JOLIET, Ill. — ‘We are all athletes here, and you are good enough.’
That served as the resounding message Bandits general manager Toni Calmeyn, outfielder Brenna Moss and head coach Lauren Lappin delivered to Marie Marcum and her travel team Saturday afternoon. The 9-year-old softball player endured ridicule from a baseball-themed arcade game at Chuck E. Cheese’s on Monday, but received a surprise she won’t soon forget Saturday at her team’s practice in Joliet.
At a school fundraiser Monday afternoon at a Chuck E. Cheese’s in suburban Chicago, Marcum was eager to play an MLB-affiliated throwing game and show off her arm. After one of her throws missed its target, the game told her, “Hey, there’s always softball!”
The fourth-grader felt belittled and defeated.
“I was really mad,” Marcum told ESPN. “It made me feel like they think softball is a bad sport and girls shouldn’t play softball. I just started throwing balls at the game as hard as I could. I thought it was rude.”
Lisa Marcum, Marie’s mother, noticed her daughter getting upset.
“She was actually kind of aggressive about how mad she was. She was kind of slamming the buttons and kicking at the game.”
Determined to inspire change in how people view the sport of softball, Marcum penned a letter to Major League Baseball. In it, she described how the arcade game mocked her and petitioned the league to fix it, offering specific solutions.
“One way to fix it [the arcade game] is by changing what it says when you miss a throw,” Marcum’s letter read. “Example: ‘There’s always next time.’ or ‘try again.’”
The 9-year-old’s story gained momentum throughout the week, and on Saturday afternoon at Hard Work Get Me Hits Training Facility in Joliet, Marcum and her team, the Plainfield Twisters, unknowingly walked into a surprise appearance from Bandits general manager Toni Calmeyn, Bandits staff and Swiper, the Bandits mascot.
“Loved your letter. It was awesome,” Calmeyn said to Marcum. “We loved it, our coaches loved it, our players loved it. It’s gotten a lot of attention.”
Team officials treated Marcum and her teammates with ticket vouchers, team merchandise and video messages from Bandits outfielder Brenna Moss and head coach Lauren Lappin.
“[All the support has been] overwhelming,” Lisa Marcum said. “It’s been very heartwarming and it’s very cool. To see that my kid, or a kid in general was able to affect all of these people, whether it be just by them seeing it or not. Just mind-blowing.”
During the appearance, members of Marie’s team had the opportunity to express how Marie’s letter made them feel.
“It made me happy because Marie was sticking up for our team, and all the girls that want to play softball,” one member of the Twisters said.
Marcum’s experience will no doubt continue to inspire softball players everywhere to keep doing what they love. It will also certainly continue to instigate change in the conversation around the sport.
Major League Baseball issued a statement Wednesday to address Marcum’s concerns.
“We love Marie’s passion for softball and her view that softball is just as great as baseball,” the statement read. “Through our PLAY BALL program, growing youth softball has remained a priority for MLB, equally as important as growing youth baseball.”
What many sports fans don’t know is that National Pro Fastpitch, the professional softball league in which the Bandits play, has existed for 16 years and features the best softball players the sport has to offer.
The Bandits will enter their 15th season as a team this summer.
While the sport of softball continues to gain acceptance, softball players around the world will steadfastly support each other.
As one Twisters player said about Marie, “You go, girl.”