Tigard's Paulson breaks Pickles ground
In 2003, LPGA Tour Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam became the first woman in 58 years to compete on the PGA Tour.
Billie Jean King famously defeated noted chauvinist Bobby Riggs in a made-for-TV tennis match dubbed the "Battle of the Sexes" in 1973.
And then there's Jackie Mitchell, the mythical women's baseball star who allegedly struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in a 1931 exhibition game as a member of the Chattanooga Lookouts.
All notable feats pitting women against men on an equal playing field opposed to the gender-separate ones that we typically see at all levels of sport. But while the legitimacy of Mitchell's diamond feat remains in question to this day, there's no doubting what Emily Paulson accomplished Friday night, July 8, at Walker Stadium in Portland.
The former Tigard High School standout and current Western Washington University softball player became the first female to play in a Portland Pickles game, pinch hitting for the wood bat baseball team against the Wild Wild West League's Portland Gherkins.
While certainly not at the level of the aforementioned historically groundbreaking events, Paulson appreciated and enjoyed her small step for womankind and made the most of her at-bat, hitting the third pitch on the ground to the right side of the infield before narrowly being beaten to the bag by the first baseman.
"My one goal was just to put the ball into play," Paulson said. "I was like, I just want to make contact, no striking out, and I did that. And then the funny part was I was thinking, 'how am I not there yet' running down the first baseline because it's 90 feet."
It's 60 feet from home to first on a softball diamond.
And that's not the only disparity between the overhand and underhand games, as Paulson cited the differences between the predominant spin and angles at which the ball leaves the pitcher's hand.
"I'd never hit from overhand before or with baseballs, so it was a lot different," Paulson said. "In softball the ball rises a lot more and it's coming out at a completely different angle. It's also starts waist-high then goes up or down, but in baseball it starts at your head and goes down, so it's very different."
Paulson—who was a two-time all-state and three-time all-league selection at Tigard—just finished her sophomore season at Western Washington and is working as an intern for the Pickles this summer. Her duties with the team have included peddling merchandise, selling tickets, posting to social media, field hosting, public announcing and even camera work. She said it's been invaluable experience, but at the same time one that's offered who both vast opportunity and endless fun.
"I've had a blast and it's been amazing," she said. "I've made some life-long friends and met lots of people in the industry, and it's just given me the best experience."
Paulson's at-bat came in the wake of a conversation following a staff batting practice following the Pickles' July 7 game. She said her boss, General Manager Ross Campbell, told her after she took her cuts that she might play in the next night's game. The Pickles were scheduled to be on the road against the Cowlitz Black Bears and the players they left behind were expected to play a split-squad game against the Gherkins—a direct affiliate of the Pickles.
The suggestion caught the intern a bit by surprise, but in the wake of her boss' directive she took it seriously.
"At first I was like, 'what are you talking about?'" Paulson said. "Then maybe 15 or 20 minutes before the game Ross calls me and said suit up. So, I said 'okay' and I grabbed my uniform."
She was of course nervous, but at the same time was focused on the task at hand. Paulson said the weight of the bat—which was of course was wood and heavier than what she's accustomed to—along with the distance from which the pitcher threw perplexed her a bit at first, but after an adjustment she quickly acclimated to the abnormalities and put her mind squarely on putting bat on ball.
"My first swing was super late because I thought I had more time due to the pitcher being farther away and the bat being so heavy," Paulson said. "So, on the next one I started a little bit earlier and didn't square it up, but got enough to put it in play."
And would she enjoy another try?
"I would totally do it again," she said. "I would have so much more confidence and I think if I had another at-bat I could get a hit."
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