Trailblazer Series celebrates girls in baseball

Finch among female players who will welcome rising stars to 12U/16U event in LA

April 12th, 2017

Trailblazer. Trendsetter. Pioneer. Rising Star. At one point of her life or another, Jennie Finch has been all of these things. And at MLB's inaugural Trailblazer Series, about 100 young ballplayers from the U.S. and Canada are following in her footsteps.

Finch began her story on a T-ball field in Southern California. As she puts it, though, "I was just a young girl with two older brothers trying to hang."

From there, Finch went on to serve as captain of not one, but three of her high school sports teams: softball, basketball and volleyball. At the University of Arizona, she set countless NCAA pitching records, was twice named the nation's best softball player and won the 2001 Women's College World Series. Finch pitched professionally, for the National Pro Fastpitch League, and even represented Team USA at numerous international tournaments, including the 2004 and '08 Olympics, where she won gold and silver medals, respectively.

"I didn't have sisters growing up," Finch added, "so just to be able to create that sisterhood and that bond with my teammates stands out the most."

For all of the success that Finch has enjoyed along the way, though, it's now "celebrating women in sport" through experiences like the Trailblazer Series that brings her the most pride.

The free event, which takes place from Thursday through Saturday at the MLB Youth Academy in Compton, Calif., is a first-of-its-kind girls baseball tournament that coincides with Jackie Robinson Day. Participants have an opportunity to play in one of two divisions, 12U or 16U, for teams named after notable alumnae from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL).

"I cannot wait to see those young girls taking the field," Finch said. "They have baseball dreams, and [the Trailblazer Series] truly just says that you can do anything. And that's what Jackie Robinson represents.

"I couldn't be more thrilled for Major League Baseball making a statement, saying, 'Young girls matter; the game matters.' To have this atmosphere for them to come out and play baseball -- what a special weekend it will be."

Finch, who in January assumed the role of MLB's youth softball ambassador, is just one of the extraordinary women planning to partake in the tournament. Two former AAGPBL players -- Shirley "Hustle" Burkovich, now 84, and Maybelle "Mae" Blair, 90 -- are slated to throw out ceremonial first pitches before watching the teams named in their honor take the field. Sharon Robinson, Jackie's daughter and an educational programming consultant for MLB, is also scheduled to attend and address the participants.

Numerous members of the USA Baseball Women's National Team constitute the coaching staff for the eight teams, along with Ila Borders -- the first woman to receive a scholarship to play men's college baseball and the first female pitcher to start a men's NCAA or NAIA baseball game -- and Justine Siegal, founder of "Baseball for All," an all-girls organization, as well as the first female coach in MLB history.

"It's an exciting thing to see all of these coaches sharing what they've learned and hoping to grow the game," Finch said. "Just to see how far we've come and celebrate that, and, most importantly, get these girls out on a playing field, learning those life lessons that I learned as a kid through sport."

In addition to games and practices, tournament-goers will also receive advice from guest speakers and attend the Diamondbacks-Dodgers game on Saturday.

"In memory of Jackie Robinson, Major League Baseball is committed to making our sport accessible and inclusive for all those who want to play, coach or participate," Commissioner Rob Manfred said. "It is our honor to support trailblazing young women who will be outstanding representatives of their communities."