MLB GRIT tour visits Chicago on final day

February 16th, 2020

CHICAGO -- Seventeen-year-old catcher Madison Femia, from Geneva, Ill., has had an opportunity to play with some of the country's best players in girls baseball via MLB’s Trailblazers Series and Girls Baseball Breakthrough Series. Now she’s excited that other girls get to do the same.

Femia was among 30 girls who took part in the final installment of MLB GRIT: Girls ID Tour at the University of Illinois-Chicago’s baseball facility on Saturday.

“I was part of the first Trailblazer [Series], so honestly, I feel like a trailblazer,” Femia said. “I want people to look up to me. I want to have that, ‘She’s a girl baseball player. That’s pretty cool. I want to be like her.’ It just pushes me to be a better person in society. Personally, it’s just an amazing feeling. I’ve always wanted to help people and help them get better.”

The five-city tour included workouts in Compton, Calif., San Francisco, Port Chester, N.Y., and Vero Beach, Fla., over the last two months, in search of some of the nation’s best players.

The initiative focuses on identifying talent to feed into elite girls baseball development events and finding the next wave of talent in girls baseball. The goal is to open doors for players like Courtney Schumacher -- a 15-year-old sophomore from Winnetka, Ill. -- who has already begun to make a name for herself in her hometown.

Schumacher is a member of the Windy City Huskies, an Illinois girls baseball travel team. In 2019, she became the first girl to make the baseball team at New Trier High School, which produced Major Leaguer Charlie Tilson and White Sox general manager Rick Hahn.

“It circles back a little bit. I was that younger girl when I came to the [Windy City] Huskies and I looked up to a lot of the people that were older than me. Some of them are even out here today, like Madison,” Schumacher said. “Being able to be that person [now], it’s exciting for me to help them and have them, hopefully, look up to me.

“I’ve never been a part of GRIT or any of the [camps] associated with MLB, so it’s really fun. A lot of the girls are really good and it’s really fun to experience it with all of them.”

The top performers from the five events will be selected to participate in the inaugural Girls Baseball Elite Development Invitational, a one-week program geared toward providing elite training and instruction. They will also take part in the annual Girls Baseball Breakthrough Series. Both events will be held at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach later this year.

All three programs will join the Trailblazer Series, held in the greater Los Angeles area, in conjunction with Jackie Robinson Day in April, as offerings for female baseball players under the age of 18.

Former USA Baseball Women’s National Team player and guest instructor Bridget Venturi Veenema helped lead the one-day workouts and sees immense potential in what will be the next generation of players in girls baseball.

“I think the percentage of quality players exceeded my expectations, which is great to see,” Venturi Veenema said. “That means that girls baseball is developing at a rapid pace. The nice combination is that I see girls with baseball IQ and fundamentals, which means they are getting exposed to the game.

“I also see girls with athletic ability -- perhaps athletes in other sports -- that are coming out here and giving the game a try. ... You can often teach athletes and you can deepen the knowledge of well-coached kids that have been exposed to the game on a solid fundamental basis.”

What had been deemed impossible in the past in baseball is now becoming possible with other women leading by example, like Alyssa Nakken and Raquel Ferreira. Nakken was hired by the Giants last month to become the first full-time female Major League assistant coach in MLB. Ferreira, who was already the Red Sox's senior vice president of Major and Minor League operations, was named assistant general manager last September, becoming the highest-ranking woman in a baseball operations department.

Femia and Schumacher want to be similar role models for girls playing the game and be a guide for future players by giving girls baseball a louder voice.

“I just want to see girls have more opportunities with places like USA Baseball development, etc.,” Femia said. “Even if none of us go to the MLB, there’s going to be someone that’s able to and I want them to have the same opportunities the guys have.”