The past six weeks have been an extremely difficult time for me emotionally, but this week, my cup overflowed with joy and gratitude.

We spent the week at the Ripken Experience in Aberdeen, MD attending the Baseball for All Nationals.  Baseball for All is nonprofit organization that was founded by Justine Siegel to help create opportunities for girls and women in baseball.  To clarify, I’m referring to baseball, not softball.

Many times, when I start out having a conversation with someone about this subject, they will stop and say, “You mean girls’ softball, right?”

I politely clarify by saying, “Nope, baseball.  Girls Baseball.”

I was first exposed to women playing baseball in 1994, when I coached a team that played against the Colorado Silver Bullets Women’s Professional Baseball team.  From that point on, I always asked myself why the sport that I loved so much was a “Boys Club?”

After that game, I followed the Silver Bullets for the four seasons that they existed and bought books about them, but never really had any direct contact with girls playing baseball again until 2015 when I came across a crowd funding campaign on Facebook by filmmaker, Cami Kidder.  She was in the process of making a movie about girl’s playing baseball called, “Throw Like a Girl.”  That, as well as the fact that my old organization was already in the midst of expanding our offerings of girls’ sports, led me down a rabbit hole that I am still grateful for today.

We also had a woman locally, who had played in the All-American Girl’s Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), Ruth Hartman.  I knew Ruth, but I didn’t know her very well.  At the complex that I used to manage, we paid tribute to many local former MLB players and others who were influential to the games of baseball and softball.  They were all men.  I wanted to honor Ruth as well.  She was as deserving, if not more so than the others that we had recognized.  I reached out to Cami and asked if she would be interested in helping us put something together.  She connected me to the International Women’s Baseball Center (IWBC) and introduced me to a whole band of amazing women who were attempting to push the needle forward in girl’s and women’s baseball.  The original concept was to host a girl’s baseball tournament. It later evolved into a girl’s baseball festival.

When I called Ruth to tell her what we were going to do in June of 2016, she was completely amazed that we would do something like that for her.  Among many other things, Ruth was now a champion sheep breeder, she had some important shows coming up, so we agreed to get together in person between Thanksgiving and Christmas to see what we wanted the event to look like.

Unfortunately, that meeting never took place, Ruth passed away on November 9, 2015 following a freak accident.  Still, we forged ahead, but it was to now honor her legacy.  Her daughter and granddaughter were onboard and became very involved in the planning of the event as well as with our organization.  Even after my tenure as president ended over a year ago for Sandy and I to embark on this new journey of ours, her daughter, Karen Kase, still serves on the BIG Vision Foundation board today.

During the planning of that event, I was introduced and connected to so many amazing women that it blew my mind.  The one common thread was baseball, just like James Earl Jones stated in Field of Dreams, baseball was the one constant.

Through emails, phone calls and connecting to one another on social media, I was now part of this incredible community that was simply trying to increase opportunities for girls and women in baseball.  They weren’t doing it because they didn’t like softball, they were doing it because they absolutely loved the game of baseball.  For each of them, this was about choice.  If a girl wants to play baseball, she should be given that opportunity, likewise, if she wanted to play softball, she should also be allowed to make that choice without the influence of others.

So, this past week was a reunion with some of those who I had already met in person, as well as an opportunity to meet a few of those who we had only connected with through social media.

This journey, from the start, was always supposed to be about personal connection, just like it was for my mother.  That personal connection has been hindered a bit due to the pandemic, but we’ve still been blessed to connect with some, and those are the moments that Sandy and I cherish the most.

Our visits with Homa Shafii and Anna Kimbrell, who are both part of this women’s baseball community have been two of the best that we’ve had, so I knew going into this week, that it would be awesome, but I was in no way prepared to experience what we did at the BFA Nationals.

We arrived about noon on Monday, we had a late night and an early morning from attending the BEST Scholars awards ceremony with our dear friend Billy Staples on Sunday, so Sandy and Youk decided to stay back in the RV and take a nap while I ventured off alone into the complex.

I immediately reconnected with Shirley Burkovich, Maybell Blair, and Donna Eden Cohen.  They had all attended our event in 2016 honoring Ruth.  Maybelle and Shirley are also both former AAGPBL players and still serve on the IWBC board.  We picked up right where we left off in 2016, talking baseball.  I love just sitting there and listening to them.  The stories are amazing.

My cup runneth over.

From there, it was whirlwind of introductions, reconnections, and surprises.

Like I said, my cup runneth over.

I was able to do eleven podcasts while we were at the BFA Nationals.  Ten with incredible women who were at the event and the eleventh was with the Aberdeen Ironbirds General Manager, Jack Graham.

Jack and I connected when he was working on the amateur side of Ripken Baseball and has worked his way up the ladder to GM of the ‘Birds.  His story is incredibly powerful as well and I am looking forward to sharing it after we release the stories of the women who were at the BFA Nationals.

It’s funny because sometimes I struggle to get guests on my podcast.  My good friend Justin Schenck, who hosts the Growth Now Movement podcast always stresses to me the importance of getting a podcast out on a weekly basis.  That doesn’t always happen for me.  I may hit a good run with a weekly show for a few months, but then I get into a rut and don’t put anything out there for a couple of weeks.

I was just coming off of one of those ruts, and now all of sudden I have a problem that I’ve never experienced before, I have eleven powerful stories to share and I need to make sure that everything gets edited and released on time.  I couldn’t possibly wait eleven weeks to share these stories, so for the next 5-1/2 weeks, I’ll be releasing two per week.  It’s a nice way to come out of a slump.

My cup runneth over.

