Scrimmage goes beyond baseball

The Naugatuck Hackers, a men’s baseball team based in Naugatuck, played an exhibition baseball game with women baseball players from the New England area on June 30 in Whatley, Mass. –CONTRIBUTED

WHATLEY, Mass. — The Naugatuck Hackers needed a baseball team to scrimmage the last weekend of June, and they found a group of ladies who gave them all they could handle on the field.

It made for good competition for the borough-based team. The teams played a men-versus-women modified, one-inning game that ended in a scoreless draw.

The teams next split up to compete in a co-ed game on a field with the backdrop of farmland and hills not far from Interstate 91 in Central Massachusetts.

“We’re just trying to do our little part that women have a place in baseball,” said Mike Doran, who has managed the Hackers for the last 14 years and led the effort to organize the game.  “People should be aware that women can compete with men.”

It was clear from the first batter of the game, the women could play. Erin Pappas, the starting pitcher for the women’s team and one of the lead organizers, struck out the first Hacker she faced.

“It’s really just a lot of people coming together to play baseball and sharing a love of the sport,” said Pappas, who plays on a different baseball team in Western Massachusetts.

Pappas said she responded to a Facebook group post that eventually led to women coming together for a game.

The women’s team featured accomplished players, including some who were competitors at a Red Sox Baseball Fantasy Camp.

Two others recently earned spots on the USA Baseball 2018 Women’s National Team Trials roster. One of them is Beth Greenwood, a catcher from Amherst, N.H.

“I asked if I could come watch, because that’s pretty cool, you don’t get to see women playing baseball with men that often, and typically you have to travel pretty far to do that,” said Greenwood, who also wrote a book about her experience in baseball — “Between the Bases: A Girl’s Baseball Journey.” “All these guys were very supportive and pushing us to our best, and vice versa, so it was a pretty cool experience.”

Doran said he was impressed with the women players, and his teammate Ethan Sazbo agreed.

“It was cool,” said Sazbo, who noted his mom played baseball when he was younger. “Some of the girls here are better than some of the guys we play against. Not all the guys were slowing it down for all the girls, we were playing like we would on any Sunday.”

Erin Pappas pitches during an exhibition baseball game with the Naugatuck Hackers, a men’s baseball team based in Naugatuck, on June 30 in Whatley, Mass. –CONTRIBUTED

Doran went a step further and reached out to Perry Barber, a professional female umpire who has worked games at all levels around the world, including Major League Baseball’s spring training.  Barber traveled from her home in New York City to umpire the game behind the plate.

Barber was recently honored with the Dorothy Seymour Mills Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). This award recognizes Barber’s tireless advocacy for women in baseball.

“It’s very satisfying to have responded from a simple inquiry from Mike Doran and have it result in an afternoon of fun and revelry, bookended by baseball,” Barber said. “What could be better?”

The game ended with no winner, except for the game of baseball. The two teams came together for a post-game cookout and some time to reflect on the unique experience.

“It was great to bridge the gap to let other girls know it’s OK if you want to play baseball instead of softball, if you want to play,” Sazbo said. “We’re equal.”

Pappas saw a bigger picture for a game like this.

“I know baseball is kind of like a dying sport, but if we can spread the love of the game to a different generation, or a different population, it’s good for the sport and it’s good for all of us that love it,” she said.