On a recent trip to the Pawtucket Boys and Girls Club, I photographed two fields and posted the photos on social media. One of the fields caught the eye of a Facebook member who messaged me “Hey that’s where the Slaterettes play, you should do an article on them.” I was intrigued and followed up with that poster, who led me to Deb Bettencourt. Deb is the player agent for the Pawtucket Slatterettes Girls and Womens Baseball League. I mentioned to Deb that my elementary school teacher was Wilma Briggs, who was a member of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League and then we started a fantastic dialogue about girls baseball, the legacy of the Slaterettes, and why crying is allowed in baseball. Here is an excerpt from our conversation. And following our conversation, there are some links so you can learn more about the Pawtucket Slaterettes Baseball League.
RIBBE – Let’s dispel any of the stereotypes about the fields, the equipment used, and the rules. Same field, same base paths, and same equipment I’m guessing and the rules are based on the age and division, similar to Little League® or other youth baseball rule books?
Deb – So since we do not belong to an overseeing body like Little League® or Cal Ripken, we can pretty much set our rules to suit our own needs.
For example, our divisions line up as follows:
- Tee Ball – ages 3 to 6
- Instructional Division – ages 6 to 9
- Junior Division – ages 9 to 13
- Senior Division – ages 13 to 18
- Women’s Division – ages 13 and up
You will see that the upper age of each division is also the lower age of the next division. This allows us to evaluate players on a case by case basis and decide what will be the best fit for them. For example, we could have a 9 year old that is brand new to the game and put her in our Instructional Division or have another player that is the same age but has been playing with us since Tee Ball and put her in our Junior Division. You will also notice that there are overlapping ages with our Senior and Women’s divisions. These seasons run back-to-back so once a player is finished with their Senior season there is still the opportunity for them to be called up to play in our Women’s Division as well. Or if we have a high school player that is involved in a spring sport so they can’t take part in our Senior season, they will still have the opportunity to try out for our Women’s Division.
Our base paths are somewhat the same. You have seen the field that we use at the Pawtucket Boys and Girls Club. That is where our Tee Ball, Instructional and Junior Divisions play. Those fields are consistent in size with other leagues. Our Senior and Women’s divisions play at Slater Park on the field next to the tennis courts. This used to be a Pony League field so the base paths are shorter than 90 feet. There are no other leagues interested on playing on a field that size so we are happy to overlook that fact to be able to have it available to us for both seasons. When it comes time to prepare for tournaments where our players will be on a larger field, The City of Pawtucket has been great about finding us field time to practice. Side note, our Junior Division field is actually named after a former Slaterettes president, Joseph Thibeault and the field at Slater Park is named after Anthony Seastrom, who held multiple positions on our board of directors.
One strange question that I often get about equipment is if our catchers wear a cup. There are several pelvic protectors out there that females wear for various sports. I can’t say for sure that any of our catchers wear them. We do not require it.
RIBBE – Do the Slaterettes have enough to play inter-divisional games or do you play a schedule against other towns/leagues?
Deb – The Slaterettes do have enough players to play interdivisional games. Our goal is to field 3 teams per division each year. This works out well because the city typically gives us field permits for Monday thru Saturday. It allows us to have 3 games per week (2 per team) and have other nights for practices and make up games. Over the years we have been known to run as few as two or as many as four teams in a division. The nice part of a 3-team schedule is that each team will play on the same 2 nights which is a big help to parents when it comes to scheduling after school activities. The number of total teams just depends on how registrations go. I have been the player agent for quite a while now so I’ve seen the cyclical pattern of registrations. Some years are better than others but that is the same with any league. Fortunately, we have a very high retention rate so even if we have a year where new player registrations are low in a particular division we are still always able to run the division, even if it means dropping to two teams for a season. We don’t really do a lot of advertising. We would rather save that money and keep our registration fees down (in 2018 our early bird registrations ranged from $30 in Tee Ball to $80 in our Women’s Division. We do distribute flyers in the elementary schools but other than that most of our players either find us on their own via the internet or through word of mouth. We also have several second generation players and even a few third generation players. When I started playing in 1981, we only had 3 divisions – Instructional, Junior and Senior. Back then you started around age 6 or 7 and finished up when you turned 18. We gradually started letting players register at a younger age, often because there was a younger sibling wanting to play. That led to starting a “Minor” division in between the Instructional and Junior Divisions. From there we added the Women’s division because so many former players wanted to come back to baseball. And just two years ago created the 13 – 18 age group to be more aligned with the 13U and 18U age groups that you typically see in a girls’ tournament. There are no other towns that have leagues like ours. To be honest, we have earned the distinction of being the only league of our kind in the country! What I would like to see in the future is to at least have other areas of the state be able to develop a team or two to enter into our program and compete against our girls. But as I said before, more teams leads to scheduling conflicts so we would have to work with the Parks and Recreation people in those cities and towns to be able to use their fields from time to time. I moved to Smithfield five years ago. Maybe this would be a good place to start! There are also travel programs for girls set up in Boston, NY and NJ. We will occasionally get together with one of those teams.
