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Inaugural Softball EDI inspires on and off field

Special to MLB.com @Shannon__Ford

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- It was hard to tell if the coaches or players were more excited about the inaugural Softball Elite Development Invitational as they took the fields in Historic Dodgertown on Friday.

"It's wonderful to be able to be the first group to come in and give an opportunity to young girls to be able to learn from some great players that are now coaching," U.S. Olympic gold medalist Jenny Topping said. "… There's not a better experience."

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- It was hard to tell if the coaches or players were more excited about the inaugural Softball Elite Development Invitational as they took the fields in Historic Dodgertown on Friday.

"It's wonderful to be able to be the first group to come in and give an opportunity to young girls to be able to learn from some great players that are now coaching," U.S. Olympic gold medalist Jenny Topping said. "… There's not a better experience."

The softball portion of EDI is an extension of the two-week baseball portion, which held its third installment earlier this month. The special event includes approximately 85 amateur softball players (18 and under) with diverse backgrounds in a one-week program geared toward providing elite training and instruction opportunities.

"Softball and girls' baseball is important to us at the Commissioner's Office," said Tony Reagins, senior vice president of youth programs at Major League Baseball. "It's important to us as we continue to grow the game and get young people involved in our sport, so being able to create an event like this, and part of the overall concept of getting more kids playing in women's softball and women's baseball … we wanted to be a part of it."

MLB's involvement in girls' bat-and-ball sports is steadily on the rise. What began with the first installment of the Softball Breakthrough Series in 2016, which the league continued in '17, grew into additional events such as Trailblazer Girls Baseball and the Elite Development Invitational.

"It's exciting because I think we're just scratching the surface of what this can be and what it's going to be, and as we continue to work with our partners -- not only USA Softball, but USA Baseball -- in getting more opportunities for both men and women, it's going to be good for our sport," Reagins said.

One of the big moves MLB made in 2017 was naming Jennie Finch, a two-time U.S. Olympic softball medalist, youth softball ambassador for the league. She is joined by an epic roster of coaches who travel to these events, including former Olympians, pro players, members of the USA Softball Team and collegiate athletes.

Video: Jennie Finch named MLB youth softball ambassador

"We have the opportunity -- thankfully to USA Softball and MLB -- to be able to share our experiences and teach them the life skills that are needed -- the dedication, the hard work … give them little insights on what it takes to play at the highest level," Topping said.

While learning the fundamentals is the focus of this week's instruction, the experience for these young women is as much about inspiring them off the field as on it.

"Hopefully they just see our passion for what we do in this sport and they can be inspired by that passion," silver medalist Lauren Lappin said.

As for off the field, she hopes to "inspire them to go get an education and find something they want to do with their lives that's inspiring to others."

Shannon Ford is a contributor to MLB.com.