Welcome back to Summers at the Cinema, in which Globe Arts contributors offer a window into their favourite summer-movie memories from years past. This week, Amberly McAteer recalls the game-changer that was 1992′s A League of Their Own
My most prominent memory from my time on the St. Thomas junior girls’ softball team is not making the game-winning catch, nor smacking a line drive over the heads of the infield, to the cheers of the home crowd. It is the metal taste of blood, paired with the vision of blue sky, as I lay on the grass screaming into my glove.
On a pop-up to right field, I searched for the ball, glove-a-flailing, and somehow caught it with my face. My lower lip had been smashed into my braces and I couldn’t speak. If I could have, I would have said: I am bad at softball. Please let me stop playing.
But my dad was the coach, my closest friends were all on the team and I was in love with the game – with summer evenings spent on the field; with shouting encouragement at my teammates and trash talking the opposing girls; with the postgame team outings; with the punching of my glove and kicking up the dirt and trying really, really hard. But there was that one pesky truth that kept – literally – hitting me in the face: I was just no good.
I spent the games looking up to the girls in the league for whom skill seemed to come effortlessly: the witty and powerful red-headed catcher, the windmill-for-an-arm pitcher and the most popular girl at our school – who was, I should mention, also a damn gymnastics superstar – famous for beating out the throw to the plate.
And then there was me. I never caught the ball when it mattered, and struck out swinging nearly every at-bat. (Is there anything worse than repeatedly hearing a chorus of well-intentioned “Nice swing!” as you retake your spot on the bench?)
The ball-in-the-braces incident was almost the last straw. I told my dad that night that I wasn’t going back.
But the next weekend, I was at a sleepover and everything changed: My best friend came back from Blockbuster with a pile of VHS tapes for us to watch all in one night – who needs sleep when you’re 13! – and in that stack was A League of Their Own. It was the fictional version of the true story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, when women stepped in to play ball while men went to serve in the Second World War.
Lying on the floor in our sleeping bags, way too close to the wood-panelled TV set, I felt film magic for the first time. It wasn’t just seeing women in male-dominated baseball roles – although that was part of it. Growing up with a baseball-obsessed dad and older brother, there were films considered essential viewing: Major League, the entirely male, and entirely unbelievable story of the Cleveland team winning the World Series in the early nineties (sorry, dad) was basically canon in my house.
But I was transfixed because these passionate, strong women were playing their hearts out and sometimes losing important games. Sometimes the bounce didn’t go their way.
As soon as it ended, I made my friend rewind it – which took a few minutes – and then I needed to watch it again. I needed to memorize the lines, especially this one: “I just get so mad,” belted by Kit (Lori Petty), the younger sister to Dotty, the team’s perfect superstar played by the unparalleled Geena Davis. “Why do you have to be so good?”
Sure, fictional Kit was a better ballplayer than real me would ever be. But, like me, she obsessed over the game, felt most alive at the ballpark and hated that she wasn’t a better player.
I saw so much of myself in her frustration. She strikes out, swinging at air, and later gets pulled – at her own sister’s request no less – from a poor pitching performance. Petty spends most of the time playing her with a permanent furrow. Still, because it’s Hollywood, Kit drives in the World Series-winning run at the film’s end. Dotty’s team loses. Kit’s teammates hoist her on their shoulders. I still cry.
This won’t surprise you, but I had no such moment in my short-lived softball career. But watching that movie made me – to borrow a 2019 phrase – feel seen. I never stopped loving the game because of her. And I no longer felt alone. (Isn’t that what a good movie does?)
Two decades later, I found my calling: as the player-manager of a very recreational, very beer-heavy co-ed softball team, We Got The Runs. Basically I was Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan – though I certainly never subscribed to his famous rule: There’s no crying in baseball. The only rule I enforced? Strike out three times, and you buy the first round at the bar.
I organized team rides, argued with the other team’s captain and created strategic batting lineups (complete with every player’s walk-up song, blasted on a tiny portable speaker as they strolled up to the plate.) I was good; and this was a league of my own.
Miraculously, we tasted glory as the 2015 fall champions. I framed that photo of us, hoisting our index fingers to the sky – some holding our dogs/team mascots, others holding beers, as the summer sun set behind us.
Next week: Barry Hertz attempts to outrun a dinosaur with Jurassic Park.