Not quite a ‘league of their own,’ but these ladies can play ball
If you like classic movies that center around sports, then you’ve undoubtedly watched “A League of Their Own” at least once, maybe more.
Aside from the “There’s no crying in baseball!” line that Tom Hanks, as manager Jimmy Dugan, proclaims, the tune that all the girls sing during wartime in America sticks out to this writer, likely more than it does for others.
“The time has come for one and all … to play ball.”
For Roaring Fork senior Megan Nieslanik, and sophomore Isabella Hernandez, it’s just that — time to play Rams’ baseball. The two girls are showing that baseball isn’t just a game for men, considering Nieslanik is the Rams’ starting first baseman, having played every inning this season, while Hernandez sees time at second base, and has one hit on the season — a sharp single to left against the Aspen Skiers.
Nieslanik strictly plays the field, allowing Roaring Fork Head Coach Marty Madsen to designate a hitter for her each game.
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Neither are new to the game, as Nieslanik will head to Avila University to play softball this fall. Her older sister, Madeleine, currently plays there.
Hernandez comes from a baseball family and has played the game for most of her life.
The duo has adapted well to the varsity game, though, proving doubters wrong game after game, while also drawing sizcrowds to take in the unusual scene of two girls playing on the right side of the infield for the Rams.
“I find it to be pretty cool having Megan by my side,” Hernandez said. “Some teams could look at the right side and think of it as the weak side when we’re out there together, but we have fun showing people what our potential is. I’m proud to say I’m a baseball player.”
In fact, the two started and played the entire game against the Aspen Skiers on March 22, a 9-2 loss. Despite the two starting against Aspen, Madsen didn’t set out to try and make school history, or try and change the game up for his own team; he was simply starting the best nine players on that given day, and that happened to include Hernandez and Nieslanik.
“I told everybody on the first day of practice that I was looking for the nine best players,” Madsen said prior to recent Roaring Fork game in Carbondale. “I’ve always said players; it’s not the nine best ‘guys’, but ‘players.’ Megan can play, and Isa can play. It’s a lot of fun to see them show themselves, and others, that they can play.”
After playing basketball together in the winter, Nieslanik and Hernandez decided to give baseball a go together, despite neither having varsity baseball experience. That didn’t matter at all, though, as both showed up for workouts and showed right away that they could play.
“We haven’t looked back since,” Madsen said.” It’s been like that since day one. They both have backgrounds in the game, whether it’s a hard ball or soft ball; they just love being around the game, and that’s pretty cool.”
Despite having background in the game, the two are constantly learning with the Rams, even if the speed of the varsity game has been a tough adjustment at times.
“It’s obviously very different from softball, but I really enjoy baseball,” Nieslanik said. “The game is very fast, but I’m having just as much fun with baseball as I would with softball. We’re both keeping up with the game, even if people underestimate us before they even see us play.”
While the girls might not have a broader view of the impact they’re making as baseball players, it’s certainly starting to show in the stands, as more and more students are coming out to see the Rams. A number of younger girls are also coming out to watch the two local high school girls play baseball with and against the boys.
“I get proud, because I have a 2-year-old daughter,” Madsen said. “I want her to be able to watch and think that she can play baseball some day. I even had students that I teach come to that Aspen game that ended up going home and having conversations with their parents that, ‘they have a girl on their team! Maybe one day I can play baseball too!’
“That really warms the heart,” the coach said. “Baseball isn’t just a man’s sport. If you can catch the ball, throw the ball and hit the ball, you can play. It doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or girl. That’s the great thing about this game.”
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In softball, the Rifle Bears were down a pitcher in a game head coach Troy Philips said “would probably decide the league,” falling to the Palisade Bulldogs on Tuesday