And when that player is a girl, she is more than special. She is unique.
Meet Megan Dedrick, a 14-year-old freshman on the Everett High School varsity baseball team. Yes, she plays baseball, not softball. And lest anyone wonders, this is no fluke, no gimmick and no charade.
Dedrick, a second baseman, is one of nearly a dozen freshmen in the school's baseball program and one of just three good enough to be on the varsity.
"When I heard she was going to try out, I was kind of curious," said Everett coach Pat Duffy. "She's a freshman, and usually kids at that age are so far behind the (older players) in terms of strength and ability. But she opened my eyes right away. She throws the ball well, she moves well and she can hit.
"It took a lot of courage for her to come out in the first place, but she's not a spectacle. She just wants to play."
Dedrick got her talent and an early love for the game from her father, Jim Dedrick, a pitcher who spent 12 years in pro baseball, including part of the 1995 season with the Baltimore Orioles. He still works in baseball as a scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but the family lives in Everett where his wife, and Megan's mother, is from.
Megan Dedrick started playing baseball when she was 4, and her teammates were always boys. She remembers playing against another girl just once, and that was in Little League when she was 11. "That was cool," she said with a smile.
She has also played fastpitch softball, including two years at Everett's North Middle School where softball is a fall sport. But baseball and softball are both spring sports in high school, so Dedrick had to choose. Even though some of her best friends are on the softball team, she ended up picking baseball because, she said, "I've always played baseball."
The decision, Duffy said, was a good one.
"She's got good fundamentals and her baseball IQ is very, very high," he said. "And whenever we're running or doing anything in the weight room, she's right there toe to toe with the other guys."
Dedrick made her varsity debut as a late-inning substitute against Mariner two weeks ago. When it was over, "she came up to me, and in her little voice thanked me for letting her play," Duffy said. "And I said, 'You don't have to thank me. You've earned this.' And she has."
Understandably, the other kids on the team -- all of them boys, of course -- were initially questioning, even dubious.
"A lot of them were like, 'What's this about?'" said senior infielder and team captain Steven Cook. 'But I'd seen her hit, so I knew she was the real deal. And she's got a good arm, too. She throws harder than some of the guys (on the team)."
"Originally I think a few kids were skeptical," Duffy said. "But in the first few (offseason) workouts we had, the kids that saw her swinging the bat were just blown away. And then word kind of spread from there. It was like, 'Wow, this girl can play.' They were all as impressed as I was."
Still, those early practices were not easy for Dedrick.
"I was very nervous," she admitted. "Boys in high school are so much bigger than girls. And I was wondering if they would accept having a girl on the team."
Her response? "I just played my game," she said. "And after the first week I felt more confident." Since then, she added, "it's been good. They've all been really nice to me."
But if the idea of having a girl on the team is no longer a big thing to the Everett players, opposing players are still surprised.
On game days, Dedrick said, "I walk in and everybody's staring at me." She feels self-conscious at first, "but usually after I get out there and warm up it gets better."
The funny thing is, Dedrick blends in well enough on the field that spectators might not pick up right away that she is a girl. Until they see her long blond ponytail, that is.
Otherwise, Cook said, "you don't even think about it sometimes. Because when we're out there playing, she's just a teammate. She's just another player who's helping us win."
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