COMPTON, Calif. -- Maria Norris had just completed the requirements needed to graduate from the Wendelstedt Umpire School in February when she received her first offer for a paying gig.
Norris wasn't familiar with the Trailblazer Series, but after a quick Google search, she was enthused about the opportunity to serve as one of the tournament's umpires. With little time to prepare -- or work herself into a nervous frenzy -- Norris found herself standing behind home plate on Saturday, calling balls and strikes for the MLB-sponsored all-girls baseball tournament at the MLB Youth Academy in Compton.
"I just kind of dove in and was able to work the plate," Norris said. "I thought this would be a good time to get my feet wet."
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Norris hopes to officiate in the Major Leagues someday, but first, there are dues to pay and ladders to climb. She'll get some experience working in the independent Expedition League this summer, and from there, she hopes to work her way up. While Norris doesn't know what opportunities will come along, she's grateful that her first chance to umpire was at the Trailblazer Series, a tournament for girls that celebrates girls.
"What better way to just trailblaze through and go in head-first?" Norris said.
The Trailblazer Series, a joint venture between MLB and USA Baseball, included approximately 100 girls ages 11-13 from the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. It was held in conjunction with baseball's annual celebration of its original trailblazer, Jackie Robinson, who broke the sport's color barrier 71 years ago, on April 15, 1947.
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As an African-American and a woman, Norris appreciates what Robinson stood for during his life, and how his legacy has endured through the seven decades since his historic Major League debut.
But that legacy also carries a deeper meaning for Norris.
"The best part about his message has become the fact that he's not a plaque, or an African-American baseball player -- he is known as a great baseball player," she said. "I look out on these fields, and I see players of all different shades and colors. I don't see black or brown or white players. I see baseball players -- girls who are here having fun, and that's what I'm trying to accomplish in my own field."
As her journey continues, Norris hopes to be judged by her skills and not her gender.
"I'm not here to be a female umpire," she said. "I'm here to be an umpire. To erase gender, to erase color, and just be whatever you want. Whether it's the player, coach, manager, umpire ... I'm here to be a part of that."
Eventually, she hopes that journey brings her to the Majors.
"If you're going to dream, why not dream big?" she said. "That's looking really shiny and sparkling right now."