At the age of 15, Paige Sultzbach was approaching the most illustrious moment in her young athletic career. As a freshman second baseman attending Phoenix’s Mesa Preparatory Academy, Sultzbach and her team were on the verge of becoming Arizona champs after locking up a berth in the state title game. With the game right around the corner, Sultzbach stood in an extraordinarily unique position. Being talented enough to start on a varsity roster as a freshman is one thing, but to do so as the lone girl in an all-boys baseball league makes her story that much more remarkable. Unfortunately, this storybook tale turned sour quickly.
Sultzbach’s Mesa Prep was set to take on Our Lady of Sorrows, a [reported] fundamentalist Catholic school in the region. The game was abruptly cancelled after the opposition chose to forfeit, refusing to share the baseball diamond with a member of the opposite sex. Sultzbach’s mother noted that, “it wasn’t that they were afraid they were going to hurt or injure her, it’s that they believe that a girl’s place is not on a field.” A little archaic, is it not?
As it turns out, this wasn’t the first time Our Lady of Sorrows took a stubborn stance against Sultzbach. During the regular season, the teams met on two separate occasions—both games played on Our Lady of Sorrows’ home turf—yet Sultzbach volunteered to sit out both games out of respect for her opponents’ stern belief system (the epitome of selfless class). When it came time to meet for a third time on a neutral field with the whole season on the line, Sultzbach wasn’t going to be caught dead missing out on the biggest game of her life. It’s a shame religion and politics jumped in the way of such a memorable moment—not just for Sultzbach—but for all kids involved.
I was able to get in touch with Sultzbach’s coach Chris Estilow and he was happy to shed some light on the controversial forfeit. Estilow made it clear that Sultzbach was not reinserted into the lineup to “see how they [Our Lady of Sorrows] would react.” Estilow explained how Sultzbach was slated to start in the game regardless who Mesa Prep was set to play, and noted how she was an integral contributor to the team’s flawless, undefeated season.
“I read somewhere a writer posted I put her in to see what they would do. That could not be further from the truth. Paige was one of the hardest workers all year long, and especially during the final weeks heading into the playoffs.”
After chatting with the coach and catching a glimpse of the photo of Mesa Prep hoisting the championship trophy, I couldn’t help but picture myself in Sultzbach’s cleats before the national media caught wind of her name. Ignore all the outrageously sexist, politically-driven nonsense for a second and put her accomplishments (on the field!) into perspective.
Just a year ago, Sultzbach had never played competitive baseball—she had been a softball player picking up a significantly smaller ball for the first time. Mesa Prep didn’t field a softball team, so Sultzbach’s only choice was to learn quickly or not make the team. Instead of playing on a faster all-dirt infield, she was now forced to charge grounders in the slow grass. Now wielding a top-heavy baseball bat, Sultzbach was also facing pitchers that threw overhand with a completely different windup motion. The muscle memory, the hand-eye coordination and the instincts Sultzbach had previously developed as a softball player all had to collaboratively adjust to a brand new game. As a lifelong baseball player myself, Sultzbach’s ability to adapt at such a young age is far more remarkable than being known as the girl stirring up controversy in the boy’s league. I see her for what she truly is—a stud, wearing the same uniform as the next player.