After reconnecting with Maybelle, Shirley and Donna, they introduced me to two other women who were former AAGPBL players, Gloria Rogers and Jeneane Lesko, as well as the secretary of the AAGPBL players association and official league historian, Merrie Fidler.  Jeneane and I were connected on Facebook, but this was my first time meeting her in person.

Sandy immediately fell in love with Gloria.  Gloria gave Sandy advice on some books to read and Netflix shows to watch for when she starts to get bored while I am writing or editing.  Every time that we bumped into her at the complex, those two would have a good 10–15-minute conversation that was filled with laughter.  I enjoyed seeing the way Sandy laughed and smiled when she was around Gloria.  It filled my soul.

My cup runneth over.

Our original plan was to leave the complex around mid-day on Thursday and head to a campground for one night to dump our tanks, do laundry and reset from over a week of boondocking.

God had other plans for us though.  When we got to the complex on Wednesday, our rear slide stopped midway between the open and closed position.  We were unable to move.  I spent the morning trying to get a mobile RV repair service out, but was unsuccessful.  My podcast with Jack was that morning, so I explained to him that we may be in his parking lot for the night or perhaps longer.  He had no issues with that scenario.  Once we finally got in touch with a mobile RV tech, he informed us that he couldn’t get to us until Friday afternoon or evening.  We made the necessary calls and prepared to honker down for an extended stay in the parking lot of Ripken Stadium.  This definitely could have been a worse situation, but to be “stranded” in the midst of girl’s baseball everywhere, was really quite tolerable.

I got up Thursday, operating on about three hours sleep and had no idea what was in store for me.  My goal was to get interviews with Alex Oglesby, Jennifer Hammond and Jeneane.  I figured walking away with seven good interviews was a really good week and nice backlog to deal with.

I ended up adding interviews with Anika Orrock, Rachelle “Rocky” McCann, Denae Benites, and Beth Greenwood.

My cup runneth over.

I sat in awe listening to the stories that these women had to tell.  I got so caught up in the moment that I never ate lunch, and no longer felt tired.  The grit, the resilience, and the determination were definitely awe inspiring.

To have the opportunity to interview Annika Orrock was a dream come true.  I have followed her on social media for several years now.  She is an incredibly talented artist, a fellow author, and a fellow storyteller.  She brought me to tears when we started talking about her grandfather and my mother.  I apologized afterward and she actually thanked me, by saying, “If it wasn’t you, it was going to be me.”  Perhaps that’s the sign of a good host, being willing to have a good ugly cry in the midst of an interview so that my guest can keep her composure.  And if it’s not, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

My cup runneth over.

I was able to watch Alex, Rocky, and Denae respond to adversity before interviewing them, which allowed me to get a nice perspective of what type of coaches Alex and Rocky were as well as what type of player Denae was.  Alex and Rocky coach Evolution Baseball based in San Francisco, and Denae plays for them as well as for the US Women’s National Baseball team.  Alex coaches for national team as well.  Interviewing them turned me into a fan of Evolution as well.  Our little slide malfunction allowed Sandy and I to watch them edge out the DC Force 7-6 in 9 innings for the BFA Nationals 19-U Division Championship.

My cup runneth over.

Jennifer Hammond was one of the women who immediately embraced me as an advocate for the girl’s game when we first connected in 2016.  She did not disappoint when we finally met in person.  As a matter of fact, she was far more exceptional than I ever could have anticipated.  I believe that if she were to have a chest X-Ray done, you would probably see a baseball beating in the place of her heart.  She coaches boy’s baseball at both the high school and collegiate summer league level and is a driving “force” in the DC Girl’s Baseball program, which had six teams in the tournament.  As if that wasn’t enough baseball for her, she also plays in the Eastern Women’s Baseball Conference (EWBC).

Above all of that though, she takes her vocation as a coach very seriously and understands that what she is doing is just a fraction about winning and losing baseball games, but so much more about teaching life lessons through the game.

My cup runneth over.

My biggest surprise, although, it shouldn’t have been, was bumping into Beth Greenwood and being able to interview her.  Beth is one of the few people in this community that I had met face-to-face before connecting on social media.

She was taking a trip from New England to Pittsburgh in 2018 with Erin Pappas and Jacqui Reynolds, who were two of my social media connections through women’s baseball.  They decided to stop into our complex during a tournament weekend and meet me on their way to Pittsburgh.  That meant an awful lot to me and is something that I will never forget.

Since that time, Beth, who is now only 21, is trailblazing and breaking glass ceilings at a record pace.  She actually serves as an advisor to the BFA Board, which is why I shouldn’t have been surprised when we bumped into each other.  Additionally, she is currently the only female on the roster of the Rochester University baseball team.  She didn’t make the team her freshman or sophomore years, but continued to work hard and kept showing up.  She made the team as a junior.  She is wise beyond her years.  As we spoke, I was amazed that the words that were coming out of her mouth were that of a 21-year-old woman.  Her composure, perspective, and understanding that her actions aren’t only about her, but about paving the way for a whole generation of girls that will be coming behind her were remarkable.

My cup runneth over.

I can’t wait to share these stories and I feel so blessed to be entrusted to help tell them.  There have been times since we started this journey when I ask why God wanted me to start this new chapter.  There are times when I ask myself if I should be moving on from my sports background.  The truth is that starting a new chapter doesn’t mean that you burn the old chapter.  30 years of working and volunteering in youth sports is in my blood, that’s not something to be forgotten.  Even though I am no longer part of that daily grind, this new chapter allows me to tell the stories of those who are out there continuing to do the work and create a positive experience for kids through sports.

Baseball may be the tool, but these people are teaching kids about life.  They truly are some of the many little people, in those many little places, who are doing many little things, to make the whole world change.

My cup runneth over.