MLB GRIT tour for girls makes stop in NY

February 16th, 2020

PORT CHESTER, N.Y. -- Alexia Jorge was 3 years old when she started playing baseball. When her father needed one more player for her 5-year-old brother’s T-ball team, he turned to his daughter, not knowing where it might lead.

Once Jorge started, there was no stopping her. From T-ball to Little League she always played above her age group. Eventually she landed on her high school varsity baseball team, and now, at 16, the Lyndhurst, N.J., native is a catcher on the USA Baseball Women’s National Team.

But as she ascended in the sport, she noticed there were fewer girls on her trajectory.

“In T-ball, there were a couple other girls, but as I started getting older, they started to fade away,” Jorge said. “And once I hit Little League, I was the only girl. I play high school varsity baseball now and I’m the only girl in our league and probably in our county. So I’ve been the lonely girl for a little while.”

That’s how it is for a lot of high-performing youth baseball players who happen to be girls, which is why Major League Baseball has begun to develop programs designed specifically for young female ballplayers to form a community.

On Saturday afternoon, the Warrior Baseball Academy in Port Chester, N.Y., marked the final stop of the MLB GRIT: Girls ID Tour, the league’s newest initiative to identify talented young female baseball players from across the country and provide them with opportunities to showcase their skills on a national stage. More than 50 girls between the ages of 13-18 from all over the Northeast, including Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Maryland, as well as the Tri-State Area, descended upon the indoor training facility to partake in a pro-style workout with a coaching staff made up of former and current baseball players, including members of the Women’s National Team.

The tour hit five cities across the U.S., beginning last month in San Francisco, with stops in Compton, Calif., Vero Beach, Fla. and Chicago (also on Saturday) -- an expansion of last year’s GRIT Invitational, a three-day tournament in Arlington, Texas. The top performers from across the five tryouts will be selected to participate later this year in MLB’s inaugural Girls Baseball Elite Development Invitational, a week-long program geared toward providing elite training and instruction, as well as the annual Girls Baseball Breakthrough Series.

Both programs for high school-aged players will be held later this year at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, MLB’s hub for amateur development initiatives for both baseball and softball. For younger girls, MLB holds the Trailblazer Series in L.A. in conjunction with Jackie Robinson Day (April 15), featuring competitive play, world-class instruction and unique educational opportunities with industry executives.

Several of the girls in attendance Saturday have participated in one or more of these programs in the past, hoping to join a talent pipeline that could take them to the very top of the sport. Sixteen-year-old left-handed pitcher Paloma Benach is one of them.

“A lot of these girls have come from very far places just to be here to have the opportunity to finally get noticed, finally get the opportunity to play the game that they love, and I think that’s a great thing,” Benach said. “All these girls are really happy that somebody sees something in them. It’s something that needs to keep happening more and more.”

That’s the goal according to Elizabeth Benn, a coordinator of labor relations, diversity and inclusion and baseball development for MLB and also a starting pitcher in the NYC Metro Baseball League, who organized and led Saturday’s tryout.

“It was cool to see the talent in different locations and see girls who haven’t be able to come to some of our events before,” Benn said. “We thought it was important to go into local areas where we know that there is a lot of girls baseball being played, so we can find the talent.”

Through a series of drills over the course of three hours, that talent was on full display in Port Chester. Runs were timed, throws were clocked, and balls soared with precision in every direction. The athletes practiced fielding grounders and catching fly balls. They took swings in the batting cages and threw off the mound. Impressive plays drew a chorus of approval from fellow participants, and any mistakes were drowned out by encouraging messages.

“MLB has done a great job with all these events that they’ve provided for these girls playing baseball,” Jorge said. “For me, it’s been such a good experience because I know that if there’s someone I ever need to come to for assistance or anything in baseball, I have [Benn], I have everybody at MLB backing me, and all these other girls. And I want them to know they have the same opportunities that I have.

“[It takes] dedication. Because if you’re not dedicated and you don’t have that drive to go out and want to be better and become whatever you want to be in baseball -- without that -- you’re behind the eight-ball and it’s not worth fighting for. You have to go do it. Do what you want to do. Have fun with it.”