Girls ID Tour inspires young women in Philly

February 8th, 2023

As over 40 young women took the field in Conshohocken, Pa., to demonstrate their baseball skills, one name came up again and again, someone whom many of them aspire to be like: Olivia Pichardo.

Pichardo is weeks away from suiting up for her first game with Brown University as the first woman to crack a Division I baseball roster, but three years ago, she was impressing at Major League Baseball's GRIT tour -- just like the girls who now look up to her.

"Olivia, she's awesome," said Alex Hugo, Pichardo's U.S. women's national baseball teammate. "Seeing that dream start here, and her being a pioneer [at] events like this, I think that she's showing these girls how to carry yourself and how to work, and putting her at the light at the end of the tunnel."

MLB GRIT: Girls ID Tour made a stop in the Greater Philadelphia area on Feb. 4, giving young women ages 18 and younger an opportunity to work with top instructors and put their baseball acumen to the test in a four-hour showcase. The players were then evaluated, with a select group chosen to participate in the weeklong Elite Development Invitational and the Breakthrough Series.

The Philadelphia event was the second stop of the four-city tour. The 2023 ID Tour kicked off in Seattle (Jan. 28) with additional showcases scheduled in Dallas (Feb. 11) and Atlanta (March 19) to round out its fourth year.

"The number of girls here, the level of talent at a younger age … is phenomenal," said Beth Greenwood, who played college baseball at the University of Rochester and now works with the Phillies as an MLB Diversity Fellow. "It's exciting to see that you have a good, young group of kids that you're going to continue to be able to pass that torch to that are going to help continue to grow the game."

Though many girls play baseball as children, the number of young women on baseball rosters tends to decline as they grow older. Part of that is a lack of resources geared toward their development, but there is also a widely held perception that girls only play softball.

GRIT and some of MLB's other youth programs are looking to address those disparities and show girls that it is possible to have a future in baseball.

"Because these girls are having to choose [between] softball and baseball, I think it's really huge for them because they can have an outlet here and know that there's other options for baseball," Hugo said. "Maybe that's playing baseball in college; maybe that's playing baseball for the USA team; maybe it's coming to these events. But they don't have to give up on the baseball dream and choose a side."

That acknowledgment alone can be powerful. As GRIT participant Malaika Dumais said, "I'm happy that we're recognized as baseball players, not only [as] softball players. Girls also can play baseball."

With every passing year, women continue to reach new heights in baseball. The past year alone has brought the first women Minor League managers in Rachel Balkovec and Ronnie Gajownik; the first woman to play in an MLB partner league in Kelsie Whitmore; and of course, the first woman to make a DI roster.

But it all starts small, and giving girls opportunities to elevate their game is one way to continue moving forward.

"I want them to never let their fire burn out, because they need to know that they have a space here where they feel welcome and they are encouraged to play," Hugo said. "I think it's good to spread the message, and if we have to travel city to city to do it, I'm glad to."

After all, Pichardo may be one of the latest trailblazers on the field, but she certainly won't be the last.

"I think it's really cool," GRIT participant Lillian O'Laughlin said of Pichardo's success story. "It makes me want to work harder and try to get to as high [a level] as I can."