COMPTON, Calif. -- Diya Buonincontro would like to someday play Major League Baseball. If she can’t do that, her second choice is to be the next Jessica Mendoza and commentate on the sport.
But she may want to also consider a Plan C and aim to use her brainpower to help a Major League front office build a World Series winner.
Buonincontro is 11 years old and she is a terrific baseball player. She’s also a math whiz, having completed college algebra through Arizona State University last year -- when she was 10. She’s currently studying for the final exam in college pre-calculus, also through ASU.
You listening, Theo Epstein?
“Her goal is to play Major League Baseball,” her father, Robert, said with a proud smile.
Career goals can be addressed at a later date. For now, Diya is part of a growing number of girls who are being encouraged to continue to play baseball if they choose, rather than switch to softball, where there have been more opportunities traditionally.
MLB and USA Baseball have created programs designed to give girls the opportunity to play baseball without the pressure to switch sports. The Trailblazer Series, held in Compton, has become one of the crown jewel youth baseball events, drawing girls from all over the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.
Buonincontro, from a suburb of Chicago, is one of nearly 100 girls who participated in the tournament this year, held in conjunction with Jackie Robinson Day (April 15).
“I haven’t seen a girl in my league for like three years,” Buonincontro said. “I have a friend who plays softball. That’s the closest. But she doesn’t play baseball. She doesn’t really get the perspective. It’s nice to be with girls who play the same sport as you and have similar personalities.”
Many of the girls who participate in the Trailblazer Series do not have girls’ leagues at home, which is one of the main reasons kids flock to this tournament from all over. In Diya’s case, it has given her a chance to be a part of an elevated level of competition, playing with and against only girls.
“I like it more than baseball with boys,” she said. “I don’t have any interest in softball. Baseball’s more of a challenge. I think it’s a better sport.”
Buonincontro won an MVP award in every tournament she played in last summer. In a 10U All-Star tournament, she threw a combined no-hitter against the team that eventually won the title. Later, she was asked to play for the 11U All-Star team.
“At home, it seems like she’s typically dominating the boys when she pitches,” her dad said. “Then she comes here and she’s just in the middle of the pack. She’s not the best, she’s not the worst. She gets some good competition.”
Gifted athlete: check. Brilliant academic: check.
Buonincontro spent the first years of her life in and out of hospitals, to address hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a birth defect that eventually required three surgeries. The last one was completed at Boston Children’s Hospital; coincidentally, that was around the time she became a Red Sox fan, taking on the allegiance right around the time the Sox were trudging through a humiliating time in their recent history.
Yes, Diya’s recovery process from her final surgery happened during the Great Red Sox Collapse of 2011. While the team was putting together a 7-20 record down the stretch, Diya -- though very, very young -- apparently was swept up in Red Sox fever. More recently, she learned that the daughter of now-former Boston closer Craig Kimbrel was born the with the same heart condition. That further cemented her fandom.
“His daughter has similarities to me and I thought that was pretty cool,” Diya said.
What’s next for this dynamic 11-year-old? More college courses, most likely. And more baseball. She’s determined not to stop until she gets to the big leagues.
“I told her, ‘You never know, your career might stall in the Minor Leagues and you’ll need to look at other options,’” Robert Buonincontro said. “‘You might want to be an analyst in baseball.’ She’s mentioned being a commentator like Jessica Mendoza. We’ve talked about several things.
“Her heart is set on playing for the Boston Red Sox.”