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Girls baseball takes center stage in Vero Beach

65 high school players flock to Historic Dodgertown for instruction, Q&A with AAGPBL alumni
Special to MLB.com

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Seventy-five years ago this week, as World War II raged overseas, Chicago Cubs owner Philip Wrigley devised a plan, with the help of a group of baseball advisers, to fill the empty seats at Major League Baseball parks. The result was the birth of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, a breakthrough idea that would years later inspire the Tom Hanks film "A League of Their Own."

Three alumni from the AAGPBL -- Maybelle "Mae" Blair, Shirley "Hustle" Burkovich and Jeneane Lesko -- were on hand Thursday to help welcome 65 high school girls from around the U.S. and Canada for the inaugural Girls Baseball Breakthrough Series at Historic Dodgertown. It's a groundbreaking four-day amateur development camp designed specifically for girls baseball players and sponsored by MLB and USA Baseball.

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Seventy-five years ago this week, as World War II raged overseas, Chicago Cubs owner Philip Wrigley devised a plan, with the help of a group of baseball advisers, to fill the empty seats at Major League Baseball parks. The result was the birth of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, a breakthrough idea that would years later inspire the Tom Hanks film "A League of Their Own."

Three alumni from the AAGPBL -- Maybelle "Mae" Blair, Shirley "Hustle" Burkovich and Jeneane Lesko -- were on hand Thursday to help welcome 65 high school girls from around the U.S. and Canada for the inaugural Girls Baseball Breakthrough Series at Historic Dodgertown. It's a groundbreaking four-day amateur development camp designed specifically for girls baseball players and sponsored by MLB and USA Baseball.

In addition to daily on-field drills that include instruction from several notable instructors -- among them former MLB pitcher Fernando Arroyo and current U.S. Women's National Baseball Team members Marti Sementelli and Jenna Marston -- the participants were treated to a lively chat with Blair, Burkovich and Lesko on Thursday night after dinner. Many of the participants here are the only girls on their respective baseball teams, but the three former AAGPBL trailblazers encouraged the girls to never let those barriers get in the way of playing the game if that's what they really want to do.

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"It was a memory that we will never, never forget, and one of these days you kids are going to have that opportunity," Blair told them. "The doors have been opened up for you kids. You never quit. If you want to play baseball, play baseball. Remember that."

Trinity Curtis of Oakhurst, Calif., said she previously had a chance to meet Blair and Burkovich at the inaugural Trailblazer Series event in Compton, Calif., last year -- the second Trailblazer event was held in April -- and is equally excited about being invited to the Breakthrough Series in Vero Beach.

"Just continue playing, just don't let negativity get you down because we're here for a purpose," Curtis said of the message she received from Blair and Burkovich.

One of the instructors here this weekend is Falls Church (Va.) High School coach Codi Dudley, who said she believes that camps like this will make the U.S. National Team a strong contender at future World Cup tournaments. This year's World Cup will be held in the U.S. for the first time in Viera, Fla., from Aug. 22-31.

"I think this is going to make a huge impact, I really do," Dudley said. "The really good girls from this feed right into the U.S. Women's National Team, and I think the more exposure it gets, it could be similar to what softball did. When softball came back into the Olympics in the '90s, fast-pitch exploded."

Major League Baseball has been collaborating with dozens of national organizations, all of which have committed to providing girls the opportunity to participate in their baseball leagues. USA Baseball's National Member Organizations -- AABC, American Legion, Babe Ruth League, Dixie Boys and Majors, Dixie Youth, Little League International, NABF, NFHS, PONY and USSSA -- are all committed to making young women feel welcome playing baseball in their leagues.

Kim Ng, MLB's senior vice president for baseball and softball development, also had some sage advice for the participants Thursday night while giving the group some history about Historic Dodgertown and how Jackie Robinson once trained here.

"Each of you is a Jackie Robinson in your own way," Ng said. "And what [Blair, Burkovich and Lesko] did many years ago has laid the foundation for what you're doing now."

Steve Dorsey is a contributor to MLB.com.