Swinging for the Fence

Close your eyes and simply listen to Norine Rathbone. You can hear the excitement, the determination, the understanding that this is her shot, and she plans to make the most of it. Five minutes talking to Norine Rathbone and you’re convinced she can do anything. Even play baseball for the Detroit Tigers. At 51. After surviving breast cancer.

Rathbone is a baseball player. Not in a softball or senior league. Rathbone is a first baseman in an over-35 men’s baseball league. The only female on the Las Vegas Sandvipers. The only woman in the Vegas Valley Men’s Baseball League. A woman holding her own on the field with men.

Each year, the Detroit Tigers hold open tryouts for college, minor league, and other unsigned players. This year they invited Rathbone to the tryouts. She sent her information to all 30 MLB teams, but only the Tigers organization took the time to actually listen to her voice. That had to be the deciding factor. Even if the best they could do was an invitation to open tryouts. Rathbone figures it is her chance to convince the team to help her with her dream.

Three years ago Major League Baseball introduced a promotion to benefit the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation. For Mother’s Day select players swing pink bats to promote the charity. This year, Rathbone aims to be one of those players.

She’s not looking for charity. She wants to prove her skills and make the team. Even a one-day contract would do. It wouldn’t be the first time MLB has awarded a special one-day contracts for a promotion. Why not award one to a breast cancer survivor to play on “Pink Bat” Day?

This morning Rathbone will step out onto the field at Joker Merchant. She’ll take swings, run sprints, and shag grounders surrounded by men half her age. Not that she expects to anyone to take that into account. She feels she’s up to the task. She’s an experienced first baseman. She’s been a sports fanatic all her life. She’s played ten years in the Vegas Valley Men’s Baseball League.

Nine of those seasons after beating cancer. Nine years after the surgeries and the chemotherapy. Nine years after radiation treatments and even through bouts with skin cancer.

Rathbone believes MLB’s cancer cure benefit includes an actual breast cancer survivor wielding one of those pink bats. Her love and respect for baseball is displayed when she adds, “Not just any survivor, but one that can play the game.”

She plans to use one of the pink bats sent to her by Louisville Slugger. After the baseball bat manufacturer listened to her story they donated equipment for her cause.

She’s been told that women can’t play baseball because they’re too small and weak. 2006 World Series Most Valuable Player David Eckstein often heard similar platitudes. Rathbone would find his uniforms too short and tight.

Rathbone doesn’t want anyone to take it easy on her today. She tuned up yesterday by facing Orlando Black Sox pitcher Larry Hingle. Rathbone says Hingle, a former minor league pitcher, was a bit surprised by her grounder back at the box. However, she said the players for both teams cheered her on.

So, today, under the watchful eye of the Tiger’s personnel, she’ll field grounders, shag fly balls, take a few swings, and even dig in to make the 60-yard sprint in under nine seconds. “They want you under seven, but catchers and first basemen they know don’t run as much,” Rathbone says with certain confidence.

Confidence born of skill perfected playing the game she loves. Confidence created through beating cancer. Confidence through having a goal. Rathbone believes its time Major League Baseball put a face and personality to all those pink bats.

Why not one who plays the game with skill, heart, and determination?

You can see Rathbone play at A Real Live Pink Bat.