MLB GRIT aims to foster girls' love of baseball

ID Tour makes fourth and penultimate 2022 stop in Arizona

March 21st, 2022

Like a lot of girls, Jordan Andreas took dance lessons. She went and she learned. 

She learned it wasn’t for her. 

Her older brother played baseball, and it was obvious when she practiced with him and their dad at their Las Vegas home which direction her heart was pulling. At just 5 she joined Little League. 

“I’ve loved it ever since,” Andreas, 13, said. “I always watch baseball.” 

She was in her sweet spot on Sunday, when Major League Baseball’s MLB GRIT: Girls ID Tour made its first Arizona appearance. Andreas and about 20 other girls were suited up under the sun on a local high school baseball field in Glendale, Ariz., a suburb of Phoenix. GRIT is a series of workouts for girls 18 and under to showcase their baseball skills and possibly earn their way to the Elite Development Invitational on July 5-10 at Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Fla. 

The Arizona workouts marked the fourth of five stops on the 2022 tour, with the final showcase coming to Chicago on March 27.

There’s another important aspect to the GRIT series. Besides exposing young players to professional-level evaluations and guidance, the workouts also allow girls to play baseball with other girls as the game’s evolution continues. 

“I’ve seen a lot of girls come in that grow up playing baseball and now they’re figuring out that women are actually in baseball, so now they’re starting to enjoy it more and love it and get into it,” said Denae Benites, a USA Women’s National Team member, who was among the evaluators in Glendale.

A 20-year-old infielder and pitcher, Benites appeared in four games with the National Team at the 2019 COPABE Women’s Pam-American Championships, where she batted 3-for-6 overall. Her work with GRIT allows her to mentor girls who, in turn, get to see Benites in her Team USA gear teaching the fundamentals.

“We just want to see them out here loving baseball, wanting to play and wanting to get better,” Benites said. “Not everyone is going to be at the same level. While we’re out here, we can establish some of that in a system; how we approach a ground ball or how we get our swing intact. Start with the small things so that everyone can be on the same pace and then we can all move up together.”

At only 14, Jesse Esquivel is already a GRIT veteran. She lives in nearby Peoria, about 15 minutes away, where Cactus League play was going on at the same time under the same bright blue sky on this first day of spring.

Esquivel, who plays second base and catcher, also participated in a GRIT evaluation in Denver in July 2021, so she knew the drill this time around, even before the action began with stretching exercises.

“It’s just a workout: fielding, catching fly balls, hitting, catching,” she said. “Basic baseball stuff.”

Some girls from the Arizona stop will be selected to advance. Younger athletes may still qualify for the Trailblazer Series next year, which is designed for 11- to 13-year-olds. It debuted in 2017, when USA Baseball and MLB launched the new tournament for girls built around Jackie Robinson Day in celebration of the sport’s iconic trailblazer.

All MLB development programs, like GRIT, are evaluated jointly through USA Baseball and may allow players to filter into the Women’s National Team at some point down the road.

“The experience in general, nothing comes close to it,” Benites, 20, described of being a Team USA member. “The level of play throughout all the women is just ridiculous. You don’t expect it. You go out there and you ball out, and everyone is balling out. Everyone!”

Benites made it there in a career spent largely as the only girl on teams throughout her baseball journey. She was the only girl in her division during Little League at age 7, and played two years on her high school’s boys varsity team in Las Vegas.

Benites acknowledges that “not a lot of girls get a positive experience out of being the only girl” on their respective baseball teams, but she had a different perspective.

“Throughout my experience, I’ve actually had a pretty good journey throughout baseball,” she said. “[The boys] have all treated me pretty well and helped me to get better.”

The advancement for women reached new heights in January, when the New York Yankees named Rachel Balkovec as manager of one of their Minor League affiliates. She became the first woman to break into the managerial ranks at that level.

Female baseball players are making inroads in other countries as well.

“It’s been more widespread, especially since I’ve gotten involved in Major League Baseball,” said Yano, the baseball operations coordinator for the Compton, California-based MLB Youth Academy. Yano, who goes by one name, has hosted GRIT and Trailblazer events over the years. “In Japan, [women’s baseball] is more structured and organized. Even like high school. I think there’s some college teams, too.”

Girls like the teenagers at the Arizona GRIT stop aren’t necessarily looking to make history. They’re just focused on their passion.

“I’m just going to try and go as far as I can,” said Andreas, who turns 14 in June. “I’m definitely going to play high school ball and hope to play in college, and I would like to coach when I grow up, too.”