A Tip of Her Hat

So far this summer has been a weird sort of limbo for me. With my college stuff completely unpacked for a few weeks now and a summer job hunted down, I’m basically killing time until my training starts and I have a minimal amount of minimum wage-paying shifts. One advantage of this is getting to catch a lot of Royals games in the evenings. I’ve been watching pretty frequently, recently watching the team sweep the Minnesota Twins while still (frustratingly) continuing to struggle offensively.

If you’ve been watching the Royals this season (or probably any baseball at all), there’s a really, really, really good chance you’ve seen that AT&T U-Verse commercial. The now ever-present ad opens on a baseball player named Cortez standing on the pitcher’s mound, back to the camera, the announcer saying, “This is history in the making.” A batter (who weirdly looks about 60 years old) steps up to the plate. Both dugouts are shown, then some fans. The announcer’s voice, again: “23 years old, first woman in the majors.” At the same time, the pitcher lowers her glove from the front of her face and is revealed to be a young, dark-skinned woman with short black hair, eyes focused ahead. The commercial jumps to a full shot of the mound, the pitcher winding up and then releasing. As we hear a voiceover of the home plate umpire yelling “Striiiiike!” a white screen asks us, “Where will you be?” A baseball team made up of, noticeably, both boys and girls is watching the moment unfold on some kind of tablet (while they’re at practice? a game?). The pitcher tips her hat and the kids nod approvingly. Then AT&T ties it all together by saying its U-Verse has more on-the-go channels than cable, which explains the tablet that is apparently broadcasting a live MLB game to a Little League baseball diamond somewhere. (You can watch the commercial here.)

It’s obviously an advertisement, and a very clever one at that: using a significant and mildly controversial hypothetical to catch attention, undoubtedly gaining even more publicity through media who will tell its story and link the video of the commercial at the top. However, being fully aware of this didn’t stop me from getting chills every time I saw it for a few days. Advertisement or not, it’s kind of powerful. I found myself especially touched by the kids watching the pitcher, whose characters must have been thinking in their fictional brains, “I can do this, too.” I was so happy for them, having such a strong (female! Person of color!) role model in their sport of choice, breaking gender barriers like a reincarnated Jackie Robinson.

This is where, if you’re a self-destructive comment-reader like myself, you probably snap out of your AT&T-induced fantasy of women in major league baseball (because she’s obviously got enough athletic talent to have made it that far, duh) and start to imagine what the comments under that video are like. I’ll save you some time/heartache and report that the majority of them are men just dropping in to say that there is no way this will ever happen, as women are highly incapable of pitching at speeds anywhere comparable to men in the majors today. Some comments are as innocuous as that description, while others are tinged with such misogynistic language and clichés that my blood boiled as I read them.

Maybe we won’t see a woman pitching in the majors for a long time. Maybe it’ll take several years of encouraging girls to play Little League, of reinforcing the idea to girls that they can do everything boys can do, of fighting for and eventually allowing girls and boys to play baseball together through high school to foster the development of similar athletic skills. Maybe it won’t ever happen. But it’s good to know somebody’s thinking about it, even if it’s whoever does AT&T’s advertising. When people, especially kids, see something in the media, they believe that it can be real. Someday the right little kid could see an image of someone who looks like them doing what they aspire to do and grow up believing they will be like that person, and because they will work for it their whole life, they will succeed. Maybe they become that first woman in the majors.

As an aspiring journalist, I often find myself flipping or scrolling back to the beginning of a particularly well-written or obviously well-researched article to see if it was written by a woman. Seeing that the author is a man has no effect on my enjoyment or judgement of the piece whatsoever; I only check out of curiosity. Even so, when the author happens to have been a woman, I feel a little swell of pride for another tiny drop of water in the bucket of female achievement and contribution to society. Each time, another tiny voice in the back of my head says, “I can do this, too.” Her byline is a tip of the hat to me, and I nod approvingly.

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