Facing men on Maui became a spotlight for women’s baseball pioneers

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NEW YORK (AP) – As an 8 -year -old girl, Beanie Ketcham dreamed of pitching for the New York Yankees.

Baseball never got Ketcham to the Bronx, but his playing career took him far – including nearly 5,000 miles from Yankee Stadium, to a heavenly ballpark.

There, the right hand at least has to fight the famous Bronx Bomber.

“He attacked me,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone recalled. “On TV.”

“I would say that’s my claim to fame,” Ketcham said.

This year has been a big year for women who are breaking obstacles in baseball. Kelsie Whitmore is the first woman to play in the Atlantic League, a Major League Baseball partner where the level of competition is comparable to Triple-A. Rachel Balkovec manages the Class A Yankees club, the first woman to lead an affiliate team. Last month, Alyssa Nakken coached first base for the San Francisco Giants, the first woman to coach on the field in a major league game.

This is a very different landscape than it was almost 30 years ago, when Ketcham and her friend Julie Croteau were believed to be the first women to play in an MLB -related league when they were invited to join the Maui Stingrays of the now -defunct Hawaii Winter League.

The pair were asked in 1994 to play in Hawaii between Class A and Double-A minor league players and pros from Japan and Korea. She got the chance after starring that summer for the Colorado Silver Bullets, a women’s team run by Hall of Famer Phil Niekro that toured the state to face both amateur and semi-pro men’s teams.

“I remember thinking,‘ This is the best job I’m going to do, ’” Croteau said of Hawaii.

This is the highest level of baseball that should be played. Croteau, the first baseman left, fits seamlessly among the pros on defense, but he admits to being overmatched on the plate. He swung the Little League bat because everything made for him was too heavy, and the outfielders played him so shallow, even the hit prevented the difficulty of finding grass.

He finished with 1 hit in 12 at-bat.

“It’s a fastball right down the middle, and I remember it drives the line, right above the pitcher, and falls before the outfielder comes in,” he said. “It just feels really good.”

Ketcham recalls working anywhere from 77-84 mph with his fastball, but a fight with a dead arm took the zip from it all when he landed on Maui. It took him almost a month to recover enough to pull off a mop-up task for the Stingrays.

His highest point was Boone, a third -round draft pick by Cincinnati in 1994. Although he didn’t debut in the department until 1997, he may be the most famous player in Hawaii because of his family ties. His brother, Bret Boone, just enjoyed a breakout season with the Reds, and his father and grandfather are also big league players.

Ketcham punches him with a shattering ball, and Boone tantrums in the lounge.

“I threw my helmet in the trash,” said Boone, who became New York’s manager in 2018. “I threw everything in the trash.”

The moment was captured by a local TV broadcast, and Boone said replays appeared shortly after reaching the big leagues. Ketcham maintained Boone’s career, which included one of the most famous home races in baseball history, the last drive of the game in Game 7 of the 2003 AL Championship Series against rival Boston Red Sox.

“These are memories that will stay with me in my life,” Croteau said of the attack, “because it’s just validation for him.”

The experience was stressful for both of them, and was a high point for their playing days. Croteau, who also doubles in “A League of His Own” with a small speaking section, put his time on Maui up there by working alongside Tom Hanks and Geena Davis.

Ketcham and Croteau had different experiences early in life when playing with boys. Ketcham certainly felt good enough, but Croteau became a national news figure in the late 1980s when he demanded a high school in Manassas, Virginia, so he could play baseball. The court sided with the school, which claimed he would be cut after a fair trial.

Croteau then played Division III college baseball and pro football against male players. He sees a lot of explosions like Boone, but fewer in Hawaii. Several players from the league became league regulars, including Stingrays teammate Craig Counsell, now manager of the Milwaukee Brewers. The player shows Ketcham and Croteau as they have been received.

“I’ve found in my playing career that the more confident players are in themselves, the easier it is for them to accept me on a team or a woman in their presence,” Croteau said. “And these people are all very good and confident in their abilities.”

The two women are coaches, and Croteau is also a TV analyst, broadcasting the World Series and All-Star Games for the MLB international feed. No one works in baseball anymore – Croteau is director of communications in the human resources department at Stanford University, and Ketcham lives in the UK and works as a prosthetist.

He was thrilled to see the progress being made from a distance.

“It’s really nice to see what’s happening in the sport,” Croteau said. “Obviously, do I want more to happen? Yes it has. Do I want it to happen faster? Yes it has. But the track is a good track.”

Both are sorry to see that growth doesn’t include more space for competing female baseball players. The Women’s Baseball World Cup debuted in 2004, but there is no pro league for women’s soccer players.

That means – like almost 30 years ago – the only playing careers available to women are those against men.

Croteau is frustrated as a player when people ask if he thinks he can get a degree. Like Whitmore, his goal is to play as long as he can – against guys is just the best option.

“It’s not the right question, and it shouldn’t be the end, at all,” Croteau said.

“I believe a woman can compete offensively and defensively at the highest level in professional baseball. In my opinion, it’s not fair to ask a woman, to rise to the occasion, whether she’s ultimately going to achieve greatness, because she’s going to achieve a higher rank.

“They don’t have to bear the weight of their gender more than anyone else representing any group.”