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Getting into “The Game”

Pam's 1976 photo

My name is Pam Dawkins, known fondly as daughter number five, out of six…..daughters, to Bill and Elsie Reay.  As we grew up, Baseball was always a major part of our lives as dad played and coached for the Richmond Tigers, Dandenong Lions and then Springvale Lions Baseball Clubs.  The Reay family were a baseball family, helping support dad’s teams and clubs.  We all assisted in catering for fundraisers, spectating, scoring for teams and opening our house and our hearts to dad’s baseball mates and players. They all became part of our family.  There wasn’t a week I can remember when one of dad’s boys hadn’t turned up to our house for a meal or just to hang out with the coach.   Mum invited these boys into our home on the proviso that they behaved themselves around the girls.  I can’t remember a time when any of them stepped out of line and were not allowed to return to our house.

In the Reay family I was more the Tomboy.  I hated cooking, had no time for makeup, hair and fashion.  If dad was heading off to baseball training or the game I would be in toe, ready to follow. Or in later years, riding my bike down to the ballpark for training or whatever exciting stuff was going on.   Give me a baseball glove, bat and ball let me put on my baseball cap and head down to the local park and I was in heaven.

In 1976, the Springvale Lions Baseball Club decided to run a movie night, fundraiser, in Melbourne. The movie we watched that night was the baseball movie of the year; “The Bad News Bears”, starring Walter Matthau and Tatum O’Neal. A story of a team of misfits who are seen as the competition losers until a new pitcher joins the team, who happened to be a girl.    As we walked out of the movies, one of the senior players yelled out;-

“Hey Pam that sounds like you.” The whole group broke down in laughter.

From that day I could hear myself saying:-

“Hey yeah! Why can’t that be me?  I train hard all week, I throw as hard, sometimes harder than the boys at training.  I know all the plays……….”

It wasn’t as though I wasn’t known around the baseball club as dad (Bill), coached both junior and senior teams and I scored for the under 13s first thing Saturday morning and saw first-hand  the frustration on the coaches face when only eight players turned up and we had to play short.  I was at training on the other six days of the week, (Unless I was in trouble at home and wasn’t allowed to go to training)…….

During this time I remember hearing family members, friends and players asking the question, “Why do you want to play baseball?  Baseball is for the boys…..Go and play softball if you want to play, that’s what girls play.  Baseball is for boys.”  I was playing softball, in the summer, in the winter I loved baseball, but people at that time didn’t understand…… Girls weren’t suppose-to play boy sports.

Pam's 1976 photos2One night after training I was at home, when dad’s mate, Ernie Jones, another coach for Springvale, came around to visit.  The conversation moved to the low junior numbers the club faced that year Ernie pointed out how it was a waste, having me sitting on the bench scoring the game when the team was struggling to take the field each week.   …… it was at that moment I heard the two of them discuss approaching the Dandenong Baseball Association to allow me to play baseball.   I know Dad was nervous and also a little excited over the possibility.  Dad asked what I thought about playing baseball.  Well like a firecracker going off, I couldn’t contain my excitement.  Dad and Ernie made me aware it was going to be a long road before they would know…… this hadn’t been proposed before.   I didn’t care how long it was going to take…. My dad would work it out…. He always did….. Wow! I’m going to play baseball….. I couldn’t hold back my excitement.

I remember waiting for dad to return home from the DBA meetings, running out of my bedroom asking the question, can I play now?  Dad would shake his head and say the committee was thinking about it and would get back to us with their decision soon.

I kept picturing myself in the uniform, running out on the field wearing the Springvale Colors (Red White and light blue).  At 10 years of age, it seemed to take an eternity.  Then one cold winter’s night, dad came home from the DBA meeting and told me the Association had said yes…. I could play baseball.

The day I got my uniform I was walking on air. It was as though I had won first prize in a competition.  My sister Debra, told me she was so proud of me.  She got me to put on my uniform, and took the only photo I have in the Springvale Lions Uniform in front of our house  (I still carry that picture around in my purse to this day….).

By the end of season ’76 I still hadn’t played a game, even though I was allowed to play.  The coach of the under 13s for Springvale that year preferred to play short than be seen as the laughing stock of the association.  I sat on the bench for the rest of the season and scored for the U13s, (Even when they were short…..)  I didn’t care….  Each week I would turn up in full uniform just in case he changed his mind.  All that mattered to me was that I was allowed to play baseball just like my dad.

Winter Baseball Season 1977 was going to be different for me and for baseball.  Before club registration day, I told dad I wanted to play baseball this year, not score for the under 13s.

Dad knew I needed a father daughter talk…… He wanted me to understand, that being a girl playing baseball wasn’t going to be like the movie.  Breaking into a boy sport was going to mean I needed to be able to handle the knock backs and rejections from players and coaches.   Being the person, I am, who wanted to be treated equal right away, he knew I needed to face up to the reality that I would need to persist and keep coming back week after week.  He emphasised, even though my team mates didn’t mind me playing, this wasn’t going to be how everyone in our club and the Association would feel.   The most important thing dad said to me that day, that I have taken with me to every baseball match since was:-

“Pam you are playing baseball with the boys.  Do not go in their playing the “girl card”….. You are a BASEBALLER…. You are out there to hit the ball, field the ball throw the ball and to play ball with your team mates.” 

He made it quite clear that if at any time I used being a girl as an excuse or to gain an advantage, in the game…. I wouldn’t be allowed to play baseball again.

A couple of weeks after registration day the team lists for ’77 came out.  I was listed in the Und 13B team.  Our games were played at a place known as Police Paddocks in Dandenong.  At the start of the season the paddocks were green fields with three to four baseball diamonds marked out on them.  By the middle of winter the grounds were just mud pits with a thick sludgy mud that seem to stick to everything set down in it and would take days to scrape off your shoes and your uniform.  I remember coming home from games that had been cancelled, classified as washouts by umpires covered in mud from impromptu sliding practice.  Dad would place plastic on the seat of the car so my teammates and I could go home without dirtying the car.  When I got home, mum would rinse me off with the garden hose to get rid of some of the mud that covered me.  It was so much fun!!!!

Season ‘77 started the same as ’76 finished, me sitting on the bench and the boys out on the field playing.  Then one morning it happened.  We were playing against Oakleigh Baseball Club and one of my team mates was injured and had to come off.  The coach looked longingly at the bench hoping that a player other than me would magically materialize on the bench.  Fortunately this didn’t happen and I heard my name called.  I didn’t know what to do with the score book.  Who do I pass it to?  The boy who came off had no idea what to do, neither did the coach.  I dropped it on the bench beside me, grabbed my glove and ran out to Right Field to play my first game.  At last I was on the field.  I pictured the scorer adding “P Reay” to the Batting line-up in both score books.  History was now being written.

There was no action out at Right Field for the match but I made sure I marked my spot.  I moved when the coach signalled for me to move around for a left handed batter in readiness.

I had one at bat for the match, a walk to first.  On the coaches signal I stole to second, sliding in at the base.  I felt for the Oakleigh second baseman, who received a rocket throw from the catcher.  The poor second baseman had a brain freeze as he tried to work out where to tag me.  His coach was calling out from the bench, “tag her.”  The second baseman held the ball tightly in his glove, and  shook his head from side to side as he responded to his coach and his dad, “ I can’t tag her here, I can’t tag her there and I definitely can’t tag her there…….. Where do I tag her?”

I was called safe at second base……just before the umpire called “Time & Game”.

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