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Puerto Rican Trailblazers express pride in home

MLB.com @alysonfooter

COMPTON, Calif. -- Puerto Rico was well-represented during the recently completed Trailblazer Series in Compton, where approximately 100 girls gathered for a weekend of baseball competition at the MLB Youth Academy.

Six of the participants were from Puerto Rico, the home of 19 players who were on Major League rosters on Opening Day. The island has long been a source for some of Major League Baseball's top talent, and now it's only fitting that Puerto Rican girls have emerged as a major part of the baseball conversation.

COMPTON, Calif. -- Puerto Rico was well-represented during the recently completed Trailblazer Series in Compton, where approximately 100 girls gathered for a weekend of baseball competition at the MLB Youth Academy.

Six of the participants were from Puerto Rico, the home of 19 players who were on Major League rosters on Opening Day. The island has long been a source for some of Major League Baseball's top talent, and now it's only fitting that Puerto Rican girls have emerged as a major part of the baseball conversation.

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This was the first trip to California for the group of six, which included Genesis Gonzalez Gomez, Yaishmary Gonzalez, Robneiles Alicea, Yanlee Cotto, Lara Rodriguez and Wigmar Rodriguez. Some of them have traveled in the past to Portland, Ore., to play softball, but the Trailblazer Series was new for all of them.

"It's emotional, because as you play this game, it just shows you how far you can go," Gonzalez Gomez said. "It was an unbelievable experience, and I'd like to be back."

The Trailblazer Series gave the girls the opportunity to play two full days of games against peers that had similar skill levels. For many, it was their first exposure to meeting and playing with so many girls who shared the same passion for baseball, during a time in their lives when so many girls their age jump over to softball.

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Nearly every Trailblazer Series participant shared the same sentiment throughout the weekend: Baseball is a game for everyone, girls and boys.

"When I think about girls playing baseball, it's not only a sport for boys to play," Alicea said. "It's also a sport for women to play, and girls have a lot of talent to play."

The girls from Puerto Rico spoke with great pride about representing their home, and they hoped that the Trailblazer Series would bring awareness to the legions of baseball fans who may not fully acknowledge that girls have skills to play the game at a high level, just like the men.

"It's important for me to represent [Puerto Rico], so [Puerto Ricans] can know and learn that not only men can play baseball," Gonzalez said. "Women can play, too."

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Puerto Rico is in the spotlight this week for several reasons. Think of the Trailblazer Series, which concluded on Sunday, as sort of a precursor to another global event about to take place in Major League Baseball: On Tuesday, the Indians and Twins will begin a two-game regular-season series at historic Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, P.R.

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Starting Monday and continuing through Wednesday, MLB and the MLB Players Association will team up to commemorate the Puerto Rico Series with special events, ceremonies, project unveilings, school visits by the players and more.

The busy week offers yet another sign that Puerto Rico, while still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Maria, remains one of the most attractive destinations in the Caribbean.

That pride extends to all citizens of Puerto Rico, as does the chance to represent the island on a high-profile level. The Trailblazer Series players are a shining example.

"It makes me feel proud to see players in the big leagues, because they're representing [Puerto Rico]," Gonzalez said. "It makes me feel proud to be representing [Puerto Rico], and it makes me want to come back and accomplish even more of my goals."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.