Throwing like a girl

Chase Baker Brandon Shipley

By Audrey Brown, Eureka High School

When Skylinn Pogue (9) found out she made the freshman baseball team, her family was not surprised.

Skylinn Pogue grew up in Canada, where baseball was a popular sport for both boys and girls to pursue. Her passion for the game started when she was just three years old.

“I can’t say that I was overly surprised,” Jamie Pogue, father, said. “I’ve seen her compete against the boys and I felt like she’s always done really well.”

It is safe to say the baseball runs in the family. Jamie Pogue played college baseball at Southern Arkansas University before moving on to play in the minor leagues for the St. Louis Cardinals. In 2012, he joined the major league team as the bullpen catcher.

“My wife would bring the girls down to watch me play when I was playing in the minor leagues,” Jamie Pogue said. “She would be locked in watching those games and really paying attention.”

The time spent watching her father and playing baseball in Canada paid off in the end. After a long week of tryouts, Skylinn Pogue made the freshman team as the first and only girl to play for an EHS baseball team.

“I cried when I found out she made it,” Madyson Pogue, sister, said. “I was just really supportive when she told me because that’s a big thing and no one has done it before at our school.”

The news was also received fairly well by other members of the baseball team. Although having a girl on a majority-male baseball team was unprecedented, Skylinn Pogue’s teammates recognized the growth it would present to both the team and the sport.

“It’s different because we’ve never had a girl on the team,” Alex Wangerin (9) said. “I feel like it will be a good change.”

Skylinn Pogue’s courage in playing a male-dominated sport is rare. In the 2014-2015 high school baseball season, only 1,203 girls played compared to the 486,567 boys that did, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Roughly 100,000 girls play youth baseball before they reach high school. There, the most common path for a female baseball player is to drop the sport they’ve played since their childhood and join the more socially-accepted sport of softball.

“Some people will think about it like ‘Softball is for girls and baseball is for boys,’ so for the opposite gender to cross into it is foreign,” Madyson Pogue said. “It honestly doesn’t make sense to me why someone would have a negative view on it. If someone can play it, they should be able to play it and there shouldn’t be that stigma around it.”

But baseball and softball are not the same. Softball uses a bigger ball and glove, a smaller bat, underhand pitching and smaller fields.

Even lead-off rules vary. In softball, players cannot leave the base until the ball is pitched, whereas in baseball, players can leave the base at any time.

“I’ll go from a softball to a baseball game and I’ll forget that I can actually lead off,” Skylinn Pogue said. “It’s confusing at first, but then once I start playing, I’m fine.”

The differences between baseball and softball are the reason that girls are allowed on high school baseball teams. Girls and boys must be afforded the same opportunities in regards to any federally funded activity or educational program, according to Title IX.

Before Title IX was created in 1972, girls only made up 7.4 percent of sports participants in high school. In the 2016-2017 season, they made up 42.7 percent of participants, according to the NFHS.

Schools are required to let girls try out for a sport if there is no female equivalent team. Additionally, the lack of female representation historically in sports has contributed to granting them greater opportunities in athletics today.

Because baseball and softball are not considered to be the same sport, Skylinn Pogue was given permission to try out after checking in with Coach James Daffron and Activities Director Gregg Cleveland.

Skylinn Pogue found inspiration through the words of encouragement that Cardinal players like Adam Wainwright and Matt Carpenter sent her. While reporting to spring training, a group of players recorded themselves wishing her good luck at tryouts, which were then forwarded to her by her father.

“The first day of tryouts I was scared to go out there because all the girls in the locker room looked so confused,” Skylinn Pogue said. “But then whenever I went out there, I was okay.”

Of course, a difference in gender still presented challenges.

“I feel like we have to act different than a normal team would with all guys,” Carson Smith (9) said. “It’s harder to communicate what we are going to be wearing for practice because she’s in a different locker room, so she could show up with a different uniform on.”

Fortunately, Skylinn Pogue’s teammates have been accepting of their differences and can work around issues as routine sets in.

“I think it’s nice because it represents Eureka well and also she’s actually really nice and friendly,” Matthew Myers (9) said. “I think she’s just another teammate. I don’t treat her any differently.”

The quality that unites the team regardless of gender is a love for baseball, and Skylinn Pogue’s passion for the game is apparent through her dedication and hard work. Making the baseball team her freshmen year was just one step closer to her ultimate goal of playing for the Canadian Women’s Baseball Team.

“It sounds very cheesy, but if you dream it you can do it,” Skylinn Pogue said.

This story was originally published on EHS-Hub on March 27, 2019.