RIBBE – What surprises you about the girls on the field and what doesn’t surprise you?
Deb – I’ve been doing this for so long that there really isn’t much that does or does not surprise me anymore! You might have to ask someone newer to the sport to get that kind of reaction! I will say that yes, there is crying in baseball! And I’ve seen it at all ages! I don’t think it’s a bad thing either. I think if there is something that you are so passionate about then you are bound to shed a tear or two over it! It doesn’t matter if you are a boy or a girl or a man or a woman! Watch at the end of the final game of the World Series! I’m sure you will see plenty of grown men crying! I would say that something that does really surprise me is that there are no other leagues like this in the country! I can’t believe there have never been other parents that have said let’s start a baseball league for just girls! The other thing that you will notice about our girls is that they have absolutely no idea how unique our organization is! As players we all just assume that everyone else is doing the same thing we are all over the country.
RIBBE – Ever play versus other leagues with mixed boy/girl teams or even all boys teams? If so, what was the experience like? Would you promote those types of games?
Deb – We have not played against boys’ teams or even mixed teams within our league. We did have a travel team that went to San Diego in 2016 to take part in MLB’s All Star Youth Classic. Ours was the first all-girls team to be invited to that event. The girls had a great time both on the field and off. It was a once in a lifetime experience for them. That being said, even though I am open to the idea of these types of games, I would say that it would have to be a match up with one of our travel teams rather than just let them into our regular division play. One thing that we have noticed over the years with girls that transition from boys baseball into our league is that they are often a year or two ahead of our players skills wise. That is not meant to say that our players are inferior in any way. It is just that many girls who have been able to survive in a boys’ program have done so because they have had to push themselves to be stronger than they might have surrounded by players of the same gender. This is where having the flexibility of letting a player up into an older division comes into play for us and allows us to make decisions with the best interest of the player in mind.
RIBBE – What influence do/does the previous generation of Slaterettes have on this generation of girls? Do they continue to coach, be involved in the league? Anyone or persons that you would like to recognize for the article?
Deb – While we thank our parents every chance we can get, it is definitely the previous generations of Slaterettes that keep the spark alive for these girls! They coach, join the board and recruit! Our adult players often come back and coach the younger players. I think that is something really special because the players look up to them and hope to play as adults themselves someday. I also appreciate that it takes the pressure of parents who feeling like they need to coach their child’s team. As a parent myself I can really appreciate just being able to sit in the stands and watch a game. We are always open to having coaches come in from outside of the league too. It always nice to see different coaching styles. And, of course, background checks are required. I can’t think of any other time that our Board of Directors has had so many former players on it. Fifty percent of our current Board is made up of women who played in the league as children:
• Obviously myself as Player Agent.
• Sarah Feeley is our President.
• Tina Trahan is our Recording Secretary.
• Bethanie Rado is our Instructional Division Director.
• Dari DiTusa is our Women’s Division Director.
• Becky Estrella is our Uniform Manager.
We also have two people that joined the league as players after watching their daughters play for us: Vanessa Menard is our Vice President and Shannon Dos Santos is our treasurer. And as I mentioned before, the Slaterettes DNA is strong in our league! Whenever someone gets pregnant we always wait anxiously to find out if it’s going to be a boy or a future Slaterette!
RIBBE – Do you play your games on the Pawtucket field next to the Boys and Girls Clubs? Where else do you play games?
