Arts·Cut to the Feeling

A League of Their Own taught me to be my own hero. The new series will let everyone have that feeling

Abbi Jacobson's 2022 adaptation of Penny Marshall's classic 1992 film will bring a timeless story — the triumph of finding yourself — to an expanded audience.

The 2022 adaptation will bring a timeless story — the triumph of finding yourself — to an expanded audience

Left: Geena Davis as Dorothy "Dottie" Hinson in the original A League of Their Own film (1992). Right: Chanté Adams as Max Chapman in the new A League of Their Own series (2022). (Columbia Pictures/Prime Video)

Cut to the Feeling is a monthly column by Anne T. Donahue about the art and pop culture that sparks joy, grief, nostalgia, and everything in between.

When A League of Their Own was released in 1992, I was seven and had no interest in watching grown-ups play baseball. Besides, anything starring Madonna seemed far more adult than I could ever be. But four years later, my best friend changed everything.

Shocked that I had never heard Tom Hanks scream that there was "no crying in baseball," she popped the VHS in the tape player; we started the story about halfway through (rewinding was boring) and ended it about half an hour later when it was time for me to go home. But it was enough for me to become a wee woman obsessed.

Quickly, the small Dino Video across the street became my second home. After renting the store's only copy no less than six dozen times over the course of that summer, I felt like I'd landed exactly where I wanted to be: on a baseball diamond filled with funny, interesting, likable people. And while my inability to play sports prevented me from actually joining a team or winning the world over via catch and grand slam, I still felt like I'd found a place I belonged — something that built on my concept of home. A League of Their Own was a movie about how your idea of home can change; it's about finding yourself someplace outside of where you'd started to grow.

At the time, I didn't fully realize that the story I loved so much was actually less about the Rockford Peaches' ascent into Hall of Fame glory and more about the way in which the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League represented the promise of, well, more. The movie itself centres around Dottie Hensen (Geena Davis) and her kid sister Kit (Lori Petty), who make it to the AAGPBL — which stood in for the MLB, whose members were fighting in WW II — and land on the same team (the Rockford Peaches) despite their differences in playing style, personality, and long-term goals. Which was another testament to the power of the League: it's the way the players grow into new versions of themselves that makes them so valuable to their teams.

Left: Madonna and Rosie O'Donnell in the original A League of Their Own film (1992). Right: D'Arcy Carden and Melanie Field in the new A League of Their Own series (2022). (Columbia Pictures/Prime Video)

Dottie, an instant star, has no interest in playing baseball after her husband returns from overseas. But Kit is a scrappy and bratty player who would rather throw baseballs through windows than return to the family dairy farm. Luckily for both, by the film's end, their respective dreams come true. Kit is traded to the rival team, the Racine Belles, and after a showdown at the World Series, bat-catcher Dottie drops the ball at home plate and effectively ends her career so that Kit can score a home run, making Kit's new team — and Kit herself — the champions.

As a kid, I hated that moment. I hated that Kit had to leave her new family for a team I didn't care about, and I hated Dottie for holding the ball in a way that made it possible to drop at all. The Rockford Peaches were, to me, the most important baseball team in history, whose greatness lay in their legacy as a whole — not as a franchise that individuals could dip in and out of. I saw the League as an adventure belonging solely to the Peaches, whose greatness relied on their new, found family.

Of course, as an only child, I lacked the sisterly connection that feeds so much of this story. And as a tween whose emotional self had become attached to the Peaches over the course of two hours, I hated that the women who'd found purpose in their talent and connection had to go home and wait for next season. And goddamn it, I hated Bob (Bill Pullman), Dottie's beautiful, gentle husband who arrives home early, supports his wife at the ballpark unequivocally, and has the audacity to let her choose a quiet life in Oregon where they can raise a family. It made me sick. At least Kit had the gumption to stick with the team and carve a real life out for herself! (Said I, a person who was still playing Pogs.) At least Kit's dreams didn't depend on a man or on putting herself back into a box she was obviously too big for! When met with the opportunity for greatness, Kit embraced it wholeheartedly. But I felt Dottie backed away from it as if too cool — or even scared. 

