The Only Girl On The Yankees

BI was drafted by the Yankees about 40 years ago. I was a young girl from the Bronx living in northern New Jersey, and my dream was to be a pitcher. With my parent’s support, I tried out for the Little League boys’ team and made the roster.

Once, on a bright and sunny day perfect for playing baseball, I was in my pitching motion when, from the first base stands, I heard a grown woman’s voice. “Go home,” she shouted, “and wash the dishes!”

As a pitcher, I was used to heckling—but this hit me deeper. After that inning, I ran into the stands and buried my head in my mom’s shoulder. “Don’t pay her any mind,” she instructed me. “She’s just upset because you struck out her son. Now go out there and do it again.”

I now realize the impact that moment had on my career. Girls thrive when they don’t hear “no.” We thrive when we hear: “Go for it.”

We’re watching glass ceilings shatter in real-time this March as we mark Women’s History Month. Due to the inspiring results of November’s elections, more than 100 women are now serving in Congress—for the first time in our nation’s history. But despite these advances, policies continue to attack women’s health and rights.

Just last week, the Trump administration restricted funding for health clinics that provide critical women’s health services—including cancer screenings, annual exams, STI testing and treatment and abortion. After news broke about widespread pregnancy discrimination on the floor, XPO Logistics is closing down a facility where thousands of women workers rose up. Just last year, a judge declared federal bans on female genital mutilation unconstitutional.

When I think about my time pitching with The Yankees, I don’t recall whether we had winning seasons or not, or my batting average or ERA. Instead, I remember the youthful bliss of playing on a field with my teammates. I remember loving the game.

I remember that my coach made me the starting pitcher because I threw like a girl. (My catcher, Pete Arancio, would ice his hand after catching me. His mom once shared with mine that he would say, with some level of surprise: “Mom, she throws hard.”)

No one ever told me that “girls can’t throw a fastball,” or that “girls aren’t good at math.” Nobody ever told me “girls can’t be doctors,” or “girls don’t know how to lead.” Because of that, I became a pediatrician; I ran the pediatric department at a health clinic in Washington, D.C., for immigrant and uninsured families; and now, I have the privilege of being the first Latina to ever lead the New York City Health Department.

I like to think of my job in public health as a team sport. The same lessons I learned as a Yankee I am inspired by now. I was the only girl on that Little League team and the only minority, and I was determined not to be a benchwarmer.

There is much more work to be done—and we have a collective responsibility to support women in pursuing their dreams by guaranteeing them the freedom to access the care they need and determine their own futures.

About

With more than 25 years of experience in public health and health care delivery, Dr. Oxiris Barbot has dedicated her career to achieving health equity and was named New York City’s Health Commissioner last December, becoming the first Latina and first Puerto Rican to lead the city’s Health Department. She is a pediatrician who was born in the Bronx and previously served as medical director for New York City’s schools and Baltimore’s health commissioner from 2010 to 2014. She was the chief of pediatrics and community medicine at a health clinic in Washington, D.C. She is also, of course, a lifelong Yankees fan.