COMPTON, Calif. -- In spite of uncustomary Southern California rain in Saturday's early hours, Natasha Watley excelled in her first appearance as Major League Baseball's youth softball ambassador.An Olympic gold medal-winning infielder, Watley hosted two events at the MLB Youth Academy in Compton in recognition of National Girls and Women
COMPTON, Calif. -- In spite of uncustomary Southern California rain in Saturday's early hours, Natasha Watley excelled in her first appearance as Major League Baseball's youth softball ambassador.
An Olympic gold medal-winning infielder, Watley hosted two events at the MLB Youth Academy in Compton in recognition of National Girls and Women in Sports Day (observed this year on Feb. 6).
"I'm hoping that we can get as many girls playing softball as possible," Watley said of what she hopes to accomplish in her position. "My hope is to just double the numbers, increase the numbers, and to get as many girls activated in the game of softball as we possibly can."
In the morning, nearly 200 children aged 4-13 participated in a Play Ball clinic, which featured drills for batting and fielding, an agility course and a home run derby. In the afternoon, about 100 girls aged 12-17 attended a joint baseball and softball clinic, where they took part in more advanced hitting, pitching and fielding drills. Both clinics were free for participants.
These were the latest events in MLB's efforts to increase youth participation in softball. Last week, softball legend Jennie Finch hosted a similar clinic in New Orleans.
"MLB's support behind softball comes at such a great time," said Watley, a Southern California native from Irvine and former member of the UCLA softball team. "There's so much hype behind the sport right now, especially with softball being back in the Olympics. … MLB coming in and pushing girls forward, it's such a powerful movement to be a part of."
Sahvanna Jaquish, a catcher/infielder for the USA Softball Women's National Team, was on hand to assist with the coaching and echoed Watley on the impact that clinics can have.
"I think it's so important that MLB is helping us out," said Jaquish. "I just thank them for activities like this, where we can show girls that women are important, and that MLB cares about us."
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While softball took center stage Saturday, there were also activities geared specifically for girls who prefer baseball. Tamara Holmes, a former outfielder for the USA Baseball Women's National Team, helped with the baseball side of the afternoon clinic and stressed the importance of ensuring girls have continued access to organized baseball instruction.
"Still to this day you find too many young girls who play baseball and may be the only one in their Little League," said Holmes. "This is really going to help us raise awareness and show that there's a lot of opportunities for girls to play baseball."
Whether the participants of Saturday's clinics choose to continue on the path of playing baseball or softball, the goals of such events are clear: To show that playing is a fun, rewarding experience, and that no one should be limited by lack of opportunity.
"With kids of these ages, they're just out here having fun and getting exercise and enjoying themselves," said Holmes. "In the end, I hope that they continue to love the game of baseball and continue to play, especially with the young girls."
"The one thing that I hope that they take away is just to have fun," said Watley. "I know as we get older and we get more into baseball, softball, it becomes more of a stressful sort of thing, but this is the moment that you just remember why you started playing. This is what I want them to remember when they start to get more involved into the game."
Sarah Wexler is a reporter for MLB.com based in Southern California.