COMPTON, Calif. -- Alyssa Lee may be a 16-year old, but when she explains why she was out on a cool morning showing off her baseball skills, it’s the same answer you’ll get from anyone who plays the game, male or female.
"This is what I love to do,” Lee said. “This is why I go to practice every day, this is what I love.”
Lee was one of roughly 35 girls who gathered at MLB Youth Academy in Compton to participate in the inaugural MLB GRIT: Girls ID Tour, a series of one-day workouts designed specifically for female athletes under age 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.
“Playing with other girls is such a great experience,” Kate Blunt, a 16-year-old on the Women’s National Team said. “Coming out and seeing all the other girls is a lot of fun and really inspiring."
Sunday was the second stop on the five-city tour for GRIT, which began on Saturday in San Francisco, and 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.
“It’s about creating opportunities,” Tony Reagins, MLB executive vice president of baseball and softball development, said. “A lot of these young ladies have aspirations and goals to play baseball. They are around other young women who want to as well, so they know they are not alone.”
While Reagins was impressed with the athletic ability they showed, he went on to say that the camaraderie and the memories that they create will to last forever.
“The stories and experiences and what we see off the field is far more impactful,” he said, pointing out the that off-the-field experiences are just as important if not more so than what happens on the field. “We have the opportunity to change lives and give an individual a chance that they may not have had. Our ultimate goal is to get them in college, and if we can get these young women college opportunities, that’s icing on the cake.”
Current and former members of the USA Baseball Women’s National Team, including Kelsie Whitmore and Alex Oglesby, as well as Justine Siegal, who in 2015, became the first female coach employed by an MLB club, when she was hired as Oakland A’s guest instructor, were present on Sunday guide the girls, some of whom traveled from as far away as New Mexico, Oregon and Alaska. Participants were put through a series of drills to evaluate their baseball skills and they received feedback as they ran the bases, turned double plays, threw bullpen sessions and took batting practice.
For the girls, it was a opportunity to meet other girls who shared their passion.
“I love the atmosphere,” said 15-year-old Abygil Contreras. "Just being with older baseball women, it means a lot.”
For some, such as 13-year-old Keira Izumi, who traveled north from San Diego to participate, it was more than just seeing other young women who liked baseball. Izumi called it a "great opportunity for me to see my skill level and the skill level of a lot of other people.”
While many of the coaches commented on her abilities, the compliments didn’t got to her head, as she insisted, “I’m going to remember that even though I may think I’m good there is always going to be someone better. You always have to work hard and never think that where you are at is good enough.”
“What I’m seeing is a little more strength out there which is nice," said MLB senior vice president of baseball and softball development Kim Ng, who was also at Saturday’s session in San Francisco. "Yesterday, we saw more speed, but today we’re seeing more strength, particularly in the bats. We’re seeing some quick hands and some good bat speed up at the plate, so it’s been a little eye opening, which has been great.”
“These young ladies, if they want to play baseball, there is going to be an opportunity,” said Darrel Miller, MLB's vice president of youth facilities. “There is going to be support and there is going to be people that look just like them, that feel the same way they do. They identify the game as something they want to participate with, and we want to make sure there is no barrier -- ever -- to enter into baseball. For anyone."
As for the reason why young women want to play baseball, either with themselves or with the boys, Alyssa Lee summed it up best: “It’s kind of an unexplainable feeling. You just feel it inside. It’s something that you love to do and why you work hard. It makes you want to be better.”