaches. The players had previously been loosely rated on various skills at trials. Each coach chose a player in turn. Neither Sonia nor Alex were selected in the early and middle rounds. Finally, when there were only a few unselected players, one coach, an older chief warrant officer, selected Alex and then took Sonia in the next round.
The coach told me that the coaches had discussed Sonia. They were not happy about having a girl play baseball but could not officially exclude her. He explained that the season would be difficult for her. I told him that she knew this. She wanted to play and would do her best to do well. While she did not seek controversy, she would not back down. I volunteered to assist him since no other father had, perhaps because there was a girl on the team.
The coach was good. He was very knowledgeable. My knowledge of baseball was limited as I had never played organized ball as a child. The coach worked on the fundamentals with each player. He took the time to set up various baseball situations which would likely be encountered in a game. He explained the location of the play and what should be done with the ball in that particular situation from various positions in both the infield and the outfield. I worked with children needing practice throwing and catching the ball.
When we started playing other teams - we learned how it would be. When batting - Sonia was not pitched hitable balls. The ball was pitched too low, high, outside, inside to be hit. Sonia had to duck pitches thrown directly at her but could not avoid being hit often. The pitchers were not very subtle about deliberately trying to hit her. In the course of the season Sonia was hit by pitches more often than the combined total for all other players in the league. She usually got on base because she was either walked or hit by a pitch. The umpires never took any action to discipline the pitcher or the coach.
Occasionally Sonia was called out on strikes but it was truly a gift from the umpire because none of the pitches were anywhere near the official strike zone. The umpires were also not very happy about having a girl play baseball.
Somehow, Sonia endured. Although the pain of being hit by the ball may have brought some tears of pain, she never cried nor complained. As the season progressed, Sonia won the respect of her teammates. She became a great base runner.
Sonia learned to be a fairly good hitter in batting practice. She never had an official hit during the season although she managed to reach a few pitches not in the strike zone. They either went foul or were caught although some were rather far.
Finally the season was down to the final game. Sonia's team and another team were undefeated. The coach of the other team was the opposite of Sonia's coach. He constantly put pressure on his players yelling at them during the game. He encouraged, in fact, demanded that his players had the attitude that "winning is the only acceptable outcome". They bragged that they were the best. They would destroy the sissy team with a girl.
When Sonia came to bat, the very first pitch struck her square in the chest. There had been no opportunity to dodge. She was knocked own and lost her breath but refused to leave the game and took her base. She advanced to second on a sacrifice and then stole third. When a opportunity arose, she attempted to steal home. The catcher, tall and muscular for his age, advanced toward third base, blocked the baseline and took up a football type blocking stance although he did not have the ball. Sonia stepped around him and was called out by the umpire for leaving the baseline. Our protest about illegally blocking the baseline was denied.
Finally, it was the final inning and neither team had scored. Sonia's team was at bat, there was one out, and Sonia was at bat. Again she was hit by the first pitch. She stole second and advanced to third on a sacrifice which made the second out. With the ball in play Sonia took off for home. Again, the catcher, without the ball, moved up and blocked the baseline with a football blocking stance. I yelled, "Run the bastard over!" Sonia hit him at full speed, knocked him flying and touched home plate. She scored the only run of the game. Sonia's team was the undefeated champion.
The opposing team members were not good sports. They they shook the other players' hands as was traditional after a game but refused to shake Sonia's hand. I quietly told the opposing coach, a colonel, that he showed poor leadership and set a bad example for his players.
Later, when trophies were awarded, Sonia was disappointed that she did not receive the same trophy as her teammates. Her figurine had a skirt - it was a girl's softball trophy. She had worn the regular baseball uniform, not a skirt. Few would believe that she was the first girl to play little league baseball at West Point seeing that trophy.
The following year Sonia again played baseball. That year there was another girl on a different team. Although she had a different coach, Sonia's team was again undefeated. And again, Sonia received a trophy with skirt on the figurine.
Recently, some twenty years later, I asked Sonia for the first time if she had heard me yell. She replied, "Daddy, of course I heard you, everyone heard you! Why do you think I ran into him?"
Of note. The academy did not offer baseball to female cadets. They had to play softball or choose another sport.