1st MLB GRIT girls tour begins, 'really cool to see'

January 26th, 2020

SAN FRANCISCO -- Kaija Bazzano is the only girl on her varsity baseball team at Analy High School in Sebastopol, Calif. She’s used to being one of the guys. On Saturday, she didn’t have to be.

Bazzano was one of approximately 40 girls who gathered at West Sunset Diamond to participate in the inaugural MLB GRIT: Girls ID Tour, a series of one-day workouts designed specifically for female athletes under the age of 18. This new initiative aims to identify talent to feed into elite girls baseball development events hosted by Major League Baseball and USA Baseball throughout the year.

“It’s really cool to see,” the 17-year-old Bazzano said. “A lot of the girls feel a lot more comfortable with everyone else, so they can have fun and play to their best.”

Saturday marked the beginning of a five-city tour for GRIT, which will also host a workout at the MLB Youth Academy in Compton, Calif., on Sunday. The showcases will continue next month with stops in Vero Beach, Fla., Chicago and Port Chester, N.Y.

The top performers from each event will be invited to take part in the first Girls Baseball Elite Development Invitational, a one-week program geared toward providing elite training and instruction, as well as the annual Girls Baseball Breakthrough Series. All three programs will join the Trailblazer Series as offerings for young women who play baseball, part of MLB’s larger effort to dispel the notion that girls should only play softball.

“We’re pretty excited that we’re getting to see a lot of talent out there,” MLB senior vice president of baseball and softball development Kim Ng said. “I think the parents are just really grateful. I think they feel a lot of their daughters’ pain that they go through in terms of trying to find opportunities to compete and a lot of the negativity that sometimes exists for them. In our past programming, and today as well, we got some really nice compliments. I think the kids are just happy to be out here. You can just see it on their faces.”

Current and former members of the USA Baseball Women’s National Team, including Tamara Holmes, Kelsie Whitmore and Alex Oglesby, were on hand Saturday to help provide guidance for the girls, some of whom traveled from as far away as Alaska and Canada to attend the tryout. Participants were put through a series of drills to evaluate their baseball skills and received feedback as they ran the bases, turned double plays, threw bullpen sessions and took batting practice.

It was a refreshing scene for Athena Clendaniel, a 15-year-old sophomore from Anchorage, Alaska. Like Bazzano, Clendaniel is the only girl on her junior varsity baseball team at West Anchorage High School. She heard about the GRIT tour through Baseball for All, an organization founded by former A’s guest instructor Justine Siegal, and jumped at the chance to connect with other young female ballplayers.

“I wanted to come down here because this girls baseball community is really special to me,” Clendaniel said. “It’s great to know that there are other girls who play baseball, too, even if they may be far away from Alaska.

“It’s a completely different experience playing with girls instead of playing with the guys, because these girls know exactly what you’re going through. They’ve been there, they’ve done all the things that you’re doing and they understand completely where you’re coming from. It’s a great feeling.”

Clendaniel has been playing baseball since she was 5 years old and hopes to stick with the sport for as long as possible. She plans to try out for her high school’s varsity team next year, though her “dream goal” is to eventually earn a spot on the USA Baseball Women’s National Team.

“Honestly, I think a lot of people don’t even know that I’m playing baseball at my high school,” Clendaniel said. “My teammates have been pretty accepting. I’ve known most of them since I was little, so most of them are pretty accepting. At first, they didn’t really understand why I was there, what I was doing, but once they saw me play, they knew that I could play with them.”