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Thom Loverro: For women's baseball players, it's more than just a league of their own

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Sports,MLB,Thom Loverro

Decades ago, Lizzie Murphy stepped on the field to take her position at first base at Fenway Park with a group of All-Star players to face the Boston Red Sox in an exhibition game -- the first time a woman had played with major league baseball players.

She would be known as the "Queen of Baseball."

It was a huge step for women at the time and seemed to perhaps pave the way for women's baseball. But circumstances got in the way -- the stock market crash of 1929, the introduction of softball and Little League Baseball's refusal to allow girls -- and save for the novelty of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during World War II, women's baseball had struck out.

But for some, the passion was still there, and a generation long removed from Lizzie Murphy is still swinging for the fences. They'll be doing that over Memorial Day weekend at the 8th annual Baltimore-Washington Diamond Classic.

Not softball -- baseball. Chicks dig the long ball, baby.

Four ballparks in Maryland will host games: Joe Cannon Stadium, Bachman Sports Complex, Anne Arundel Community College and Spring Grove. Saturday and Sunday will feature preliminary round action; the Championship game happens Monday at 10 a.m. at Joe Cannon Stadium.

Ten teams, two from Canada and eight from various parts of the United States, will compete in the tournament, including Washington's own D.C. Thunder, one of four teams that play locally from May to August in the Eastern Women's Baseball Conference (more information at easternwomensbaseball.org).

"The game is growing nationally and internationally, and that's reflected in this tournament," said Jennifer Hammond, who says she is the "Steve Lombardozzi" of the D.C. Thunder. "This will be one of the largest women's baseball events in the United States in decades."

It takes special kind of desire for women to play hardball -- not because it is hard to do, but because there are very few chances to do so. Some of the women who play for D.C. Thunder also play on men's teams in recreational leagues around the area.

"Maybe we appreciate it more because we have to work harder for opportunities," Hammond said. "Finding places to play games is harder because we don't have as many teams. We have to work a lot harder to make this happen, and we're very proud of the tournament."

Hammond grew up in Alexandria as a Baltimore Orioles fan. "I loved Cal Ripken," she said, but now has become a Washington Nationals fan.

"Like a lot of women, I got funneled into softball, but I always loved baseball and wanted to play," she said.

League president Bonnie Hoffman said softball is not baseball. "It's not the girl's equivalent of baseball," she said. "They are different sports, just like ice hockey is not field hockey: different sports, different skills sets, different strategies, different games."

Lizzie Murphy -- The Queen of Baseball -- would appreciate the league motto: "Real women. Real baseball."

Examiner

columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.

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