Deb – One thing worth mentioning though is how that field has changed over the years! When I played there in the early to mid-eighties there were just 2 fields down there. That was it. There were no restrooms. We had to run up to the Boys Club in between innings (it wasn’t even the “and Girls Club” then!) The field got a huge facelift around the same time that McCoy Stadium was renovated in the late 90’s. The lights that are used at the Boys and Girls Club fields came from the field that used to be behind McCoy Stadium. Our biggest wish list item would to be able to get lights at Seastrom Field in Slater Park. We often have to end those games early due to darkness. As nice as it is to have that field all to ourselves, the lack of nights on this “forgotten field” is disappointing for our players. If we played anywhere else in the park we would have lights.
RIBBE – Do you see a void in interscholastic sports in terms of girls being invited or accepted to try out for baseball? We have had a number of fantastic girl baseball players over the years who I was sure could make not only the middle school here in North Kingstown, but the High School team. But I did see them years later just playing softball.
Deb – I wouldn’t say that we’ve seen a void here in the Pawtucket area. If a girl has wanted to try out at Tolman, Shea or even Davies, I have yet to hear of them having a problem doing so. We are known enough around town that athletic directors know we are the real deal. As far as them ending up playing softball, we see that all of the time too. I have seen some of our best players go on to play softball in high school and in many cases that is really about looking for college scholarships. Then they go off to college and play softball. Then they graduate and come back to baseball. It happens all of the time for us. I would never try and talk a player out of playing softball if that were the reason. I work in higher education and I see the kind of debt that students graduate with. If softball can help cover some of those costs for them then I am all for it…until girls and women’s baseball is taken more seriously and we start seeing it offered at the college level!
RIBBE – What would you say to a parent whose girl is on the fence about either playing softball or baseball?
Deb – Well, obviously what I’ve previously said about playing it at the high school and college level. However, if you asked me about it at the youth level, especially here in RI where there is access to an all-girls league, I would say let them try both and decide for themselves. Baseball and softball are two different sports for sure, even though there are a lot of people that would argue that. I have played both and I just happen to have a love for baseball. It is different for everyone but unless you have actually tried both, how can you be sure? If there is ever a parent that has a daughter that wants to try baseball, they should call me. We can get them to a practice or a try out and spend some time with them and see if it is a right fit for them. One thing that every female baseball player will tell you is how annoying it is when you tell someone you play baseball and they say “don’t you mean softball?” As if we wouldn’t know what sport we played!
RIBBE – The grip on the baseball is physically different that one on a softball. Can you work with a girl who was raised on softball to help adjust the grip to conform to the smaller baseball?
Deb – I have seen women play a baseball game at 5:30pm and be playing softball later in the evening! It can be done!
RIBBE – Are there moments, kids, memories that just warm your heart every time you are reminded of them? Would you like to share any of these with the article?
Deb – When I aged out of the league at 18, I immediately started coaching tee ball and have been doing that for over 25 years now. There are so many kids that have left impressions on me! I still have every card that I was given, every picture that was drawn, every stuffed animal I received and so, so much more! The only stuff that I do have to throw away at the end of the season are the dandelions!!! The girls will gather up handfuls of dandelions before (or even during) a game and bring them to me as if they were a dozen long stemmed roses! They all go into my baseball bag until the end of the season when I have to empty out the withered remains. There is a quote that escapes me at the moment but basically it says that years from now kids won’t remember the score of the game but they will remember the time they laughed so hard that juice came out of their nose (loose translation!) I’ve never had that happen to me as a coach but we have had silly string battles on the field, thrown water balloons instead of baseballs and broken piñatas with baseball bats. Those are the things I remember most and that I hope my players will look back on fondly someday. And now, thanks to social media, I get to watch them grow up into adults! Many of my first players all have their own kids now!
I want to thank Deb Bettencourt for her incredible answers. So well thought out and so informative. I really learned a lot about the Pawtucket Slaterettes Baseball League. It was a pleasure interviewing you and having the opportunity to write about your baseball league. The Pawtucket Slaterettes – an Awesome Rhode Island Baseball Experience.
Website – www.slaterettes.com
Photos courtesy of Deb Bettencourt and the Slaterettes Facebook Page