REDMOND, Wash. — “A League of Their Own” was released in 1992 and depicted a group of women who broke barriers playing baseball during WWII.
Nearly 30 years later, there are two sisters who may have been too young for the movie but are living their own version of the story.
In theory, baseball and softball are two very similar games – nine players, four bases, a ball and a bat.
It’s traditionally divided up between boys and girls, but in Redmond, fraternal twins Emily and Lindsay Tsujikawa are dispelling those beliefs.
“We were five when we started playing T-Ball,” Lindsay said. “Then after that, we switched to little league.”
Following in their older sister’s footsteps, Emily and Lindsay fell in love with baseball at a young age.
“Watching her grow up playing baseball, it just seemed normal like anyone could play baseball but of course when we started playing baseball, we always got the questions like, ‘Why aren’t you playing softball or when are you going to switch,’” Lindsay said.
Which weren’t the hardest questions they’d face as they rose through the ranks.
“We would hear stuff from the other dugout, ‘Why is a girl pitching?’” Lindsay recalled. “Or, ‘Why are they allowed to hit?’”
“I remember once, I think one kid just refused to hit against me because I was a girl,” Emily explained.
“When I was younger, I didn’t like baseball so much, and not because I didn’t like the sport, I didn’t like the attention I got with it,” Emily said. “A lot of boys would make comments and stuff or be super mean to me, and I’d come home crying from games.”
But the girls had each other and pushed each other like only siblings can.
“When we were younger, since we both are playing the same sport, same age, always on the same team, we’re super competitive with each other,” Emily said. “And I think that really drove us to become better players and better people.”
Which fueled the fire, and Emily and Lindsay weren’t just girls playing baseball, they were ballplayers winnings games and coaches noticed.
“I was aware of Emily and Lindsay even before they came to the high school because we used to run Little League camps, and they attended camp in the summer,” Redmond High School baseball coach Dan Pudwill recalled.
Pudwill has been coaching the Mustangs baseball team for 15 years, and when the girls entered high school, he was interested to see if they’d keep playing.
Softball coach Alison Mitchell was interested too.
“I had heard about them via one of the parents on the team, so I went and watched them play over the summer when their baseball team was playing,” she said. “I chatted with Emily and Lindsay and just introduced myself and said, ‘Hey, if you’re interested, we will take you because, obviously, you have the skills. Come on out and give it a shot.’”
The tough decision was made, and for the first time in 15 years, the twins went their separate ways.
“I made the switch right before high school,” Lindsay explained, “I wanted to continue playing ball in college, and I knew playing baseball in college as a female athlete would be harder than playing softball. I had been hearing from coaches that I could try to get a scholarship.”
As coach Mitchell promised, her skills did transfer. Lindsay made varsity as a freshman and helped her team win a state championship the next year.
But her biggest attributes came from the adversity she’d overcome for years on the baseball field.
“I think when she played baseball, she definitely had to be top dog because she was playing with boys, and it’s definitely carried out onto the softball field,” teammate Kiki Milloy said.
“She’s really headstrong,” teammate Haley Hanson said of Lindsay. “I feel like she doesn’t let people mess with her. She doesn’t let a lot of things rattle her and get in her face. She just knows what to do and gets the job done.”
It is the same mental toughness, Emily uses when she takes the mound for the varsity baseball team.
“As a player, she’s very committed and dedicated to her craft,” Pudwill said of her. “She takes a lot of pride in being the pitcher that she is.”
“Whenever she’s out pitching, she’s out in her own little world,” teammate Darek Khabani said.
Emily has to be, so she can silence the noise. Unlike Lindsay, who opted for the more traditional high school sport, Emily still faces discrimination.
“Sometimes it gets really quiet in the other dugout,” Pudwill said. “It will be chattering and then she comes in the game, it gets quiet.”
“The recurring thought or comment is, ‘Oh, I’m going to hit a home run,’ or they always joke, ‘Oh, don’t strike out,’” Emily said. “I think that’s against any pitcher, but against me, I think it’s a lot more and it’s really common.”
The comments bother Emily, just like they bothered Lindsay. But neither one let it show.
“She comes focused, ready to play every day,” teammate Toma Itagaki said of Emily.
“Nothing gets in her way and whenever she goes out there, she’s going to compete at the highest level, just like all of us,” Khabani said.
That’s what Emily and Lindsay both want – what they’ve always wanted – to be judged solely on their athletic ability, just like any other athlete, male or female.
“It’s so heartbreaking how girls so young can face such trials and barriers,” Emily said. “It breaks my heart, and I really want to prove to them my goal in baseball is not just to continue playing but to show younger girls that they can do it.”
And what Emily and Lindsay may not yet realize is that by taking the paths they have, they are already inspiring us all.
“When she is striking out people and making them look silly, it’s like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe she’s really doing this,’ and it’s really awesome to see,” Khabani said.
“I think it’s really cool that she goes and proves everyone wrong, and I look up to her for that a lot,” Hanson said.
“It takes courage to be the only one,” Pudwill said. “It takes courage to go on the mound and hear whispers, maybe hear the silence or whatever it might be. It takes courage to know that people are probably doubting you and wondering what special circumstances allowed you this opportunity. So hopefully, they see some of that and are inspired by some of that, the thought that ‘I am going to go and do what I am going to do because I have the skill to do it.”
And that transcends all sports – even softball, which for the record, is quite different from baseball