Trailblazing girls take mound at elite NYBC
YAPHANK, N.Y. -- This is the year Major League Baseball and USA Baseball introduced the Trailblazer Series to include girls in the game of baseball. Next week, Mo'ne Davis, perhaps the most well-known female baseball player, will be in Cincinnati to play in the Junior Boys RBI World Series.
It all speaks to inclusion and bringing girls to the diamond, and the diamond to girls.
On Field 1 of the Baseball Heaven complex, trailblazing history was made when two young ladies took the mound to face each other in Thursday's nationally broadcast 12U pool game at the 10th annual National Youth Baseball Championships, what is regarded as an elite boys' tournament.
Whether they understand it now, Jillian Albayati of the Wilson MVP Elite (Norwalk, Calif.) and Anny Rivera of RGV Broncos (Mission, Texas) are pioneers in the sport. And when the day began, neither had any idea that this was going to happen.
"I knew they had a girl on their team," Rivera said, smiling at her opponent sitting next to her in the dugout after the game. "I knew I was going to pitch but did not realize it until the boys were talking about it."
Albayati, known to her teammates as "Latina Heat," agreed.
"No, I didn't know, but it was awesome to pitch against another girl and the boys," Albayati said.
They each knew the other existed because of the boys, but both agreed they downplayed it at the beginning of the game.
"I was pretty nervous," Rivera said of the beginning of the game. She gave up three runs in the first, but she got out of a bases-load jam with a strikeout. "It was rough, but that [strikeout] helped."
"We knew the game was on TV, and I was just trying to get over that," Albayati said. "Once I got to the mound and threw the first pitch, I settled in on that."
With a 3-1 lead in the first inning and fans starting to make their way to the field after hearing of the rarity, Albayati gave them and audiences at home something to talk about. She retired 14 straight batters -- from the final out of the first to the first out of the final inning. She struck out four and used the defense behind her to shut down the Broncos, who entered the game 3-0, scoring 17 runs in their previous game.
Albayati was so dominant that during an in-game broadcast interview when play-by-play announcer Dave Popkin asked her coach, Rudy Casillas Jr., about how long he was going to stick with his right-hander, Casillas replied, "Until her arm falls off."
Casillas said after the game, a 7-1 victory, that he could see that she was in control and had a low pitch count. Albayati got the six-inning, two-hit complete game on just 68 pitches.
"She settled in and was in control. She used the defense behind her and really gave up only one hit," Casillas said. "She has done that all year. She is one of the best pitchers we have."
Rivera, also a right-hander, did not fare as well, giving up all seven runs on eight hits, but she could see her teammates were struggling at the plate.
"I know they were trying, I know they can swing the sticks," Rivera said. "It just didn't happen."
A big smile came over her face, and she looked directly at Albayati and said, "Because of her."
How did they fare against each other at the plate? Rivera went 0-for-1 with a strikeout, and Albayati finished with a sacrifice fly and two walks.
Rivera said that this was probably her last baseball game against the boys, as she will focus on softball at Mission Junior High School in Weslaco, Texas, where she was No. 1 academically in her class.
"Latina Heat," on the other hand, plans on taking her hard-throwing right arm to 90-foot bases and a 13U Banditos program. She is also an honors student at Sycamore Junior High School in Anaheim.
"She'll have some drop in velocity," Casillas said, "but I expect she will do well with the Banditos."
Sitting side-by-side after the game, it was obvious to see there was not a winning and losing pitcher. There was respect and understanding of what they had just done. And may be a little relief that it was over … for now.