Amid the normal chatter and buzz of a high school baseball game that was anything but typical, a Saturday morning fan found himself changing his normal chatter.
“Good job, guys,” he said as Marti Sementelli jogged off the field with her teammates.
Then he corrected himself. “Good job, girls,” he said. Realizing that wasn’t entirely correct either, the fan rose to his feet and howled, “Good job, team!”
He applauded a historic pitching matchup between Sementelli (on the right in photo) and Ghazaleh Sailors, the first time two high school girls had opposed each other on the mound in a varsity game. Sementelli and Sailors wore different uniforms but considered themselves sisters on the same team, striving to pave the way for other girls who want to be high school, or even college, baseball players.
The outcome was less significant than the message, though Sementelli pitched a five-hitter with four strikeouts to lead Lake Balboa Birmingham to a 6-1 victory. Sailors allowed three hits and three runs in 3 1/3 innings for Santa Barbara San Marcos High School.
Both girls considered the game equal parts dream come true and monumental progress to what they hope will be a wider acceptance of girls playing baseball with and against boys.
“Today was a big day for me, I was thinking about it all week,” Sementelli said. “I was shaking in the first inning and in the seventh inning. Hopefully, ten years from now a lot of girls will face each other.”
Sementelli showed nerves, then savvy. She walked three batters in the first inning, but picked off a runner and got a ground ball for an inning-ending double play. Throwing as hard as many boys, she showed the moxie to throw first pitch curveballs for strikes. In the seventh inning, she didn’t know if she would be allowed to complete the game, so she grabbed her glove and walked onto the field. “Nobody stopped me,” she said. Then she picked a runner off second base for the final out of the game.
Sailors was pulling for her counterpart with every pitch. “We’re the same size, throw the same speed and have the same stuff,” she said. “She’s like the sister I never had. I hope this is a major stepping stone along the way.”
Sailors has the feel of a baseball player, not a softball player. Walking back to the dugout after she was removed from the game, she big-leagued the big city columnist on her way back to join the boys. Over on a nearby softball field, a supporter handed out flyers promoting girls baseball. Sementelli and Sailors hope they move the idea of girls playing high school baseball past the taunting and pink batting helmet jokes. They consider themselves sister soldiers with sliders.
“We’ll always be teammates in the greater sense of things,” Sailors said.
-- John Klima is the author of "Willie’s Boys: The 1948 Birmingham Black Barons, The Last Negro League World Series, and the Making of a Baseball Legend."