The DC Force took the field for the first time on Sunday July 24, 2016. The team consisted of ten girls (one girl, Katy, due to an airline computer fail, did not arrive in time for the first game) from all over the country with a core group from the District of Columbia.
The opponent was the Georgia Peaches, a serious team that contained some girls that one of the DC Force girls, Paloma Benach, knew from playing with in Los Angeles two years earlier. In addition, the Peaches hosted a small tournament in October 2015 that several DC Force girls played in. Then the DC Force was known as DC Rising, before the name was changed due to potential trademark issues with the Washington Wizards, who, you would think, would have no interest in attacking a group of girls playing baseball over a slogan. Nonetheless, the girls had the grace and bigness of spirit to allow the NBA team to use their name.
In the Peaches game, the DC Force established what would be a pattern. They scored a few runs early on the strength of the middle of the lineup of Ciara Crowley, Paloma Benach, and Daphnie Kadish. In addition, the ability of Alice Stillerman, Lila Ronen and Tess Usher to get on base through patience at the plate gave our big hitters the chance to drive in runs. However, in another pattern, the big bats of the Peaches soon overwhelmed DC’s fielders and the Peaches cruised to an easy win despite solid pitching and timely hitting by DC.
Unlike the Peaches, DC was made up of girls of a wide range of ages and baseball backgrounds.
- Paloma Benach, 12, led the team in all hitting and pitching categories. A tall lefty with an easy delivery, Paloma stayed in the strike zone racking up strikeouts. In her 11 innings over the week, Paloma only walked one batter. Paloma was also always on base, ripping singles to all fields.
- Ella Comfort-Cohen, 11, was ready on every play. She is one of the speediest girls on the field, able to sprint around the bases or range far in the outfield. Whether working a walk or cheering on her teammates, Ella is a team player.
- Daphnie Kadish, 12, has a third baseman’s build: tall and strong. Daphnie heated up in the second half of the tournament, ripping singles and doubles through the outfield. She played a steady third base and pitched several solid innings, racking up strikeouts and leading the team.
- Alice Stillerman, 9, was elected team captain for her infectious enthusiasm and toughness. A catcher, Alice is always getting nicked, dinged and otherwise beaten up. She also got on base a lot and, true to form, Alice made an out when she got hit by a batted ball. Despite being knocked down, Alice made her way back to the field and completed the game.
- Emma Daniels, 11, never played a game of baseball in her life. But she brought all the tools: a strong arm, a hard swing and willingness to do what was asked of her. Emma’s hit against the SF City Bay Sox led to a Force rally.
- Charlee Friedman, 11, came to the tournament with a beat up thumb which made her unable to grip the bat. As the tourney went on, Charlee would add other bruises and marks, but recovered sufficient strength in her thumb to hit. Charlee did it all for DC: she pitched, played short and second, and caught.
- Katy Whipple, 12, missed the first game due to the meltdown of Southwest Airline’s computers earlier in the week. A versatile player, Katy can pitch, catch and play just about any field position. Katy is fast in the field and with a bat. Katy also toughed out a pitching performance that ate up innings and put the DC Force in a position for a strong game against the eventual second place team.
- Lila Ronen, 11, always seemed to be on base. With patience and discipline, Lila drew walks and had a .500 on base percentage. Always fashionable with her horn rimmed glasses, a Lila at bat was a walk that turned into a double with her speed on the basepaths.
- Tess Usher, 10, also worked walks throughout the series and displayed aggressiveness on the basepaths. She played a solid second base and was a consistent voice cheering on her teammates from the field or the bench and wins the award for the most consistent Washington DC related sports gear.
- Carlin Lacques, 11, played centerfield in honor of her hero Adam Jones of the Orioles. Like the other younger girls, Carlin displayed a lot of patience and discipline at the plate, getting on base a lot, scoring 2 runs and walking in a third.
- Ciara “Kiki” Crowley, 13, also did it all for DC. On the mound, behind the plate, at bat and in the field, Kiki has strong baseball instincts. One highlight from the trip was when Kiki, playing short, snuck into second behind the runner and nabbed Paloma’s pick-off throw and then executed a perfect rundown for the out. Kiki was a leader in the field, at the plate and in the dugout.
These girls quickly molded into a team of friends who worked hard on the field and had a ball off the field. The team took a large block of rooms at the Hotel del Sol, two blocks from the Moscone rec center where all the games were played. The Hotel’s outdoor courtyard became the team’s unofficial clubhouse, offering the girls a chance to rest in hammocks, go for a swim, eat meals and generally goof around as 11 year olds. Impromptu wiffle ball and kick ball games arose in that courtyard and there were only half a dozen hammock injuries.
The team never won a game. Being the youngest team in the age bracket and with many girls never having practiced advanced skills like leading, balks, and delayed steals, the DC Force faced long odds. Consequently, our goals were to grow as human beings and as ball players. And we did that. Instead of victories, we remember moments:
- We tied the SF Bay Sox 2-2. Paloma pitched a complete game and ran over all the other fielders to make plays in the infield. She kept the Bays Sox to one run through 5 2/3 when an errant throw to third let the tying run score with two outs in the bottom of the sixth. A big play at the plate tied the game. Paloma quickly retired the next hitter ending the game at 2-2. The SF Bay Sox went on to the championship game. The girls held their focus and composure through six tense innings and learned that they can play with the girls in this tournament.
- Katy pitching two plus innings against a dominant LA Waves team to give the rest of the pitching staff a rest. Katy worked hard through three solid innings, getting four strikeouts and earning the respect and gratitude from her team.
- Nine girls on the Karaoke stage singing “Centerfield” at the top of their lungs.
- Daphnie’s bat coming alive in the second half of the tournament to lead the team in runs batted in.
- The on base percentages of Tess, Ella, Lila and Carlin whose plate discipline seemed to result in them always being on base.
- Emma’s hit to the middle of the infield, which sparked a rally.
- Alice becoming the inspiration and heart of the team, representing its tough yet fun spirit.
- Charlee on the mound. Charlee behind the plate. Charlee at bat. Charlee in the field.
- The doubles machine that is Kiki.
- Seven girls “sleeping” in a hotel room.
- Causing a ruckus at a Chinese restaurant.
- Laying on centerfield at an Oakland A’s game watching fireworks after an A’s walkoff.
- Seeing Dave Dravecky’s torn up jersey at AT&T Park.
- A Nationals victory against the Giants on a perfect SF night.
- A big group hug with the Texas Heat after our playoff loss.
After a week of baseball, the girls that emerged from the Baseball for All nationals were truly a team. They had come together from across the country and ranged in age from 9 to 13. They became one through the crucible of challenging athletic activity. Rather than be crushed by the older and better girls, our girls rose to the challenge and improved every day and never gave in to despair. Rather they formed a bond of mutual support and encouragement. The spirit of these girls rippled through the tournament to the point that people came to watch DC because they heard that the girls loved to play and were supportive and loving to each other. (Also, their coach was something of a character.)
The team was honored by Baseball for All with the sportsmanship award for their grace, resilience and humor. In baseball, there are very few things that you can control. One of those is your attitude. We are super proud of these girls for the sportsmanship award because we know that a warm and generous character is far more important than the ability to hit a 65 mph fastball.
We spent a week in the company of 250+ girls who were crazy about baseball. We faced some of the toughest pitching we have ever seen. We saw girls at 13, 14, 15 and 16 who crushed the ball and played with abandon and joy. And we learned that there is a way forward for our girls in baseball. And we made new friends with girls from across the country who also love baseball. We will be back.
Ava Benach, Manager, DC Force