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There’s No Crying in Baseball: An interview with Jackie Mattson Baumgart

Jackie Mattson Baumgart had to explain to her three sons why they couldn’t use her autographed baseball to go play with their friends. “This is from when I played professional ball”, she said. Her sons questioned this statement, which is understandable because the only baseball players they would have seen on TV were men. It wasn’t until later that they understood that their mom wasn’t lying; she was a member of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
 
At the start of our conversation I could tell this woman had spunk, a characteristic that is valued in my eyes. I made the mistake of telling her that I wanted to speak with her because she was “kind of a pioneer in women’s sports”. “Kind of?! We WERE pioneers!” she responded. She was so right. I almost inserted my foot in my mouth from embarrassment but she immediately came back with an “Oh, I’m just joshing with you.” She and the rest of the women in the league joked with each other all the time, she explained. Their lives revolved around baseball, having practice in the mornings and playing one or two games at night, every day. They had plenty of time to get to know each other, joke with one another, and learn to respect each other.  
 
The majority of the women in the league were between 15 and 18 years old, with a very small group of them in their 20’s and were scouted from all around the U.S. Jackie explained that it was pretty easy to be friends with all of these women from different backgrounds because they had one distinct thing in common: they had a passion for baseball. Rather than thinking about pretty dresses and dolls, they wanted to slide into second and hit home runs.  Her time playing ball and being with her teammates was the biggest period of “mental, emotional, and physical growth” for Jackie. It is obvious that she is strong in all those ways. She developed into sharp woman who has opinions and had a great sense of humor.
 
Sports are filled with competitive people who are out there to win, which can sometimes cause friction, so I wondered how these athletes handled the mixture of competition and joshing one another. After a few jokes being served my way I asked Jackie about the potential problems it may have caused. Her response was one that only a few people could articulate: “competitiveness is always in sports and it belongs on the field or court”. She explained that they weren’t “competitive against each other as people,” they respected one another whether they were playing with them or against them. She taught me a lesson through this answer as she said that keeping the competitiveness separate from the person is how they got to know one another and build friendships. “If one can put [the person and their talents] in perspective, there is always an even playing field.”
 
As an athlete myself, I understand how right she is but also how hard that can be for some people. Some athletes are so competitive that they become jealous of those that are more talented, while other’s sometimes see less talented athletes as less talented people. Both perspectives can narrow our minds, and prevent us from making valuable friendships. These women didn’t have their parents around to teach them this lesson, as many young girls and women in sports do today. They WERE pioneers, in sport and in sportsmanship. They had to figure the friendship and competitiveness balance out themselves and they did it well.
 
I was learning so much from Jackie that I had to see if she had some advice specified for young women and girls who are starting to play sports today. She told me that they should do a lot of listening and a lot of watching. No surprisingly she learned to play baseball by doing those exact two things. As a child she had to sit on the sidelines as her brothers and neighborhood boys played ball. They only asked her to play when there were not enough boys to fill the positions. When there weren’t enough players, she was sent to the outfield where she had to chase after fly balls.

No one took one-on-one time to teach her how to catch or throw. She learned by watching the boys on the sideline. The first time she was picked to go into the outfield, she played based on what she saw. It worked. As athletes and professionals we should do the same. Listening to those who know and watching the best help us learn and challenge us to be the best we can be in whatever venture we are embarking on. Jackie says that we must “make due with what [we] are”.  We might not be a natural talent, but we’ve got something to give and if we want it, we can do it.
 
Jackie’s life is unlike many people because she had the opportunity to do what she loved to do, but it doesn’t have to be designated to only a small group of the population. Anyone can live his or her dream like she did. She occasionally speaks with groups of people about her experience in the league, but always extends a challenge to all those present. She asks the audience what they have always dreamed of doing in their life but never got to do. She doesn’t care how old you are,  or what your current job is; she wants us all to pay attention to ourselves and to know our passion. She knew her passion was baseball, so she went out there and played.
 
I realized that Jackie didn’t know what an impact she was making as a teenage professional baseball player when she explained to me that she didn’t claim the word “athlete” until about twenty years ago. She just never thought she was one. How could a successful 100lb catcher with the strength to get hit straight in the Adam’s apple with a baseball only to swallow and go right back out to the field to finish the game not call herself an athlete? She was just doing what she loved to do.
 
I think Jackie is onto something when it comes to sports, friends, and challenges, and I bet she would want to extend the same challenge she gives to all those who she speaks too to you all. So I will ask, what did you always want to do with your life? What is your passion? What is your goal? If you know it, go after it. If you don’t, pay attention and make whatever your dream is, however big or small, happen.  Work hard, joke and laugh with your friends, and remember that there’s no crying in baseball. 
Stephanie Perleberg

Stephanie Perleberg is a graduate of Wisconsin- La Crosse where she studied Communication and Recreation Management. She was a three sport collegiate athlete, running cross country, indoor track and outdoor track and field. She found success in distance running becoming a three-time All-American and the 2009 National Champion in the steeplechase. She is the Communications and Resource Manager at WomenTalkSports.com and is a graduate student at UW-Milwaukee in the Media Studies department where she focuses her attention on women’s sports in the media. She loves writing, running (on most days), and feminism.

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