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“Oh, so you’re a baseball fan? What was Ken Griffey’s cousin’s cat’s name, then?”

When I was 11 years old, I started playing travel softball. For the first time in my life, I got to pick my own jersey number instead of being automatically assigned number 12 because I was the tallest one on the team.

My choice was easy – I wanted to be number 44, like my favorite White Sox player at the time, Jake Peavy. I liked him because he was prone to angry outbursts on the mound, just like me.

Peavy was traded to the Red Sox in 2013, but 44 is still my lucky number.

When I was 12, my dad bought me MLB 11: The Show for the PlayStation 3. Nearly every night that summer, I stayed up playing until I was bleary-eyed, breaking record after record with my Road to the Show created players. 

Years later, The Show is still one of the only video games I consistently play, and I buy the new version of it every year. Over the past eight years, I’ve probably broken Barry Bonds’ home run record about 20 times.

When I was 13, my family and I went to SoxFest, a convention where fans can meet White Sox players, retirees, coaches and more. Yes, it’s very nerdy.

Over that weekend, I racked up dozens of signatures, but my favorite was undoubtedly from the Sox’s notoriously-biased broadcaster, Ken “Hawk” Harrelson. Looking back, he was pretty terrible, but I loved him at the time. 

I had him sign my t-shirt, and he dedicated his signature “TO MADELINE, MY LUV.” Kind of weird, yeah, but I’ll be damned if I don’t keep that shirt forever.

In middle school, I wore my love for baseball on my sleeve, and it made up a major part of my identity. I strove to prove I was the biggest Sox fan at my school, and I don’t think anyone even came close to beating me on that front.

When I got to high school, though, things changed.

Nothing about the game itself changed (let’s be real – baseball never changes). But, I started feeling differently about having my entire identity tied to a sport. None of my friends knew much at all about baseball – or any sport, for that matter – so I figured it might be in my best interest to pick up some interests I shared with them.

But the biggest factor in the downfall of my interest in baseball was that I started caring about what men thought of me, which is one of the gravest mistakes a young woman can make.

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I think most male sports fans probably do a little internal eye-roll every time they encounter a girl who claims to be a huge fan of a certain sport. Maybe I’m wrong about that, but I’ve encountered enough men who immediately grill me when I tell them I’m a baseball fan to believe it may be true.

It started in late middle school, or maybe early high school. For whatever reason (misogyny, probably), all the men around me collectively decided I must have been lying about being a baseball fan. 

Guys would ask me countless irrelevant questions in an effort to get me to fold. Most of the time, they didn’t know the answers themselves, but they’d say, “Well, since you’re such a massive baseball fan, you should know these things.”

I hate that it got to me, but it did. So, because I was incapable of reciting Tom Glavine’s 1998 season ERA on command (an impressive 2.47, if you were wondering), I became discouraged and lost interest in the sport that had formed much of my young identity.

One really great thing I’ve learned about growing up is that the older you get, the less people poke fun at you for your interests. So, now that I’m a grown woman in college, I’ve decided to make an effort to rekindle my love for baseball.

For some reason, though, I can’t shake my lingering insecurity. Every time I tell someone about my secret passion, I brace myself for an absurdly obscure question, a sneer or an eye-roll.

But, as of yet, that hasn’t happened since I’ve gotten to college. Perhaps the automatic association between “sports fan” and “man” is starting to wane. I sure hope so, because some of the biggest fans and best athletes I know are women.

While I’m still working on getting my past experiences out of my head, I’m very excited about getting back to watching the Sox blow leads in the 9th.