Throwing Like a Girl

With her fluid windup and smooth mechanics, Susan Winthrop could pitch all day. And she may just have to. At 48, Winthrop’s old enough to be Jesse Orosco’s older sister. She’s on the hill for the Queens Cyclones of the New York Women’s Baseball Association in the first game of a doubleheader against the Manhattan Giants, on a perfect summer Sunday in Central Park’s’ North Meadow.

That’s right baseball. Overhand. Fast-pitch. Hardball. Regulation field. Women. Not softball.  Why not softball, I ask league founder Winthrop, who coaches softball at NYU and plays saxophone professionally. “Baseball’s more challenging,” she says “A lot of us here always wanted to play baseball, and just never had the opportunity.”

She’s throwing against Maia weinstock, who’s almost half her age. Weinstock writes about physics and planetary science for Discover Magazine by weekday, and plays ball on weekend, “I was that girl on your Little League team growing up,” she says as she munches on sunflower seeds. “I switched to softball after my first year of Babe Ruth, but I didn’t like it as much – the underhand pitching, the small field, the big ball you couldn’t really rip.”

Winthrop has four pitches in her repertoire – overhand fastball, sidearm fastball, curve and occasional knickler – and none is much harder than those dealt by nearby Little Leaguers. But her command is excellent – thanks, perhaps, to her father – a windmilling softball pitcher who still competes. Skill levels in the NYWBA vary, there are double steals and snap throws at leaning baserunners, and there are missed fly balls and around-the-horn pegs that sail into the outfield. Cyclones shortstop Amanda Beck, who plays softball at Bates College, is a stud, So is Giants third baseman Jen Laurie, who rips an RBI double in the first inning. Beck answers in the second, driving one deep to left for a double that ties up. Cyclones coach John Lenhart, who drove through the night to make the game after a week at a youth baseball camp in maine, applauds Beck’s effort. Lenhart looks every bit the ball coach: cap low over his eyes, and in his cheeck, endless stream of baseball truisms flying out of his mouth (“the litthe things are what matter!”) baseball pants so tight one can almost count the change in his pocket.

Lenhart’s enthusiasm is tested in the third. After Cyclones catcher Stephanie Kung drives in two with a bad-hop single past the shortstop (to the delight of her two young daughters, who serve as scorekeepers and batgirls), things go sour for Queens. Beck makes a Jose Reyes-esque stop deep in the hole, but her catchable throw to second sails past Jacqueline Wagner’s glove. Wagner then drops the ball on a would-be forceout, and after a double steal puts runners on second and third, she fields a grounder cleanly, but mistakenly goes to second with it. All hands are safe.
“Let’s shake it off!” yells Lenhart as Wagner moves to leftfield. As luck would have it, the next batter hits a monster fly her way. Everyone tenses as Wagner posies, then squeezes it for the inning’s final out.

Read more