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Love Letters to ‘A League of Their Own’ – The Importance of “Finding Your Team” Part 2

Photos courtesy of Amazon Prime Video.

Continued from Finding Your Team Pt. 1

Dear A League of Their Own,

There aren’t really enough words to describe how much I love every single one of them, but thank you for all of the Peaches, most importantly Bev, Maybelle, and Shirley. The inaugural team wouldn’t be the same without any of the Peaches, but these three get special shoutouts for standout moments I know stuck with all of us.

Sergeant Beverly (Dale Dickey) is as essential a member of the squad as any player on it. Playing the role of guide and protector for them as house mother, Sarge takes every aspect of her job seriously and that ultimately keeps all of the Peaches as safe as possible. Without her “looking out for her own” the season we spend with them certainly wouldn’t have been what it was for Carson and Greta, Jo’s season wouldn’t have been saved with a transfer to the Blue Sox after her wrongful arrest, and Jess would have missed out on money she rightfully earned from fines.

Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime Video.

The Beverlys of the world will never get enough flowers because there aren’t enough to give. The ones who have been watching over me and who guided my journey into my queerness were essential to any happiness and sense of belonging I found. And I don’t think I spend enough time thinking about the safety and protection they provided in those times and beyond it.

Thank you for Maybelle Fox and Shirley Cohen. Though these two may be opposites personality-wise, what they bring to the team and to our experience as viewers is essential to what makes this show as wonderful as it is. Maybelle (Molly Ephraim) is the epitome of the friend who meets you where you are and loves and accepts whatever that means. There to simply play ball and enjoy the opportunity she’s got to the fullest, Maybelle doesn’t have time to judge those around her. Her acceptance of Jo, Jess, and really all of the Peaches makes her the most modern of the characters we’ve been presented with. Maybelle is the ideal ally we all need and placing her in a 40’s setting at times feels a little shocking, but the authenticity and sincerity of her presence constantly feels necessary.

Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime Video.

On the complete other end of things is everyone’s favorite hypochondriac, Shirley Cohen. Played to comedic perfection by Kate Berlant, Shirley is the one who makes the team with the most growing to do. Though she isn’t the youngest like Esti, Shirley has no experience in the world beyond her own little corner of it. While it makes for some truly hilarious moments where we are educated on humidifiers and the dangers of botulism, it also makes her a bit scary at times. Scenes with Shirley demonstrate some very real homophobia that make it increasingly hard to trust her watching Carson’s journey and as we come to know the likes of Jo, Greta, Jess, and Lupe. But much like her skills on the field change and improve in learning from her teammates to become an asset to them, Shirley is able to change her view of things with just a bit of coaching from Carson. Without either of these two the show misses some of it’s best comedic moments and more importantly the Peaches lose pieces that complete their team.

Finally, thank you for Carson & Max.

Though I’ve mentioned some of the best aspects of the way their characters share the screen in previous letters, I haven’t really taken a moment to speak to their connection throughout the story of the first season. Carson (Abbi Jacobson) and Max (Chanté Adams) start out in spaces in Rockford that might as well be on different planets and still manage to become confidants in their navigation of queerness in the 40s along with their station and confidence to play and break new ground in the game they both sincerely love. As Carson is white and Max is Black, their arcs had to come with different challenges and wins that were realistic and sincere to make the story as a whole complete, and their parallels and ultimately their friendship became one of the things I love most as a fan.

Realizing the effect you have on others along with the spaces around you is a powerful life lesson. Some of us accept that with grace while others fall on their face and therefore never grow. Carson has a few stumbles in her lessons on who she affects with her actions (and lack of taking action as she did with not standing up for Max at tryouts) as a privileged white woman. When Max calls her out after one of their secret practice sessions, Carson truly doesn’t understand how her not saying anything to Mr. Baker and the coaches was a blow to Max. And then to make it worse she’s constantly bemoaning the fact that catching for Max would be so much better than working through her issues and near-constant fights with Lupe.

Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime Video.

While it sucks that it becomes Max’s job to point out how out of line and frankly naive Carson is at her big age, it works and it forces her to immediately consider her actions. The brawl on the mound in episode four and the intensity of it is a direct result of Carson constantly being labeled innocent while Lupe on the other hand is written off as hot-tempered. Both are equally as passionate about the success of the Peaches and the league, but as Carson is white and Lupe is Mexican, they are painted differently in every moment leading up to that fight. Carson isn’t the only one who has to come to terms with this reality and her role in it, but in her growth into a real leader, she actually does so.

Watching a grown adult take accountability without slipping into a white savior trope is what made Carson ultimately forgivable. In her path to learning the power of her own voice, she also sees that her power comes with a responsibility for her actions. Carson becomes a better and more aware human being which in turn also serves her in becoming the best coach she can be. And she owes that lesson and better connection to the world around her to Max Chapman.

Of course, their friendship is far from a one-way street. While Max already has a best friend to support and love her in Clance, Carson serves as the essential teammate and coach that Max is denied access to. When Max gets the yips, Carson gives her a person on a similar plane to discuss her troubles with in a way that reminds her of why she loves the game in the first place. It’s Carson who gets Max to realize that her struggles around identity are impacting her outstanding abilities.  Debates over “having a catch” or “playing catch” help Max to focus and train to get back to herself and in the fight to fulfill her dream of being a professional pitcher.

It was when their parallels spilled into their personal lives and their journeys into the discovery and acceptance of their queerness that I became a real sap for these two. Some of my strongest friendships to date started in a similar fashion to Carson and Max. Well minus the subtle blackmail and secret meetings in abandoned fields. There is something wonderful about that first time one can really talk about a woman having feelings for another woman and know that any expression of attraction isn’t going to be met with disgust. It’s comforting and reassuring and finding that space to speak freely about my sexuality and identity with my softball teammates is what makes them essential to my wellbeing.

Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime Video.

Carson and Max share so many incredible scenes that choosing one as my favorite proved extremely difficult for me. But the one I eventually settled on was the last one we see of them in season one. When they reflect on all that’s happened since they met while celebrating Max’s offer to play for the All-Stars. Some truly great lines are in this scene, but my favorite thing about it is to simply admire how much they’ve changed both physically and the confidence they both seem to naturally radiate with. These two know who they are now and are stronger for it. Even if what they’ve earned could be taken away in an instant, Carson and Max found a way to make their dreams come true. To me, they just don’t give the appearance of women who could be stopped any time soon. And the very same can be said for their dauntless fans.

There’s a reason so many of us have watched and then rewatched these episodes, tweeted, edited videos, and written several thousand-word letters on “A League of Their Own.” You’ve given us one incredible season of romance and sports-laced history lessons that we’ll be keeping with us in all new and wonderful ways just as we did with the original film. You made something incredibly special that continues to connect people because of the deep and ever-growing love we have for it. If the announced final four episodes are all that remains,  I know damn well that I’ll be happy with five minutes of anything like this rather than ever knowing what things would be like without you and the wonderful stories you’ve brought into our lives again.

So just in case you’re somehow wondering if I’ll be there next season, know that I and so many others wouldn’t miss it for the world.  

Love,

Ashley

Read the whole series of love letters to “A League of Their Own” here.

Ashley Durham (she/her) is a writer and communications manager from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is a graduate of Westminster College with a BA in Broadcast Communications and has worked in the Steel City as a media specialist in recent years. She continues her love of journalism as a blogger with a focus on television and film.