Some 10 or so years ago, there was a sporting goods store and practice facility near my house that was owned by a former big league pitcher from the area. The practice facility had indoor batting cages where you could hit off a tee, take front toss, or face the pitching machine.
This machine wasn’t just one of those big wheels that spun out balls at high speeds. It sat behind a projection screen that projected a video of a pitcher going through their full windup so that you could track the release of the ball. From what I can remember, you could manipulate the machine to throw specific pitches, in specific locations, at specific speeds. The notable thing about this place wasn’t their high-tech equipment, but rather who this equipment was geared towards.
As a young softball player, I would often go into the regular sporting goods stores and not have much variety to choose from. There was a massive baseball section with a glove aisle that stretched as far as my little eyes could see. It showcased gloves for different positions, with a variety of webbing choices, and in any size or color you could want.
Then, I’d turn around and see the standalone rack with a handful of softball gloves. It really didn’t matter which store I was at, because the choices were the same: an all-pink glove or a brown glove with less-flashy pink streaks. It came in a smaller size or a larger size. That was it. Take your pick.
I was a 10-year-old girl standing between the vast wall of baseball gloves and the slim rack of softball gloves, but it only took me a few seconds to realize that something wasn’t right. Why do the boys get so many options that they’re practically custom-making their gloves but my options are limited to very pink or slightly pink? (In case you were wondering, I ended up choosing a black 12-inch baseball glove with teal features and a modified trapeze web. Not a single stitch of pink.)
When this new store opened, however, there was a softball section just as large as the baseball section. That wasn’t even the best part. When I went to check out the batting cages, I couldn’t believe my eyes.
The figure on the projector was a woman going through her underhand windup with a softball in her hand. In my genuine disbelief and awe, I felt seen. Never before had I felt that something in sports was catered to me. Of course, the facility also had cages with a projector showing a man going through his windup with a baseball in his hand. This is the way it always should have been.
It should have been, but it often wasn’t.
Because this year has brought what seems like an endless stream of terrible news, I woke up on Friday the 13th wondering what upsetting new thing I would find waiting for me when I picked up my phone. You could probably imagine, however, the excitement that followed.
Two weeks ago, the Miami Marlins named Kim Ng the team’s new general manager. Ng is the first woman to hold this title in any of the four major American sports.
Ng, who played softball at the University of Chicago, began her career in professional baseball with the Chicago White Sox. She would make stops in New York and Los Angeles as the Yankees and Dodgers’ assistant general manager before going on to work under Joe Torre as Major League Baseball’s senior vice president of baseball operations. During this time, Ng applied for the general manager position with many other teams. Each time, a man would go on to win the job. That was, until, the Miami Marlins parted ways with long-time front office executive Michael Hill after the 2020 season and began looking for someone to fill his role.
Looking back over Ng’s already impressive 30-year career in Major League Baseball, I came across an interesting “first” moment. While with the White Sox in 1995, Ng presented an arbitration case on behalf of the team against pitcher Alex Fernandez. This made Ng the youngest person and first woman to do so.
If you fast forward a few years, as I’m sure you know, Fernandez goes on to play for the Florida Marlins and help the team capture its first World Series title.
Fast forward a few more years and you’ll see me, standing in that sporting goods store and practice facility near my house that was owned by a former big league pitcher from the area. I met Fernandez a few times around those cages, but the shop would later close, I would hang up my spikes, and the memories would eventually fade.
But, listening to Ng speak during the team’s introductory press conference, memories came flooding back to me.
Ng talked about the “outpouring of pure joy” she felt after the Marlins announced her hire and the “glimmer of hope” that she realized this moment would provide for so many people. Then, she said, she thought about the many people that she had a “meaningful intersection” with during her career.
Her words transported me back to the days of elementary school recess where I’d stand amongst the boys and insist that I was tough enough play football with them, to trying to find a place where I fit in as a girl who loved baseball more than anything in the world, to standing in the baseball glove aisle with that pit in my stomach but not really knowing why.
But then I looked at our new general manager sitting near home plate at Marlins Park with Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman. And I thought about Ng’s intersection with Fernandez and his intersection with me, standing in his store full of softball gloves that weren’t pink at all and in his facility taking swings against the machine with the virtual softball player. And the pit began to make sense.
Toward the end of the press conference, someone asked Ng why she thought it had taken so long to break this barrier. That is something I often find myself pondering, as I’m sure many other people do as well.
As I braced for her response, I looked at Ng and then I looked at me, thinking about all the places I have been and all the places I might go.
“I’m not sure,” she said. “I just know that I’m here now.”