7 minute read

Paula Sophia Schonauer, LCSW, continues a serial memoir. If you haven’t read the earlier parts of this series, follow the links at the bottom of this page.


“Baseball is what we were. Football is what we have become.”

Mary McGrory

In 1974 Little League Baseball amended their Federal Charter to allow girls to play on Little League Baseball teams all over the United States, but the first time I saw a girl playing baseball was in the 1976 movie Bad News Bears, starring Walter Matthau, Tatum O’Neal, and Jackie Earle Haley. The movie portrays a sad-sack baseball coach who recruits the daughter of a former girlfriend to pitch for his team. After doing so, the Bears begin to win. It seemed like a gimmick. How could girls play baseball?

My life had been segregated by gender, “Thou shalt not express thyself or partake in activities designated for the opposite sex.” The one who chose to transgress this commandment was to be persecuted, condemned and sent to hell. 

It disturbed me to see Tatum O’Neal participating in a boy’s game, dressed in a boy’s baseball uniform, and playing better than the boys around her, but beyond my discomfort, I felt it was unfair. I had never seen boys dressed as girls in a movie or on TV shows except as a joke, as something played for comedy or ridicule. However, Tatum O’Neal’s portrayal of Amanda Wurlitzer wasn’t played for laughs. She was a well-rounded girl, comfortable with her femininity, but also an effective athlete. I was jealous. Of course, I had yet to learn how terrible it could be for girls and women in male-dominated spaces. 

One evening in early March 1977, the telephone rang. Mom answered as she usually did. 

“It’s for you,” she said, looking at me with suspicion. “A man.”

I had no idea why a grown man would be calling me. “Grandpa?” 

Mom shook her head. 

Paula Sophia
Paula Sophia (provided)

“Uncle Jim?”

“A stranger.”

Mom handed me the receiver. I said hello and listened, nervous but excited.

“Is this Paul?”

“Yes.”

The man sounded like a radio announcer, a clear baritone, very friendly. “Hi Paul. I’m Coach Bob. I’d like to welcome you to the Rebels baseball team.”

I distinctly remember this: I thought he said the Rubbles, as in Barney Rubble from the Flintstones. “The Rubbles?”

“No, the Rebels, like the car or the soldiers.” 

“The car?”

“All the baseball teams in G League (for ages 11 and 12) are named after cars: Firebirds, Cameros, Mustangs, Rebels… You’re going to play for the Rebels.”

A shot of adrenaline surged through me, and I screamed inwardly. Yes!!! But I dared not show it because Mom and Dad still didn’t know I had signed up for baseball, forging Mom’s name. 

“Okay, thanks,” I said. 

“We have our first practice next Tuesday at Newberry Field at 4:30.”

“Cool.” 

I hung up the phone, Mom staring at me with quizzical eyes. She dragged on her cigarette, the coal glowing bright red. She had dark circles under her eyes, stress lines on her forehead. She looked older than her thirty years. 

“Who was that?” she asked, exhaling a cloud of smoke.

“Some guy named Bob.” 

“What did he want?”

“I don’t know.” 

Before Mom started an inquisition I backed out of the kitchen and turned to run. “I got homework,” I shouted. 

I leaped with joy and ran up the stairs to the bedroom, relieved to have saved the baseball argument for another time. 

Paula Sophia
Cuyahoga Falls Amateur Baseball Association, G League “Rebels” 1977     Paula – back row third from right. Chris – back row fourth from right. (provided by author)

The next Tuesday afternoon, I watched the clock at school. When it finally ticked down to 3:30 pm, I surged out of my desk, ran to the hallway to grab my jacket and backpack, and blew through the hallways to exit the building. I ran all the way home, tossed my backpack into the stairwell near the side door of the house, got my bicycle and left without asking permission. I was not going to miss my first practice. 

Mom yelled out to me as I rode down the driveway. “Where do you think you’re going?”

I pretended not to hear.

 When I arrived at Newberry Field, a series of baseball diamonds in a field adjacent to Newberry Elementary School, I saw a group of kids assembled around a large man wearing a red ball cap and sunglasses. As I ran up, he looked at me, “Paul?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Where’s your baseball glove?”

I did not have a baseball glove, nor had I thought to ask my parents for one. I shrugged my shoulders. 

Coach Bob smiled. “Don’t worry. I got extras.”

I recognized a couple of kids from the elementary school I had attended before I went to Redeemer, Donnie, and Bryan. I had been in kindergarten with them, but they were a lot taller, and Donnie had gained a lot of weight, but it was nice to see his cherubic smile. Bryan didn’t seem to recognize me, but I was a lot taller than I had been. In fact, I was the tallest kid on the team. Only one kid was nearly as tall as me. Her name was Christina, but she went by Chris. I eyed her, trying not to make it obvious but failing. She smiled at me, but I mad-dogged her, communicating as much meanness as I could. 

I did not care about her playing baseball. That was okay by me, but I was upset that she got to do boys’ things while I could not do girls’ things. She looked more like a boy than a girl, hair longer than mine but short enough to be mistaken for a boy, kind of like Tatum O’Neal’s hair in Bad News Bears. Plus, she was a better player than I was, able to catch fly balls most of the time while I struggled to get used to the baseball mitt Coach Bob had loaned me. She was also better at batting, hitting hard grounders and a few fly balls. I mostly struck out, struggling to hit even a foul ball. 

When I think about Chris, now, I realize I became a better baseball player because of her. She had sparked my competitive spirit and had shortened my learning curve. I think all the boys felt threatened by her presence and athleticism, and none of us were very nice to her. However, I was the worst, not talking to her except to yell at her if she missed one of my bad throws to first base, her position. She was an infielder. In youth baseball, infielders were the better players, except maybe center field. I played right field. 

It vexed me; it seemed Chris was better at being a boy as a girl than I was at being a boy as someone born a boy. I had to wonder, though, if I could have been a better girl than she was, but I dared not try or even ask. I wish, now, that I had had the courage to be her friend.

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Last Updated December 4, 2021, 12:21 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor