Rob Kahane used to be one of those Little League dads who didn't like the way the manager treated his kid. If he'd just give Rachel a chance, Kahane groused, she'd show him that she can play this game.
It wasn't just unfair, he reasoned, it was sexist. So a few months ago, determined to give Rachel and other girls a chance, Kahane, the owner of a record label, volunteered to be a manager himself and then drafted and traded to create the first all-girl team in the 56-year history of Little League--the Pirates of Sherman Oaks, Triple A Division.
This was so darned cute, we media types couldn't resist it. Perhaps you read the newspaper stories. Maybe you saw them on local TV news or ESPN. Last Saturday, a crew from NBC, covering the Pirates' season finale for an upcoming "Dateline" feature, came with a crane and several cameras. They put wireless microphones on Kahane, Rachel and her friend Alex Krug to record their chatter during the game.
The Pirates lost. It was their 17th, against only three victories. Dead last. And as coach Jamie Krug acknowledges, "They led the league in tears."
There is, of course, plenty of crying in the Little League. Boys cry too. It's supposed to be fun, but it's a pressure cooker for tiny egos. Coach Krug, Alex's father, says there's no question that the Pirates, as a general rule, had a harder time dealing with disappointment. Is this because boys are taught that tears aren't manly? The coach doesn't think that's it. Plenty of these Pirates, he says, are tomboys. They're a pretty tough bunch.
Yet there were moments when they looked like deer caught in the headlights. Perhaps these girls, accustomed to success on the soccer field, had set their expectations too high. Perhaps they were more embarrassed than boys when they struck out or dropped an easy fly ball. Krug, who also has a 5-year-old son, says boys are much more likely to be "goofballs." Boys aren't as well-behaved. Perhaps the Pirates cared too much.
It was a wait-till-next-year kind of season, but for these 9-, 10- and 11-year-olds there won't be many next years before Nature unlevels this playing field. Fortunately, the success of a Little League team isn't measured in wins and losses. For the Pirates, the prevailing view seems to be that, all in all, it was an OK season--a lot of fun despite the tears. The Pirates had much more success as a social experiment than as a ballclub, enduring little tempests along the way.
The first worry, voiced by many parents, was that an all-girl team would encourage hostility between the genders, as opposed to good sportsmanship. Another concern was the way the media descended on the Little League diamond and the pressure that created.
"Way too much of a fuss was made about it," a rival manager says. "You're talking about 10-year-old kids."
A few boys taunted the girls early, but this waned. After a single game, they regarded the Pirates as just another team. One reason may be that other teams also had girls on their roster. Royals manager Michael Morin says the Pirates really were more competitive than their record indicates.
Morin's team was the division champ. In their last meeting, the Pirates grabbed a five-run lead before the Royals rallied to win. In their first game, the Pirates got one of their three victories.
Two months later, Kahane savors the triumph. "We beat the best team," he says. "That's some accomplishment."
And because this is Little League, this club endured internal strife. Linda Mose, the mother of fraternal twins Kathy and Jessie, was the Pirates' "team mom." It was she who first notified the media. If you publicize it, they will come.
In midseason the team mom and the manager had a falling out. She thinks it was over a newspaper photo; he doesn't want to discuss it. She says the Pirates might have won more games if he had scheduled more practices. He says they practiced as much as anybody. Their record, the manager says, was not a reflection of the girls' athletic ability, but of their inexperience. For many Pirates this was their first baseball season--and maybe that had something to do with the tears.
Kahane says he might try an all-girl team again. Or maybe not. Maybe he'll draft mostly girls, plus a few male ringers.
It wouldn't be baseball without controversy. The Mose twins, fittingly, finished the season with different perspectives.
Jessie Mose loved it, despite the losses. She said she made lots of good friends, especially Brittany, and is looking forward to next season. Kathy, however, has announced her retirement.
"I didn't really like baseball at all," she explains. "I didn't like being in the outfield, alone and bored. I didn't like batting in case I got hit [by a pitch].
"And that's it."