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MLB GRIT girls tour makes stop in Vero Beach

February 2, 2020

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- As the Super Bowl played out on Sunday in South Florida, a couple of hours up the road, approximately 20 youth baseball players were putting together their own kind of big hits at another famous venue. And they were all girls. “This is great, not a

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- As the Super Bowl played out on Sunday in South Florida, a couple of hours up the road, approximately 20 youth baseball players were putting together their own kind of big hits at another famous venue.

And they were all girls.

“This is great, not a lot of girls have this opportunity,” said 14-year-old Felicity Fonseca after the one-day tryout. “It’s fun to get girls together to play the game together, and we all have fun doing that. It’s fun to showcase the skills and to show that we can compete with the boys and stay with the boys.”

An eighth grader from nearby Port St. Lucie, located a half-hour south of the legendary Jackie Robinson Training Complex, the left-handed Fonseca showed her skills in the third stop of Major League Baseball’s MLB GRIT: Girls ID Tour, a five-city tour that has already held tryouts in San Francisco last Saturday and the following day in Compton, Calif. The Florida event was held on Field 6, behind the bungalows on the grounds where standout athlete Robinson honed his craft back in the late 1940s and ‘50s.

Like Robinson, Fonseca is a multi-sport athlete -- including football -- who doesn’t shy away from competition. A first baseman, center fielder and pitcher, she especially enjoys competing with the boys she plays baseball with and against on her travel ball team.

“I like to hit the most,” said Fonseca, who sports a smooth swing from the left side and hit a few deep shots into the right-center-field gap during batting practice. “When you get a hit off a guy pitcher, that does not make them very happy.”

MLB GRIT is a baseball initiative created to focus on female athletes ages 18 and under in a tryout format. The top performers in the five stops -- Chicago and Port Chester, N.Y., will both showcase the event on Feb. 15 -- will return to the JRTC for two more series.

In late June, the venerable facility on the Treasure Coast will also be home to the week-long Girls Baseball Elite Development Invitational, the inaugural program designed for top-quality training and instruction for standout ballplayers chosen from the tryouts. That will be followed by the annual Girls Baseball Breakthrough Series, and all three programs will join the Trailblazer Series in the greater Los Angeles area as part of Jackie Robinson Day celebrations in April.

Madison Jennings, 14, an eighth-grade middle infielder from Royal Palm Beach -- 90 minutes south of Vero Beach -- said she sees improvements every time she comes to a camp. She also dazzled some in batting practice, using her right-handed cut to drive balls into the outfield.

“We get really good training [here], and when I go back to my [travel ball] team they see the improvement,” said Jennings, who has participated in multiple camps like the Breakthrough and Trailblazer series. “But it’s just fun being able to play around the girls. It’s just fun playing baseball.”

The camp had a Florida flair to it, as roughly 65 percent of the participants were from the Sunshine State, including Alana Martinez from Cooper City in Broward County, located less than half an hour from where Sunday’s Super Bowl was played.

Martinez competes at every position on the diamond except catcher, and unlike Fonseca and Jennings she is only 13 and was participating in her first camp.

She also displays some of her best work on the mound, owning a hard fastball and mixing in a number of offspeed pitches and changeups.

Martinez said she is anxious to attend high school and face better competition -- older boys who have played baseball for many years.

“Now that I’m older and see bigger boys, especially who are better at the game than we are, we’ll have to work twice as hard,” said the right-handed Martinez. “We put a lot into [the game].”

All three girls play on travel ball teams with boys, but the trio has known each other for a while and still compete together on a girls’ baseball tournament club around Florida.

Camp instructor Malaika Underwood, 38, has played in every Women’s Baseball World Cup and also participated in the Pan American Games. The infielder has earned six medals -- two each in gold, silver and bronze.

“It’s really exciting to see for me because these girls are the next generation of talent,” Underwood said after watching Martinez hurl a bullpen. “As these girls develop, they’re going to be trying out and hopefully, some of them [will be] making the national team and representing our country.”