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Breakthrough Series develops softball players

Special to MLB.com

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Macy Naylor was nearly ready for work one day last week when her phone rang. What followed was pure excitement.

"Really?" she kept asking her coach, who was on the other end.

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Macy Naylor was nearly ready for work one day last week when her phone rang. What followed was pure excitement.

"Really?" she kept asking her coach, who was on the other end.

Destinee Martinez, a former Team USA member, had extended an invitation to Naylor for this week's second annual Softball Breakthrough Series, which opened Monday morning at USA Softball Hall of Fame Complex.

"I didn't know much about it when I was first told," Naylor said. "I was actually leaving for a tournament and on the way up I was reading about it. I realized it was going to be a great opportunity."

Naylor, a home-schooled softball player in Oklahoma City, was part of a diverse group of 60 high school softball players from across the nation participating in a free special development camp.

She was coached by softball greats such as legendary Olympic gold medalist Jennie Finch, longtime UCLA coach Sue Enquist and two-time gold medalist Sheila Douty among others. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the athletes will be split into teams to play games, where college coaches will have a chance to scout.

They also heard from Finch and Enquist in forms of Q&A's and presentations. Renèe Tirado, vice president of talent acquisition and diversity & inclusion for Major League Baseball, was also scheduled to speak.

It's all part of MLB's partnership with USA Softball and an extension of the Baseball Breakthrough Series that began in 2008.

"I'm thankful for MLB stepping up and telling these young girls they truly matter," said Finch, who was recently named MLB's youth programs ambassador. "It's the all inclusion. Baseball and softball, whatever you want to do you can. Just go outside and play the game."

Softball players from as far as Hawaii packed into the complex. For some, it was their second time at the event.

"It showed me a lot of stuff to improve myself," said Jadyn Clark, 17, of Tampa.

Clark said she's received some Division I interest, and each time she attends this event she finds a different area to improve. It also never loses its luster.

She got to speak with Finch, a legend to many softball players. Clark also received instruction from national champions and Team USA members, all of whom just want to expand interest in the sport that helped them so much.

"Everybody is here because they love the sport and they just want to see each and every one of these young ladies be able to take something from here and move forward and use it in their life," Douty said. "Softball is a game -- baseball is as well -- that prepares you for life."

Naylor has been preparing with softball her entire life.

The daughter of an umpire, she remembers working on a tee when her father, Mark, failed to move his hand back quick enough. She hit it with the bat. A few years later, he was teaching Naylor the strategy of softball from baserunning situations to calling a game.

She's also worked the Women's College World Series the past nine years, where she's watched some of the former players who were coaching Monday.

Naylor said she plans to use lessons from the event throughout her life. "I want to learn as much as I can, be improved as a player and a person, and learn life lessons," she said. "I want to coach, so learn pointers on how to coach girls, how to communicate with them."

That's the goal for MLB and USA Softball with the program.

"Giving young ladies an opportunity to achieve their goals and dreams are extremely important," MLB Youth Program senior vice president Tony Reagins said. "Hopefully not only do they get an opportunity to learn the game of baseball and softball specifically, but maybe they have ideas and dreams of doing something else in the game not on the field. This creates those types of opportunities.

"We think it's a great opportunity and we want to do more."

Jacob Unruh covers the OKC Dodgers for The Oklahoman.