At GRIT tourney, opportunity for girls is key

60 high school girls participating in baseball invitational

March 9th, 2019

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Delaney Dunham remembered vividly the day three years ago when a baseball coach at her brother’s camp asked if she, too, wanted to play ball.

"I thought he was crazy at first," said Dunham, a 15-year-old high school freshman from Mont Belvieu. "I was still playing softball and thinking, 'This dude's crazy … it's not going to happen.'

"When summer came around, I thought, 'Why not?' My mom and dad were completely supportive and so were my brothers."

It’s amazing what can happen when you just show up. Opportunities often seem to just present themselves. Like on Friday at Globe Life Park.

For 60 high school girls baseball players on a beautiful, springlike afternoon, the ballpark was a stadium all their own.

The inaugural MLB GRIT baseball tournament debuted on International Women’s Day with two games at the Texas Rangers’ ballpark featuring players from 21 states, Washington, D.C., Canada and Puerto Rico.

"It was completely different playing here," said Alicia Gonzales of Dallas. "It was a really nice opportunity. I'm glad I came out here. I tried my best."

Gonzalez had a base hit in her team's 4-2 loss.

Among the others here are five who competed in last summer's Women's Baseball Cup, including Allison Schroeder and Liz Gilder of Canada, Eva Cristina Torres Vega of Puerto Rico and Ashton Lansdell and Emily Tsujikawa of Team USA.

The invitational tournament also doubles as a four-day instructional and development camp. Coaches include former big leaguers Homer Bush, who was part of a World Series championship team with the 1998 Yankees, and Marvin Freeman.

Ila Borders of the Colorado Silver Bullets was joined by current and former U.S. national team members, including Malaika Underwood, Tamara Holmes, Donna Mills, Shelby Estocado, Meggie Meidlinger, Alex Oglesby and AJ Hamilton.

The camp, a joint project of Major League Baseball and USA Baseball, is designed to provide training through individualized instruction.

The tournament continues through Sunday with games moving to the Rangers' Youth Academy in Dallas. Four games are set for Saturday, and championship and third-place games are arranged for Sunday.

What makes this opportunity so valuable is there are too few all-girls baseball leagues. It is rare for girls to get a chance to play against girls, one parent noted.

Many of these girls, like Dunham, play on their high school baseball teams. Dunham is on the sophomore team at Barbers Hill High School. Dunham was a softball player until that day as a 12-year-old she decided to take her brother’s baseball coach up on his offer to try to play. Dunham’s older brother is on the varsity squad at Barbers Hill.

At Barbers Hill, she is treated just like everyone else on the team, she said.

Dunham, on the same team as Gonzalez, had a walk, a groundout and a flyout in three plate appearances. The lefty also pitched two innings.

"This is a great opportunity for my future in baseball and possibly USA Baseball," she said.

Dunham and the tournament's participants are following in the footsteps of trailblazers like Babe Didrikson, the Olympic heroine who pitched in exhibition games for the Athletics, Cardinals and Indians, and Lizzie Murphy, the first woman to play against a Major League team in an exhibition in 1922. But they also have the opportunity to build legacies all their own.

"She loves to compete and loves baseball," Molly Dunham said of her daughter, Delaney. "This is really an exciting opportunity. It is top-notch. Look at the talent here. It’s a lifetime experience.

"They are paving the way, MLB and USA Baseball. This is an amazing event. I'm at a loss for words."