Rebecca Stern had never played on a team with more than two girls. Now, she found herself among a group of 64 girls from the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada, all working to improve their skills at the inaugural MLB Grit Girls Invitational in Arlington, Texas. The event, co-hosted by Major League and Team USA baseball in March, was designed to offer female high school baseball players a premier developmental experience that they may not have otherwise had access to. It also connected a network of girls who share a bond in their love of baseball, and their necessity to often combat stereotypes, and in many cases, league rules that dictate girls should only play softball as they grow older. For Stern, the experience was all that and more: she was finally given an opportunity to show what she was really capable of on the diamond.
Stern plays second base on the GDS varsity baseball team. She also played on an adult women’s team last summer, which opened her up to the world of all-female baseball. Elizabeth Benn, the Labor and Diversity coordinator for MLB, and one of the players on that team, sent emails to players who might be interested in the program. Applications consisted of entering the name of a coach to verify that one did, in fact, play high school baseball, a primary and secondary position and a brief paragraph on why they should be admitted.
On the first day of the four-day program, players participated in a vigorous evaluation and were subsequently sorted into four teams determined by skill level. These teams then went on to play four games against each other in a tournament style, one of which was played in Globe Life Park, the home of the Texas Rangers. “It was a totally crazy experience,” said Stern. “There are so few people in this world who get to play baseball in a major league stadium. We went into the locker room and there were uniforms hanging…it was nuts.” The group played the rest of their games at the Rangers Youth Academy in Dallas.
Stern also highlighted meeting other girls excited about baseball and the sense of community it created. “There’s this community of girls’ baseball that I ever really got to invest myself in, so it was really cool to meet all these people who had all these similar stories,” she added. “There are things you go through as a girl playing baseball or as someone who’s doing something that other people don’t do that it feels like other people can’t relate to. Being able to be in a community where people could relate to that was really cool.”
With the implementation of MLB Grit, along with the extension of the middle school Trailblazer Series and the high school Girls Baseball Breakthrough Series, MLB aims to continue it’s promotion of girls’ baseball. Although there is a professional women’s softball league, the National Pro Fastpitch League, there does not exist a professional league for female baseball players outside of national teams. Through these new events, girls from all around North America will be able to come together to share their experiences and solidify a growing community of girls proud of their love of baseball–all while working on their game.
Stern said of the importance of the tournament, “What struck me was that these were girls with baseball swings and gloves, not softball swings and gloves playing baseball.”
Mimi Koenig ’20