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East Lyme - The ball will be in her hands come first pitch Thursday, the night East Lyme begins pursuit of the Little League baseball state championship. That's right. Her hands. Her. "The girl," as she's often referred to, as if born without another means of identification.
She is Sophie. Sophie Dubreuil. The girl among boys. She is 12. And she can play. But then, she'd have to in a boys' game.
Sophie will be East Lyme's starting pitcher.
"Our ace," coach Greg Toback said.
Notice he said "ace" and not "queen."
And the more you see her, the happy kid knocking about with her friends, in on all the inside jokes, you see a baseball player who happens to be a girl. Not the other way around.
"It doesn't bother me anymore," Sophie was saying the other night, alluding to all the fuss about the girl in the boys' game. "I've played so many games, I play through it."
You should go see her. The tournament games are at the East Lyme Little League field behind the middle school. She already hit two homers in the same game during the District 10 tournament.
It's more than that, though. Know who had the best footwork and looked like the most natural, instinctive baseball player of them all in the district championship series?
"We've grown up with Sophie," Toback said, his son, Ethan, the team's starting catcher. "We've known her for years and have known since she was young how special she is athletically. We knew from tee ball that she could compete with the boys. Lots of natural instincts. Not just in baseball, but other sports. Things you can't teach."
No matter her ability, though, she'll always stand out, standout or not. The girl. This is how it works. Stories like this often make girls and women quote Helen Reddy and boys and men get a little proprietary, perhaps wondering why she just can't go play softball with all the other girls.
Can't she just be a kid?
Because this just in: That's what she is.
"One time last year when I was 11 (years old) playing 12 all stars I was pitching," Sophie said. "I could hear the players on the other team say, 'picture your mom pitching to you.' It just made me throw harder."
Toback: "People who watch the games in eastern Connecticut are well aware of her. But when we play teams from another area, you can hear parents in the bleachers go, 'It's a girl! Good for her!' They applaud her the first time she gets up. By the third time, it's 'don't give her anything good to hit!'"
Sophie is also a football player, although she's taking the fall off. Linebacker and tight end. Pretty good there, too. Just another game played among her friends. The boys.
"They're all my friends. I always hang out with them," Sophie said. "I know everything about them and they know everything about me."
Sophie was in the pile last weekend when East Lyme won the district and advanced to the state tournament. If you listen to her recount the night, there are no labels. Just a regular, innocent, kid.
"We were so happy. We had a party after at (teammate) Zac (Aquino's) house," Sophie said. "On the car ride over, it was me, Zac and Noah (Perry). All of a sudden, we said, 'We just won! We just won!' It took us from the time we won till the time we got in the car for the whole thing to sink in."
Sophie, who will enter seventh grade in the fall, plans to play for East Lyme's 13-year-old Babe Ruth baseball team next summer. Who knows how far she gets? Maybe one day, she does play softball, which isn't such a bad option around here. East Lyme's coach is Judy Deeb, who has won more games than any other softball coach in state history.
Yet might she be good enough to play baseball for Jack Biggs?
"I don't see any reason why not," Toback said. "That's a question everybody wants to ask. I keep saying to take it season by season. There's no reason to think why her athleticism and fundamentals can't enable her to compete."
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.