Eight top moments from 2018 Trailblazer Series

From Finch to famous fans to first pitches, Series proved memorable

April 16th, 2018

COMPTON, Calif. -- On a weekend that celebrated baseball's most revered trailblazer, Jackie Robinson, 100 girls gathered at the MLB Youth Academy in Compton for a two-day baseball tournament that featured camaraderie, talent and fierce competition.
Countless highlights emerged during the second Trailblazer Series. A glance at the best of the best:
1. "Yeeeer out!"
Catcher Nadia Chernich, who hails from Fairbanks, Alaska, recalled a time when she didn't know Major League Baseball had no female umpires. She's now on a mission to change that.
"Where are the lady umpires?" she recalled asking her dad when they were watching highlights on TV. "He said, 'There are none.'"
Chernich, 12, has already perfected her "Strike three, batter out!" call, and she hopes to have the opportunity to ring up someone in a real game someday.
"I would like to become the first woman umpire," Chernich said, emphatically. "If that doesn't happen, I'll just go wherever my life takes me."

2. Mowing 'em down
Twelve-year-old Cheyenne Navarro, a local kid from Culver City, Calif., looked right at home on the mound on Sunday with a dominating performance., striking out five batters in two innings, racking up an array of swings and misses, as well as called third strikes.
Navarro's outing was one of several standout performances. Offensively, Los Angeles native Brielle Minor recorded the tournament's only home run.
Minor later marveled at the level of competition at this tournament and how much she enjoyed meeting other girls who shared the same love of playing baseball. She also expressed appreciation for the fact that the Trailblazer Series was held in conjunction with the celebration of Jackie Robinson.
"I'm glad I was able to come out here and honor Jackie Robinson and honor this day and be able to play for him, and to represent girls baseball, and African-American culture, and playing baseball," she said.

3. Famous fans
What would a Trailblazer Series be without real-life trailblazers?
It's been more than a quarter-century since the hit movie "A League of Their Own" brought the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League back to life, and since then, the players from that league have used the platform to create more awareness about girls and women playing baseball.
Two AAGPBL players -- Maybelle "Mae" Blair, 91, and Shirley "Hustle" Burkovich, 84 -- attended almost every game of the Trailblazer Series as the special guests of the tournament. It is the hope of these women that interest in girls baseball will continue to grow, and that girls will stick with it as they get older.
"At some point, they're going to get pushed into softball," Burkovich said. "What we want to encourage them to do is to continue to strive. If we get enough girls interested, maybe somebody will recognize that we have all these girls that want to play baseball."
Added Blair: "That's what we want -- another 'League of Their Own,' and I'm going to be there from the very first pitch when it starts. We have to do it for these girls, to give them the opportunity."

4. Wanna have a catch?
Once a baller, always a baller. During a quiet moment before games got underway on Saturday, Blair and Jennie Finch, the world's most celebrated softball star (and newest contestant on "Dancing With the Stars"), played catch.
Finch, 37, and Blair, 91, clearly still have game.

5. Congressional first pitch
As a kid, Nanette Diaz Barragan grew up playing baseball with the boys. As a United States congresswoman, Diaz Barragan still likes to take the field from time to time, as she does every year as one of two women who play in the annual Congressional Baseball Game.
Her message to the girls on Saturday before she threw out the ceremonial first pitch got right to the point: keep playing.
"My first job at 15 was at McDonald's," she said. "I went on to become a lawyer, then a City Council member, and now a member of the United States Congress in Washington, D.C. I tell you young girls who are here today: Don't let anyone tell you you can't do something. You can."

6. Finch: "There's only one of you."
Finch, an Olympic gold medalist and an MLB youth ambassador, had the crowd riveted as the keynote speaker at Friday's opening dinner. She spoke of being an awkward, gangly kid who didn't feel she fit in anywhere -- until she started playing sports.
She also credited her failures for being as impactful as her successes -- a key reality when working to achieve any goal.
"There's only one of you," she said. "Trailblaze your way. You don't have to have a gold medal to be a trailblazer. The opportunity out there is tremendous, whether you make it or don't make it, whether you are the first GM in baseball, or whether you are the first Major League Baseball player as a female athlete or not. There are always life lessons you can revert to. You are trailblazing your own way, providing your own path to your journey to greatness."

7. First pitch
After a full slate of competition Saturday, the group went on a field trip, visiting Chavez Ravine for the Diamondbacks-Dodgers game. The Trailblazers were recognized during a pregame ceremony on the field, and two players -- Maggie Paulovich and Athena Clendaniel -- were given ceremonial first pitch honors.
They were joined by Blair and Burkovich, as well as two Trailblazer coaches, Stacy Piagno and Anna Kimbrell, who caught the pitches.

8. Three national anthems
The Trailblazer Series drew girls from all over, including 21 states, D.C., Canada and Puerto Rico. The geographical diversity, emphasized during the playing of three national anthems, was embraced by the participants.

"It's been really fun because I've been able to meet new people," Minor said. "Where I'm from, in Santa Monica, there aren't a lot of girls who play baseball and are really good at it. I kind of felt alone where I'm from. When I came here, I was really excited because there's a lot of girls who are similar to me in the style of play."