Softball player, 11, makes pitch for a field like the boys'

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For Gabby Means, 11, it's all about fairness. Fairness and fair balls, actually.

Gabby, of Greenfield, has long smarted at conditions on Gladstone Field, where her Pink Team plays in the Greenfield Organization's softball league. It wouldn't be so bad to play on an uneven, overgrown, rocky field, if it weren't for the fact that the boys play on vastly superior Hammer Field, nearby.

"I've always felt it was unfair," she said. "I think that everybody should have a fair chance of becoming as good as another person."

When she saw an ad for engine maker Briggs & Stratton Corp.'s Diamonds in the Rough competition, she saw her chance to even the score. The company annually grants $5,000 for improvements to 16 youth ballfields nationwide, and another $20,000 to the grand prize winner, chosen through online balloting.

"I think if we won the $20,000, we could have it as good as, or better than, Hammer," she said.

Gabby, a fifth-grader at Minadeo Elementary School, is more than a second baseman who can pitch. She dances, plays piano, sings in a choir and participates in the Girl Scouts.

But in the Means family, "play ball" is more than a catch phrase. Gabby's father, Dan Means, coaches the Pink Team, along with his brother-in-law, Caesar DiSilvio. Her sister, Sophia, 9, plays on the team.

A relative plays on one of the boys teams, so Gabby has watched games at Hammer Field. Her league also gets to play a few games there late in the season, after the boys are done.

"They've had a taste of how the other side lives," said Bill Smith, director of the Greenfield Organization, which runs the 120-member GO Girls Softball League.

The boys league, run by the Greenfield Baseball Association, has been established longer and has dibs on Hammer Field, Mr. Smith said. Gabby's slighted feeling "is probably pretty prevalent" among the girls, he said.

"She always complained, it's not fair, it's not fair," said Gabby's mother, Gina. "We've always teased her, like that's her mantra in life."

Indignity rose to injury last year. That's when Dan Means hit a grounder to Sophia in practice, and a stone kicked it into her nose, causing a black eye. The shiner "looked cool," said Gabby, but spurred her outrage.

"That made me feel more determined, so in time less girls would get black eyes trying to play baseball," Gabby said.

She submitted an essay to the contest, and on May 5, her father told her she'd made the finals.

Once she overcame disbelief, Gabby said, "I just couldn't talk. I didn't have the words, I was so excited."

Briggs & Stratton is taking votes at through May 21. Whichever one of the 16 fields nationwide gets the most votes will win the money, a tractor for field maintenance, and a baseball clinic with Hall of Famers Lou Brock and Carlton Fisk.

If local voters push Gabby's bid to the top, it'll be the second year in a row that a local field won the prize. Last year 10-year-old Duncan Schaper of Ohio Township won the top prize after submitting an essay asking for help repairing Avonworth Community Park, damaged by the rains from Hurricane Ivan.

Gabby would like to see the money go to better bleachers and a better-defined infield. "It's so bad, you couldn't even tell it was a baseball field," she said.

Oh, and one more thing. "The boys teams have better uniforms," she said. "Our uniforms are just T-shirts." She'd like to remedy that inequity, too.

Like most city neighborhoods, Greenfield hasn't seen much public investment during years of fiscal belt-tightening, said Mr. Smith. Winning the money and fixing the field, he said, "would be a very positive sign."

Rich Lord can be reached at or 412-263-1542.


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