Marie Marcum, 9, works on her swing during practice with her softball team in Joliet, Ill. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)

Marie Marcum, 9, works on her swing during practice with her softball team in Joliet, Ill. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)

Video game mocked the wrong girl

  • By Kate Thayer Chicago Tribune (TNS)
  • Wednesday, March 13, 2019 1:30am
  • Life

By Kate Thayer / Chicago Tribune

NAPERVILLE, Ill. — While out with her mom and some friends at the Naperville Chuck E. Cheese’s, 9-year-old Marie Marcum, an experienced softball player, decided to show off her skills in a baseball throwing game.

Marie, who plays second base for the Plainfield Twisters travel softball team, said she had no trouble hitting the strike zone, but when one ball bounced off the game and onto the floor, she heard a disturbing taunt from the machine.

“Oh well,” it jeered. “There’s always softball.”

“I was upset and mad,” said Marie, of Bolingbrook. “If I brought my little cousin in, it would make her not want to play softball.”

But Marie said she didn’t just want to complain. She wanted to take action.

What started as a suggestion from her mom to write a letter to Major League Baseball — because the game was plastered with MLB logos — has led to the game manufacturer removing the softball-dissing soundbite from arcade games at Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurants across the country.

Marie has also received a massive response from the sports world, both on social media and in real life. Billie Jean King tweeted her support. Olympic gold medal softball player Jennie Finch invited Marie to camp. Her story caught the attention of the Chicago Bandits professional softball team and the Chicago Cubs. Kris Bryant and his wife, Jessica Bryant, called Marie, inviting her to tour the clubhouse and to throw out the first pitch at a game this season at Wrigley Field, said Marie’s mom, Lisa Marcum. The Cubs confirmed the invitation.

After Marie first heard the offending soundbite a few weeks ago at Chuck E. Cheese’s, she immediately told restaurant employees. When that didn’t bring satisfaction, Marie kept talking to her mom about how the game shouldn’t portray softball as an inferior sport.

So Lisa Marcum, a former English teacher, said she made a suggestion to her daughter: “If you’re that upset about it, why don’t you write a letter?”

As soon as Marie got home, she penned the note to the MLB. After identifying herself and noting her experience in her favorite sport, Marie went on to explain she was playing the game, “but when I missed (once), the game was mocking me,” the letter read. “It made it seem like baseball was better (it’s not). It was trying to say that if you missed, you should just go play softball. It made me feel that I wasn’t good enough.”

The letter went on to ask for changes to the game, and even offered suggestions for positive soundbites, like, “There’s always next time.”

Her mom mailed the letter, but first posted it to social media, not knowing whether they’d ever get a response.

Within days, reporters were calling the Marcum home, and Chuck E. Cheese’s muted the games across the country. The restaurant then asked the manufacturer of the game to remove the soundbite, which was completed Feb. 27, according to a Chuck E. Cheese’s spokeswoman.

Chuck E. Cheese’s also hosted Marie and her teammates recently to try out the improved game, and surprised her with a video message from former Chicago Bandits softball player and Olympic athlete Jennie Finch. Chuck E. Cheese’s representatives arranged for Marie and a friend to attend one of Finch’s softball camps. A Bandits representative and mascot also surprised Marie — whose dog is named Bandit after the team — and her Twisters teammates at a recent practice, presenting them with signed jerseys and posters, and invited them to a game.

An MLB spokesman said the organization received Marie’s letter and will respond to the family “with some ideas we have to celebrate Marie’s love for softball.”

“We love Marie’s passion for softball and share her view that softball is just as great as baseball,” the statement also said, adding that the game’s MLB licensing expired in 2011 and the organization does not support the negative comment it once portrayed. The game is manufactured by New York-based Innovative Concepts in Entertainment, which did not respond to requests for comment.

Marcum said she’s proud of her daughter, not only for changing what kids hear when they play the arcade game, but also for calling out antiquated ideas of gender and sports.

There are “these barriers that people … don’t realize are there for girls,” Lisa Marcum said. “Not just in sports, but career fields, and in the world in general. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but the less young kids have to hear that, the better it will be.”

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