COMPTON, Calif. -- Thirteen-year-old Kokoro Sagae felt very much at home as she took the field with her teammates on Saturday. But she also knew that this game would be different than most she's played in.Sagae, like the other 100 girls currently participating in the Trailblazer Series in Compton, Calif.,
COMPTON, Calif. -- Thirteen-year-old Kokoro Sagae felt very much at home as she took the field with her teammates on Saturday. But she also knew that this game would be different than most she's played in.
Sagae, like the other 100 girls currently participating in the Trailblazer Series in Compton, Calif., has been playing baseball most of her life. Most other times, she's the only girl on a field full of boys. But not this weekend. The tournament is for girls only -- and for many of these young athletes, it's the first time they've ever had this kind of opportunity.
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"It's a great experience," said Sagae, a native of San Jose, Calif. "On my normal team, I only played with boys. It's really fun to [have] experiences like hanging out with a roommate and just hanging out with other girls who play the same sport I do."
Now in its second year, the Trailblazer Series has attracted girls from all over the United States, as well as Canada and Puerto Rico. It's part of Major League Baseball's ongoing commitment to attract more young people to the game, while sending a clear message that baseball is a game for everyone -- regardless of gender, race or socioeconomic background.
Dozens of national organizations have teamed with MLB in committing to provide girls with opportunities 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 working toward growing the opportunities in the game afforded to girls.
The first day of the tournament at the MLB Youth Academy in Compton on Saturday featured a healthy dose of fierce competition among the six teams involved. Guided by accomplished coaches that included 12 members of the USA Baseball Women's National Team and Baseball for All founder Justine Siegal, the girls spent the morning showcasing their baseball skills in front of an audience that included parents, MLB executives and members of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
The coolest part? For most of the girls, it was, simply, the opportunity to play baseball with peers who have similar talent levels -- and who love playing baseball.
"I thought there were going to be the best girls here, and I thought it was going to be a really great experience and just be a lot of fun," said 12-year-old Luling, Texas, native Samantha Mundine, whose dad, John, was once a pitcher in the Twins organization. "I've always wanted to [play baseball], since I was a little kid."
Nadia Chernich, 12, of Fairbanks, Alaska, was looking forward to the "challenge" of playing in a tournament just for girls.
"Just being a sport that's mostly boy dominated, then you're coming in here and you say, 'Hey, I can play, watch me play,'" she said.
Chernich, who tripled in the fourth inning for Team Ng, plays both softball and baseball. She's endured a fair share of razzing from boys when she's taken the field to play baseball. But she's opted to let her talent serve as her best defense.
"My dad was like, 'They're just hating on you because they're not as good as you,'" Chernich said. "I'm like, 'If they're going to do that, that means I'm doing something right."
Twelve-year-old Madison Jennings, who tripled in the fourth inning for Team Blair, said one of the best parts about the tournament was meeting girls from places far from her hometown of Royal Palm Beach, Fla. She, like many girls participating in the Trailblazer Series, would like to play in the Majors someday. She'd also like to show girls younger than her that anything is possible.
"I want to help other girls know that they, too, can go above the glass ceiling," Jennings said.
And to those who say they can't?
"I just say, 'I can play baseball,'" Sagae said. "I show them on the field that I can. I like to show them that I can pitch, I can throw, I can bat. I can do what the boys are doing, too."
Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.