Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings
by Deborah Hopkinson; ill. by Terry Widener
Atheneum BFYR, 2003
I grew up in the San Gabriel Valley in the 1980s, a good decade for Southern California baseball.
My grandparents were Angels fans, but the Dodgers were the team of choice for me and my dad. No one in my family is terribly competitive, but I think our domestic harmony still benefited from the fact that the two teams never had to play each other.
I have many happy memories of sitting on the sofa with Daddy, listening to Vin Scully narrate as Tommy Lasorda telegraphed signals from the dugout steps.
And then there were the weeknight meals at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, with everyone eating off trays in the living room because the Angels game was due to start halfway through dinnertime.
I loved watching baseball so much that, when Daddy offered me a special day doing anything I wanted, I asked him to take me to a Dodgers game. I still have the miniature blue batting helmet that came with my ice cream that day.
So kids’ books about baseball are an immediate draw for me. And so much the better (especially for the purposes of this blog) if they’re about girls and baseball.
Like Deborah Hopkinson’s Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings. This picture book tells/imagines the story of Alta Weiss, a turn-of-the-century Ohio girl who was born to pitch.
After a childhood spent aiming her fastballs at hay bales and local boys, the 17-year-old Alta talked her way onto a local minor-league team. A men’s minor-league team, that is.
She was an instant, well, hit, giving up only four bases and one run in her five-inning debut. As she continued to best the league’s batters, her reputation spread. She eventually became so popular that the area railroad ran special trains from Cleveland just for her games.
Alta continued to play baseball off and on for 15 years, with time off to attend medical school (paid for with baseball earnings, of course). The only woman in her graduating class, she became a physician in 1914.
It’s an inspiring story, one of supreme determination and the joy of fulfilling a dream.
One of my favorite moments is when Alta faces down the Vermillion Independents’ gruff head coach.
He seems rock-hard in his refusal to add her to the roster, but she’s just as determined to play. So she slyly points out that having a girl on the team will be a lucrative publicity-maker–and the coach puts her on as starting pitcher.
I also love the way Alta handles her moments of self-doubt–when her girlfriends tell her it’s time to put away the glove and settle down, or when she takes the mound for the first time and almost chokes.
At these moments, she wonders whether her dream is worth pursuing, or whether it’s even the right dream to have.
But then facing her doubts only solidifies her resolve. Through confronting her second thoughts and assessing them honestly, she’s able to really own her dream, to remind herself why it’s hers (and, more importantly, why it’s worth pursuing).
And she maintains that confidence and determination, even as her dream grows and changes.
The takeaway: you’re never too young to have a big dream, or to be dedicated to that dream. And when your dream grows and changes, just as Alta’s did, you can still find a path to fulfillment.