GRANBY — When Thea Hanscom lined an 0-and-2 fastball to left field for a pinch-hit single in her first at-bat for Hopkins Academy, she kept her game face on.
Her father had taught her to “act like you’ve been there before.”
Hanscom, a 14-year-old freshman, is believed to be the only girl playing varsity baseball in Massachusetts, according to the MIAA. It may not be “one small step for a girl, one giant leap for womankind,” but it is noteworthy because girls almost automatically are steered into softball.
That is wrong, says her father Doug.
“I think it’s just the stereotype that if you’re born a girl, you’re supposed to hit off underhand pitching,” he said. “That’s the way they’re taught.
“But Thea just does it because she loves baseball. It’s not that she doesn’t like softball or has something to prove, she just has always played baseball.”
Donna Mills, who won the MVP award in the 2006 Women’s World Cup of Baseball and also scouts for the USA Baseball women’s national team, has seen video of Hanscom.
“She has some raw talent,” said Mills. “It takes a whole lot of courage to play baseball in high school.”
Umpire Joe Garey, who has been calling games in Western Massachusetts for 15 years, was pleased to see Hanscom pinch hit in a recent game.
“It’s a great thing that a female is playing some baseball with the boys,” said Garey. “I couldn’t tell she was a girl until I saw her ponytail. “
That’s the way Hanscom likes it.
“I feel like everyone is equal,’’ she said. “Boys and girls should be able to do whatever they like. Girls should be able to do what boys do and boys should be able to do what girls do.”
Her mother, Deborah Hanscom, said Thea fell in love with baseball when she was tiny.
“When it came time to sign her up for softball, her second grade teacher said, ‘No, no, no. Sign her up for baseball. I’ve seen her out there, she’s really athletic,’ ” said Deborah. “We signed her up for Cal Ripken and she just never looked back.’’
‘I think it’s just the stereotype that if you’re born a girl, you’re supposed to hit off underhand pitching.’Doug Hanscom, Thea’s father
Hanscom started racing snowmobiles against boys when she was just 5. She won the regional Punt, Pass, and Kick competition and met Patriots great Andre Tippett at Gillette Stadium. She took first place in the Golden Arm competition at the Cal Ripken New England Regionals in 2015 as the only female player.
She loves to pitch but can play elsewhere.
“She’s fearless,” said her mother. “She’s really cool as a cucumber out there.”
Her teammates feel the same way.
“I’ve been playing my entire life with her,” said shortstop Noah Scanlon-Dean. “It’s no big deal. She’s one of us.”
Catcher Liam Higgins said he has caught her since she was 7.
“She’s as good as any other guy and better than a couple of guys on the team, that’s what I think,’’ he said. “I have total respect for her.”
He remembers her pitching in a JV game against rival Mahar.
“They were big guys with beards,’’ he said. “She struck out the biggest brute on the team. She’s got gas. You can see for yourself.”
Hopkins Academy coach Daniel Vreeland said Hanscom is a model teammate and might pitch for the varsity this year.
“She’s the easiest to coach,” he said. “She’s already agreeing to things before you say them.
“The funny thing is, she apologizes for everything. They joke about her. The girls varsity [soccer] coach jokes they’ve got nicknames on the backs of all of their practice shirts. Hers says ‘Sorry.’ ”
After her initial hit, Hanscom has gone 0 for 5 in varsity ball. She also was rocked in her first two JV pitching performances but recently pitched 2⅓ shutout innings of hitless relief, striking out two and walking three.
“She’s a 14-year-old girl playing with 18-year-old guys,” said Vreeland. “She has forced herself to get more creative. Now she’s got a really good curveball that I’ve been working on with her, and she has got a little bit of a changeup.’’
Despite being shy, Hanscom is also confident.
“I’m not intimidated by anyone,” she said.
Vreeland said the only difference with having a girl on the boys baseball team is that she comes out of a different locker room. But she’s not lonely in there.
“My softball friends are all in there,’’ she said. “We’ve got music in there. They try to pump me up.’’
Hanscom’s father sometimes sits on the visitors side during games to see what opponents say about her.
“All in all, it hasn’t been that bad,” he said. “There’s a lot of ‘oh my God there’s a girl on their team’ and ‘I’ll bet she throws like a girl.’
“But there’s nothing more satisfying than when Thea strikes them out and then their own teammates start razzing them.
“She’s got a lot of support from players, parents, and coaches on our team, We’re a pretty close-knit group.”
Although she wants to play softball this summer, what Hanscom really wants is to play for the USA Baseball women’s national team when she turns 16.
“I just want to stick with it ” she said. “School-wise I want to stick to baseball.”
The ponytailed pitcher also got some advice from Justine Siegal, the founder of Baseball For All and the first woman to coach in major league baseball.
“Sometimes the greatest rewards come from the hardest paths,” Siegal wrote to her. “You may or may not play college or for MLB but don’t hold yourself back just because it’s hard.”
However, not everyone is totally thrilled that Hanscom is playing baseball. The teacher who originally encouraged her to go into baseball is now the girls’ softball coach and wants the star athlete back.
“She says she’s kicking herself in the butt,” said Hanscom.Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.