American Times: Female pitcher strikes out in a man's world

American Times: DULUTH, MINNESOTA

ALL IS just as it should be on this late summer evening at Wade Stadium in Duluth, a port city in north-eastern Minnesota on the shores of Lake Superior. The local minor league baseball team, the Duluth Dukes, is preparing to take on Thunder Bay from across the border in Ontario, Canada. Fans, with beer and hot dogs, are filling the stands and the sun casts its still-warm rays on the impossibly green infield.

Nowhere could you more easily experience the gentle rituals of the game they still call the national pastime than here. Before the first pitch, we rise for the national anthems of the United States and, on this day, of Canada as well. Then, one by one, the players are introduced, to gentle ripples of applause. But then comes this: "For the Duluth Dukes, please welcome Ila Borders." And the bleachers erupt.

And so it goes for Ms Borders these days. Such is her celebrity that 60 Minutes, this country's most watched television show, has just done a segment on her. Japanese television was here two weeks ago, as were CNN and Newsweek magazine.

The attention does not please her. In fact, she wishes we would all go away. But that, she knows perfectly well, is not going to happen. Because, at just 23 years old, this slim Californian with flowing ponytail is the first woman to play in men's professional baseball.

It has not been an easy road. Ila was 10 when she first revealed her passion to her father. An insurance salesman, Phil Borders encouraged his daughter, practising with her from 6am until noon every free day he had. Slowly her dream materialised. She played in the men's teams at school, then at college and now, at last, in the professional leagues. But always it has been a battle. College, she admits, was "hell on earth". Male team-mates would sometimes throw balls, and even bats, straight at her face.

Never, though, has Ila let go. "My philosophy is you keep going until you know personally that you're done. It's just something that will come to me," she explained in a pre-game interview. It is not a moment that has arrived yet. "You've got to believe in yourself, otherwise they will tear you down."

From her team-mates now, she has won only support. "They see me as another player out on the field, not as a chick."

The team owner, Jim Wadley, bought her from the St Paul franchise - which belongs, like Duluth, to the Northern League - in part because he has a daughter who is set on becoming a wrestler. "I empathise with her," Wadley said, while admitting that not every owner would have bought her.

But even in Duluth, Ila has attracted controversy. Baseball is a boys' game, always has been, if not a good ol' boys' game. There was suspicion that Duluth had picked her as opening pitcher simply to raise ticket sales.

"I would say about three of the managers in the league hate my guts," she admits. With only eight teams in the league, that seems like a bad start. One of them wrote to Wadley at the start of the season to voice his disgust. "He basically said that having a girl demeans the game and he didn't want a girl pitching to his players," Ila remembers. "But after the game he came up to me and said, `great job'."

She has had trouble with some of the fans too, including those who have taken their adoration for her too far. Such as the woman who leaned over the fence one day and snipped a length from her ponytail. And a few have been openly hostile. Always, she says, they are women. "It has been all women. Either they say that I am in this team because I think women's sports aren't good enough or they say that I am going to play badly and let women down."

The politics of her achievement are of no interest to her, however. "I am not doing this to make a statement. I'm out here because I love the game and nothing else."

And Ila is good. While she may not throw terribly fast - she clocks about 80mph against 90mph for the guys - her left-handed balls are foxy. In mid-season she managed two no-score six-inning stretches in a row. Nobody else on the side has done that all year.

What, however, is Ila Border's most formidable weapon? It is her femininity. Quite simply, when guys who are often twice her weight and strength face her with the bat on home plate, they panic. Jay Ward, the coach for Thunder Bay, has seen it over and over again. "It is the macho thing. They go out there terrified. They can't go back to the locker room and tell the guys that a girl struck them out. Some of them have got over that now, but others haven't. And they are the ones she gets out, every time."

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

Sport
Erik Lamela celebrates his goal
football

Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here

News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
musicReview: 1989's songs attempt to encapsulate dramatic emotional change in a few striking lines
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Sport
Phil Jones (left) attempts to stop the progress of West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison on Monday
Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo, writes Paul Scholes
Arts and Entertainment
Saw point: Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in ‘Serena’
filmReview: Serena is a strangely dour and downbeat affair
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

English Teacher

£4848 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Outstanding...

Cover Supervisors/Teaching Assistants Secondary Schools in York

Negotiable: Randstad Education Leeds: Cover Supervisors/Long Term Teaching Ass...

Science Teacher

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher...

Cover Supervisor

£55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Cover Supervisors needed for seco...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker