ATHENS – It happens every spring. Even in Greece. That there are men playing baseball in the land of the javelin and discus and shot put should not surprise many – Greeks are natural athletes with abounding curiosity – but it is delightful to see young girls playing…and excelling in softball.
In Paleo Faliro the Dafni sports organization has a girls softball program coached by physical education teacher Babis Trigonakis and Denise Horafa. She attended Manhattan’s Cathedral School until her family moved to Athens when she was 13. Yiannis Doulopoulos, an athlete himself and one of the team’s organizers, was drawn in by his two talented daughters, who learned the sport from Babis; Maria, a slugging catcher, continues to advance, while her sister now plays tennis.
The team plays a handful of local teams whose girls also excel – it’s serious, fast pitch competition – and recently began to compete internationally. Last August in Prague they performed competitively with past European champions from Italy and Netherlands and this July they will compete in Belgrade.
“We have a lot of talent on our team. Centerfielder (Κεντρικος οπισθοφυλακας) Dora Skarogianni is a very gifted member of the National team that hopes to qualify for the 2020 Olympics.”
Dafni has girls as young as 8 but they are mainly around 16.
It’s a natural sport for Greek women – who are smaller but athletic; inspired and well-trained by Babis and Denise, they are a sight to behold. It’s wonderful to hear the chatter – in Greek, and they are very supportive of their teammates: “Pame (let’s go) Dafni!” or “Pame Maria!”
Babis, teaching at the 12th Elementary School of Paleo Faliro, identifies students with potential. “They begin with T-ball and if they like it they come to the team.”
The coaches look for ability and passion, focusing on the “girls who grasp the complex game and demonstrate they can master the elementary skills, like batting and throwing overhand,” Denise said.
One observer noted “If you say they throw like girls, you will be embarrassed – they throw better than you.”
The girls move and field their positions well, with grace and determination, as if they were immersed in the sport from infancy. Their focus and diligence is impressive, a tribute to the coaches, and to their intelligence and good character, and seven Dafni girls have played on the national team.
Denise became absorbed with softball in the States, and in Greece in 1999 she and her cousin Dennis formed a women’s fast pitch team. Beginning as a shortstop, she graduated to outfield. “We were the first national champions of Greece.”
Babis discovered softball as the country prepared for the 2004 Olympics. Assigned to demonstrate the sport to his students, they liked it – and so did he. “I learned and played hardball, then learned more about softball. A high jumper in his prime, his athleticism enabled him to learn the exotic and difficult sport of baseball around age 40. He hits fungoes to the outfield and cajoles his players like a seasoned pro.
The girls practice multiple days a week at Dafnis’ soccer facilities and until recently at a softball field on Hellenikon grounds – but in a sign that the long-delayed development there is moving forward, they were told they could no longer play there and are looking to create a field elsewhere.
The team is supported financially by parents, though there is a Hellenic Softball Federation that is undergoing a national accreditation process.
The girls dream of going to America to participate in tournament there and hope to raise funds to make it a reality.