Hadley’s Thea Hanscom pursues love of baseball with Amherst Mickey Mantle team

  • Thea Hanscom, left, of the Amherst Mickey Mantle baseball team, prepares to catch as Spencer Telega, of Frontier, slides into third base on a steal Tuesday during a playoff game at Ziomek Field in Amherst. Telega was safe. Hanscom, who lives in Hadley, is the only girl playing in the Pioneer Valley Youth Baseball League. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Thea Hanscom, of the Amherst Mickey Mantle baseball team, eyes a pitch from Frontier during a playoff game Tuesday at Ziomek Field in Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Thea Hanscom delivers a pitch for the Amherst Mickey Mantle baseball team. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Thea Hanscom talks to other Amherst players in the dugout during their game against Frontier Tuesday in Amherst. —Gazette Staff/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Thea Hanscom, of Amherst, goes to a throw as Cam Barnes, of Frontier, steals third base during a Mickey Mantle League game Tuesday at Ziomek Field in Amherst. —Gazette Staff/JERREY ROBERTS

For the Gazette
Published: 7/20/2016 12:51:59 AM

Ask Thea Hanscom why she plays baseball and you get a simple answer:

“Baseball’s what I grew up doing,” she said. “So I enjoy doing it.”

Since the rising ninth-grader started playing T-ball at age 6, she’s been a minority in a game traditionally played by boys. There have been other girls on her teams, but she’s the only one who has continued to play.

“Mostly the girls quit (playing),” the Hadley native said. “So I was one of the only girls, which was fun.”

Hanscom plays shortstop, second base and pitches for Amherst’s Mickey Mantle League team this summer, the only girl player out of an estimated 150 players in the Pioneer Valley Youth Baseball League, according to the league website.

Being the only girl was something Hanscom has gotten used to, and her teammates are used to it as well.

“They’re all fine with it. They’re all nice,” she said.

Said teammate J.B. Mills, “She’s just another player. She’s just as talented as anyone else out here.”

Teammate Luke Leonard said he could only remember one instance where having a girl on the team had even come up. During one regular season game, an umpire referred to the team as “gentlemen.” The other umpire saw Hanscom and asked, “Gentlemen?”

Leonard was annoyed.

“It’s like, they’re all gentlemen,” he said. “Everybody else is perfectly OK with it.”

Amherst coach Don Hodgkins said gender isn’t a consideration for his team.

“She’s one of the guys, basically. That’s how everybody treats her and the guys treat her that way,” Hodgkins said. “There’s no superstars on the team. I like to call them dirt dogs. They just work hard.”

Amherst was a young team this year, composed of mostly 13 and 14 year olds. Hodgkins said he coached mostly 15- and 16-year-olds last year.

“This year, the numbers were so low we had no choice but to take 13 and 14 year olds,” he said.

Hodgkins was impressed with how his players have performed this season.

“We’ve put them in stressful situations and they’re learning to deal with that,” he said. “They’ve surprised me a lot with how far they’ve come this season.”

Amherst finished in third place during the regular season at 10-8 record. The team dropped its first postseason game, 9-2, to Frontier on Tuesday.

Amherst hosts Mohawk at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday in its second game of the double-elimination tournament.

“We’re in third place and we’re playing against kids who are all driving already,” Mills said before the playoffs started. “I think it’s pretty cool how much success we’ve been able to have so far.”

Hanscom called Mickey Mantle “a level up” compared to high school, where she played junior varsity at Hopkins Academy during the spring.

The difference between the two levels can be seen at the plate.

“A lot of hitting is strength and bat speed and recognizing off-speed pitches and curveballs, which they haven’t seen a lot of,” Hodgkins said.

Despite having less experience at the plate, Amherst has done well by relying on defense.

“Defense is defense no matter how old you are,” Hodgkins said. “If you’re a good defender at 13, you can play with 15 and 16 year olds.”

His players’ attitudes reflect that.

“I love fielding. It’s more fun,” Hanscom said. “More chances in the field.”

Hanscom has the strong arm required to play defense in the infield.

“She throws the ball hard,” Hopkins varsity coach Dan Vreeland said. “Her skill level resides in the way that she throws overhand.”

And in her time on the mound for Amherst, Hodgkins said, “I think, like the rest of the team, she’s exceeded expectations.”

Against Frontier in the playoffs, she pitched four innings in relief, struck out three and allowed four runs, one of which was earned.

Against Northampton during the regular season, she allowed one unearned run, but “threw strikes and had them off balance” according to Hodgkins.

Hanscom pitched for Hopkins as well and pitched the final two innings of a combined no-hitter.

“Other schools are playing with sophomores and juniors on their (JV) team,” said Vreeland, who called Hanscom’s relief effort as an eighth grader “pretty miraculous.”

Hanscom was the only girl playing high school baseball in the Hampshire West League this past season, according to Hopkins athletic director Erik Sudnick.

A Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association rule allows girls to play on boys teams and vice versa when the school does not offer a team for each gender.

But the MIAA classifies softball and baseball as “competitively equal” sports.

Hanscom played middle school baseball as a seventh-grader at Hopkins, but MIAA rules do not apply at the middle school level. It was only when Vreeland chose to pull Hanscom up as an eighth-grader when extra steps needed to be taken so she could play.

At baseball tryouts, “it was pretty clear that if we were going to pull up some people from middle school, she very clearly had to be in that (group),” Vreeland said. “Her talent is undeniable.”

Clearing Hanscom to play was a simple process Sudnick said.

“The MIAA had approved girls to play baseball in cases in which they had shown that it was something they were passionate about, played their whole life, had a good experience and a vast impact on their life,” he said. “The MIAA approved it no problem.”

A girl playing baseball may be an uncommon sight, but Hanscom doesn’t seem to pay that much mind. Neither do her coaches and teammates.

“I think eventually when she makes it to varsity, she’s just going to have enough talent that people are going to stop talking about her as a talented girl baseball player,” Vreeland said, “and just start talking about her as a talented baseball player.”


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