My wife played softball from the time she was old enough to hold a bat, all the way through college. After college she played on her company team for a while, but got sick of all the guys on the team not giving any of the females a fair shot. The girls were seen as nothing more than tokens; something that was required so they could play in the league. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right. And it really spoiled the game for her. She hasn’t picked up a bat or glove in almost a decade.
Sports are kind of like that. Boys have their teams. Girls have their’s. Boys have their sports. Girls have their own separate sports. Often times those sport are a watered down version of the male sport. It isn’t because the girls want it to be that way. It is because that is the way they are told it has to be.
Take softball. The ball is bigger. It is thrown underhand. The game is shorter (only 7 innings). Now, the girls playing the game have made the best of it. They can belt the ball hard enough that it can go over a baseball field fence. They can throw the ball hard enough that it can surpass 80 miles an hour. They play seven hard innings. But, the fact of the matter is that they are still playing a separate game than baseball. One that is seen as being inferior. Play Ball by Nunzi Defilippis, Christina Weir, and Jackie Lewis tackles just such a problem.
Most girls, when they get to a new school, just want to fit in. But Dashiell Brody isn’t like most girls. A natural at softball, Dashiell discovers her new school has a championship level baseball team – and Dashiell wants to play ball! One girl’s quest to play the national pastime with the boys will turn her family, her school, and her state upside down!
What is most appealing about the book is that Dashiell doesn’t set out to be a crusader and change the world. All she wants to do is play a game. She has always played softball because she went to an all-girl’s school and that is all they offered. At her new school they have a baseball team, and baseball is her first love. After checking through all the rules, she finds there is nothing written saying she cannot play. However, she has to challenge everyone’s assumptions about the sport and the ability of girls to compete on the same level as boys if she is going to make it on the team.
Defilippis and Weir do a solid job of keeping the preaching to a minimum. They tackle one issue at a time, and allow the story to play out on its own using the voices of teenagers, instead of the “omniscient” voices of adults. This means that the real drama happens on the field and in the hallways instead of in some office or board meeting. This keeps the book light and interesting for its target audience (teens) while still providing enough facts and bureaucracy to make it believable. The end result is a book that is entertaining as well as inspiring.
My only complaint with the book is the art. It feels unfinished and rushed. Fewer than half of the panels have any kind of background. Most often the panels are just a head or body against a white background. In addition, when there are group shots, only one or two people in the group are fully rendered, while the rest are left undetailed. It would not be such a big deal if these were anonymous crowd scenes. However when dealing with a sports team full fo supporting characters, it is important that the reader is able to tell which player is reacting positively and which is giving the cold shoulder.
Overall Play Ball is a fun read with an important message: Follow your dreams and don’t let anyone convince you that you can’t achieve them. Now get out there and play hard!