NEW ORLEANS -- Nothing, not a light morning fog or chilly temperatures, was going to dampen the enthusiasm of a group of about 350 girls and boys who gathered Saturday to learn some baseball skills and celebrate National Girls and Women in Sports Day at the MLB Youth Academy in
NEW ORLEANS -- Nothing, not a light morning fog or chilly temperatures, was going to dampen the enthusiasm of a group of about 350 girls and boys who gathered Saturday to learn some baseball skills and celebrate National Girls and Women in Sports Day at the MLB Youth Academy in New Orleans East.
Former USA Olympian pitcher and gold medalist Jennie Finch welcomed the children, ages 4-13, and their parents at the Wesley Barrow Stadium facility to take part in a morning MLB Play Ball event that provided station-by-station instruction.
That 90-minute session was followed in the afternoon by a first-of-its-kind two-hour baseball and softball clinic designed for older adolescent females.
"I was blown away," said Finch, who is entering her third year of serving as MLB's youth softball ambassador. "I had goosebumps all over my body because these girls were just balling it up.
"Normally some of the girls, they don't know how to grab a bat, they don't know how to swing, but these girls prove just how far we've come and what we're doing."
The morning session was broken into seven different stations of instruction that emphasized the fun part of participation while covering the skills of throwing, fielding, hitting and baserunning, followed by a home run hitting contest. The afternoon work for the older athletes was directed more at enhancing skills and fundamentals.
As a mother of two boys ages 12 and 8 and a 6-year-old daughter, Finch said she encourages parents to get their children involved and be active themselves.
"I know firsthand the impact that sport has had on my life," Finch said. "The statistics are incredible of what sports do. The women who are CEOs, probably 90 percent of them played sports and were collegiate athletes even at that. So we're seeing what difference it makes for young girls to be involved in sports and to go for it.
"So let your daughter or boy try whatever sport they want to. There are so many avenues and so many ways and so many sports out there, too. We just need our kids active. We need them outside, having fun, playing ball."
Chris Daigrepont, a girls softball and travel ball coach from nearby Metairie, La., brought his 11-year-old daughter, Aubrey, to the event and gushed about the positives he witnessed.
"This is the second event like this that we've been to and it's great. The girls love it," said Daigrepont, adding that his daughter already has expressed a desire to play softball through college and possibly beyond. "The girls learn while having fun. It's not a strict practice where it's regimented. They're out here, they're having fun. They get to meet a superstar like Jennie Finch. Their eyes light up."
Kim Ng, MLB's senior vice president of international baseball development, was equally excited by the atmosphere she witnessed and the potential ramifications it may hold in future years.
"Right now, you're looking at the future leaders of Major League Baseball and other sports and other industries as well," Ng said. "This is really what we're trying to do for these young girls, to provide that opportunity for those that already have it and also [provide] for those who maybe live in some underserved areas as well, and make sure that we get out that message to them as well."
"My heart explodes because I know firsthand the sisterhood and brotherhood of softball and baseball," Finch said. "There are so many similarities. Yes, it's different, but there are way more similarities than there are differences.
"So to be able to come out here and celebrate with these young girls who aspire to have huge dreams and are playing the game that they love, whatever it is, whether it be softball or baseball, it is so nice. We can collaborate. We can work together and we can celebrate together."
Major League Baseball has another similar Play Ball event accompanied by a baseball/softball clinic targeted for girls only scheduled for Compton, Calif., this coming weekend, as MLB sandwiches a pair of weekend celebrations around Monday's official 33rd annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day.
"[MLB's] message to them," Ng said, "is that whatever it is in life, whether it's out here on the field or it's off the field, that they need to work hard. We need discipline and they should always seize these opportunities and never let anyone tell them that they can't."
Of the relevance of National Girls and Women in Sports Day, Finch expressed gratitude for those who have "paved the way" for girls who are just now coming of age.
"These girls watch college softball on TV and they know there is a professional league and they know that the Olympics are coming back into play," Finch said. "To see Major League Baseball supporting our sport and girls baseball as well, you can see firsthand the benefit of what's happening at the grassroots levels and the impact that sports has on young girls especially. It's incredible."
Mike Strom is a contributor to MLB.com.