Tour­na­ment of­fers val­i­da­tion for girls play­ing base­ball

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - THOM LOVERRO

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 U.S. 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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