Girls' game growing at Breakthrough camp

Series launched in 2018; 'It's amazing to see their development on the field'

November 12th, 2021

DALLAS -- In 2018, when Naomi Ryan was at the very first Girls Baseball Breakthrough Series, she took a picture with former USA women’s baseball national team member Malaika Underwood. Back then, Ryan barely came up to Underwood’s waist.

At the most recent women’s national team event, the two were nearly the same height, team manager Veronica Alvarez explained. Alvarez, who is one of many coaches at this year’s Girls Baseball Breakthrough Series at the Texas Rangers Youth Academy, has known Ryan since she was 11 at the Trailblazers Series at MLB’s Compton Youth Academy in 2017.

The Trailblazers Series, similar to the Breakthrough Series, is an event that focuses on the development of girls in baseball, both on and off the field. Alvarez has watched Ryan develop each year through these events.

Alvarez said Ryan has continuously improved, and at just 14 years old, she’s one of the youngest of the 32 girls at this year’s Breakthrough Series.

When evaluating herself, Ryan said she feels like her baseball IQ has been the biggest development for her over the years. She’s even participated in women’s national team camps alongside the girls camp.

“It's so cool to have seen that physical growth, but it's amazing to see their development on the field as well,” Alvarez said of Ryan. “It's really cool to see all the girls being able to compete on the same field and seeing Naomi step up her game and compete with women that have gone through collegiate programs who have played professional baseball even. So it's amazing to see her growth and development.”

Ryan is a left-handed pitcher in the Class of 2025 from Virginia who has also connected with Alvarez at the National Team Identification Series champions cup at the USA Baseball National Training Complex this year.

But while NTIS is traditionally an all-boys event, both the Trailblazers Series and the Breakthrough Series are focused on expanding the roles of girls and women in baseball.

“It’s exciting being with all the girls and realizing I'm not the only girl in baseball and how much it’s growing as a sport,” Ryan said of the series.

Alvarez, who has been to every Girls Breakthrough Series event since it started in 2018, said it’s awesome to take part each year. She is the USA Baseball women’s team manager after years of catching for the squad.

“It’s really cool to watch this,” Alvarez said. “Some of the same players, we've had a repeat appearance with them. Which sometimes is negative and positive. The negative is that we want more numbers of girls as baseball players. But the positive is that I get to watch them develop, and the other positive is that obviously our development is working. So they keep getting better and they keep getting asked to come back, which is wonderful. This is a high-level-development event, so we want the best players out here.”

Ryan said she likes being a pitcher because she feels like she’s in control of the game and everything goes through her. The coaches, like LaTroy Hawkins -- a big league pitcher from 1995-2015 -- have helped her develop during the Breakthrough Series this week.

Alvarez said the wide array of coaches allows for different perspectives for each girl. The third annual Girls Breakthrough Series features instruction from former Major Leaguers Lou Collier, Cliff Floyd and Hawkins as well as multiple current and former USA women’s national team players like Alvarez.

“They’ve helped me with my timing, and messing with hitters and runners as a way to better control the game,” Ryan said. “They talk about their mistakes and what they maybe should have done in the past that they wish they would’ve, and it helps us.”

“I think it's so valuable for these girls to get to hear from all of us,” Alvarez added. “It's just you never know which one of us is going to say something that's going to impact one of the players. We might just say something slightly different and natural that makes an impression. It's so important for their development.”