Lori Petty as Kit Keller, Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan, and Geena Davis as Dorothy "Dottie" Hinson in A League of Their Own (1992). (Columbia Pictures)

I wish I'd realized then that I was projecting my own insecurities onto these characters. The myths I'd latched onto as a child and held far into my teens and twenties began to fray when I finally began questioning my own relationship to "greatness" or what finding happiness meant. By my early thirties, I was faced with the revelation that my self-worth had never been based on my occupation or even my own ambition. I didn't need to be a martyr to find work I enjoyed and could be good at, and I wasn't weak for wanting to surround myself with family, friends, and maybe even my own Bill Pullman. In some ways, I could still be Kit, boarding that bus back to Racine — but that path didn't make Dottie's less credible. Like any member of the Rockford Peaches, I was the hero of my own story.

When Dottie defends her dairy farm life with, 'I'm happy — let's not confuse things,' it feels right. It always does, when somebody is making a choice with their heart, and not at the behest of an audience.

That's what's so remarkable about A League of Their Own: there is no single hero. Not Dottie, the Queen of Diamonds™; not Kit, who could throw a tantrum better than anyone. The redemption arc of the Peaches' coach, Jimmy Duggan (Tom Hanks), is wonderful, but the film is hardly about a man who learns to believe in women. Instead, it is about friendship. About family — blood, but especially chosen. It's about the resilience that accompanies finding good people with like minds, and keeping each other afloat when you'd rather walk into the sea. It's about what the women of the AAGPBL built and what that organization represented: choice. The heart of this story is the promise that life, should you want it to, can look the way you want it.

Abbi Jacobson as Carson Shaw (left) and Chanté Adams as Max Chapman (right) in A League of Their Own (2022). (Prime Video)

And that's what makes me so excited for the A League of Their Own TV series launching this week. Co-created by Abbi Jacobson and Will Graham, the series builds on the groundwork of its predecessor but expands the lens to include players of all backgrounds, not just straight white women. In 1992, Penny Marshall allegedly had her hands tied in terms of storylines exploring race or queerness. But in 2022, Jacobson has the freedom to tell stories centered around sexuality, inclusion, and racism in a way that's imperative to painting a responsible and realistic picture. The retelling will populate this version of the league with even more heroes — and even more choices.

In my own life, it took a car accident and several loved ones' deaths to realize that Dottie's choice to head back to Oregon wasn't a loss or a disservice to her character's legacy. I, too, at nearly 37, long for a quiet life. I want to hang out with my family and my close friends, and I'm starting to hate the girl I was trying to escape from less and less. (Sometimes I even like her, the freak.) I can't tell you where to find the nearest dairy farm, but when Dottie defends her dairy farm life with, "I'm happy — let's not confuse things," it feels right. It always does, when somebody is making a choice with their heart, and not at the behest of an audience.

It all makes me realize: I don't need to be a superstar. I feel my most accomplished when I'm just getting through the day. The character I'll relate to most in this upcoming series will likely be any elderly woman in the crowd at the baseball stadium, cheering for her life while eating popcorn and Lifesavers. (Maybe she is sitting next to Bill Pullman.) 

I can't wait for a story that lets everybody grow into their own superhero. When the AAGPBL returns on Friday, I'm excited to see everyone get their turn at the plate, and I'm even more excited for the kids, tweens, and grown-ass adults to see themselves in characters whose trajectory makes them feel seen and alive.

I'm mentally preparing for incredible plays and swing dancing montages, and I'm psyching myself up for iconic quotes I will turn to and use later. But most importantly, I can't wait for what feels like a fresh answer to the onslaught of superhero stories we've been fed over the last three decades — one that lets everybody grow into their own hero, no matter where they're from or where they're heading. Maybe I'll even cheer for Racine.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anne T. Donahue is a writer and person from Cambridge, Ontario. You can buy her first book, Nobody Cares, right now and wherever you typically buy them. She just asks that you read this piece first.

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