Trailblazers Series offers validation for girls playing baseball – Washington Times

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

There are places all over America where you have girls who have a passion for the game of baseball and pursue it, often in isolation, considered a novelty.

Last weekend in southern California, many of those young girls gathered for an event sponsored by Major League Baseball that validated their passion and told them they weren’t alone.

It was only right that Alexandria’s Codi Dudley was part of it.

Major League Baseball, along with USA Baseball, held its first girls baseball tournament – “The Trailblazers Series” – last weekend as part of the Jackie Robinson Day festivities. The tournament featured more than 100 young female ballplayers from the United States and Canada, playing for under-16 and under-12 teams.

“In memory of Jackie Robinson, Major League Baseball is committed to making our sport accessible and inclusive for all those who want to play, coach or participate,” said MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. “MLB and USA Baseball have listened to the growing demand for girls’ and women’s baseball by launching this unprecedented event. We will be proud to do so on the most meaningful date on our calendar, Jackie Robinson Day, at our Youth Academy in Compton. It is our honor to support trailblazing young women who will be outstanding representatives of their communities.”

For Dudley, it was just another part of the dream she chases – her baseball dream.

Dudley, a veteran player in the local Eastern Women’s Baseball Conference, was invited to coach one of the teams, joining other women who have been part of the USA Baseball national women’s squad.

“The tournament was amazing,” Dudley said. “I’ve been in tournaments before where they were all girls and all women, but for a lot of these girls this was their first time. It was incredible. They loved being in it. A lot of them came from places where they’re the only girl on the field and to be there with other girls gave them a lot of validation.

“They could really enjoy themselves,” she said. “They weren’t scared to strike out and be judged. They were just there with other girls and didn’t feel like they had to prove themselves so much. When they are on the field with guys they are always being looked at, but when they are on the field like this they are all together.”

The women’s baseball movement has been quietly growing over the past decade, with more participation by young girls in Little League baseball. Several years ago, young Mo’ne Davis caught the attention of the world as the 13-year-old star pitcher for a team out of Philadelphia in the Little League World Series. Her story opened up the door for more young girls to try to play baseball. But one of the biggest obstacles is the presence of fast-pitch softball as the vehicle for these young players to go beyond Little League.

“Little League seems to be at a point where girls feel comfortable trying out,” Dudley said. “We want girls to get into the Babe Ruth leagues and on the high school teams. But one of the barriers is fast-pitch softball. If you’re a really good player you go into fast-pitch softball because that’s how you get your scholarships to college. I know several good players in this area who I know could play baseball because they are really good, but they feel like they have to play softball because that’s where they get the real attention for college.”

The Trailblazers tournament, though, was about change and knocking down barriers – on the field and off.

MLB senior vice president for baseball operations Kim Ng spoke to the girls about opportunities beyond the field. “She talked about the love for the game and pursuing baseball and how some day one of them in the room could be a general manager or work somewhere in baseball,” Dudley said.

“I think the real message in this tournament was if you have a dream and you want to do it, don’t feel like you have a ceiling on it,” she said.

Dudley has been pursuing that dream – coaching boys baseball. The Eastern Women’s Baseball Conference, which consists of four local girls baseball teams, is entering its 27th season, and Dudley has both played and coached in the league. But several years ago, she and her friend and fellow baseball player, Jennifer Hammond, began coaching junior varsity girls softball at Falls Church High School.

Now Dudley is the baseball coach and Hammond the assistant for the boys junior varsity baseball team there.

“During the season we would go over and watch the baseball team play, because that’s sort of where our true passion was,” Dudley said. “We became good friends with the varsity baseball coach, and we told him that we play baseball. He came and watched one of our practices and one of our games

“We had a conversation after one of the games and he said, ‘You know, my junior varsity coaches aren’t coming back next year. Would you like to coach my boys?’

“That was a dream of mine when I started a few years ago,” she said. “My plan was to coach baseball, not softball. I took a softball job because I thought that was the way to get in.”

Those chances to “get in” got a boost from Major League Baseball last weekend.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes and Google Play.

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