GRIT offers opportunity for Puerto Rican girls

March 10th, 2019

DALLAS -- Eight baseball players from Puerto Rico packed up their dreams, leaving the Island of Enchantment and its tropical breezes for something more dreamy in the land of opportunity.

Valerie Rivera of San Juan is one, and Karmary Neris of Patillas is another.

They’re all stateside this week for the inaugural MLB GRIT tournament and development camp for high school girls and young women. It’s a joint project between Major League Baseball and USA Baseball featuring more than 60 players 18 and under from the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.

A day after getting a taste of the big leagues with two games at Globe Life Park, the girls and their instructors moved east to the Texas Rangers Youth Academy. Overnight rains necessitated a change in the schedule, but those on hand got in two games on Saturday despite the earlier protests of Mother Nature.

“It’s great, I mean, it’s a dream,” said Rivera. “We are playing in a Major League field. We are playing here. The exposure and learning is something you couldn’t ask for.”

For Rivera and the others from Puerto Rico, this week in the states really is a dreamscape in March. The facilities and the opportunities for girls in baseball in their homeland -- where baseball is synonymous with citizenship for men -- are closer to nonexistent than few.

“We play a little tournament, like 14 games, something like that,” Rivera said. “It’s just a little time. We don’t have much participation.”

In all, Rivera said her girls team only gets about 20 games a year.

“We just have Triple-A teams. That’s the highest level. We don’t have college or anything else.”

Rivera believes that culture could change one day, particularly with a women’s national team climbing the ladder of the world rankings.

Puerto Rico is 12th in the most recent accounting, according to the World Baseball Softball Confederation. Puerto Rico made its international debut in baseball in 2009 at the Women’s Pan American Baseball Cup.

This is all relevant because the eight in Dallas this weekend have visions of being on their national team in the not-too-distant future.

“I hope so,” Rivera said while watching her good friend and countrywoman Eva Torres play in a game preceding hers. “I see her as an inspiration.”

Alondra Matos has the same ambition. She might be on her way. Matos was selected to represent Puerto Rico in the AAU International Tournament in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on a team made up predominantly of boys.

The girls will play two more games Sunday to finish off the experience.

MLB GRIT is part of an evolving trend in baseball. The Trailblazer Series for girls at MLB’s Compton Youth Academy in California is going into its third year. The Breakthrough Series for high school girls debuted last year at the Dodgertown Spring Training complex in Vero Beach, Fla.

Along with the games and instructional camp at MLB GRIT, the girls have also been privy to special presentations, including one on tips on the collegiate recruiting process and information about careers within baseball.

That’s a reason Neris, who learned the game playing only with men, wanted to participate in this camp. Her ambition is to study psychology and then law with an eye on possibly making a career in baseball in some capacity.

The dream ultimately for her homeland, Rivera said, is to grow the game.

“To be able to get exposure and play more games … more teams,” she said. “Being able to develop or work as a baseball player.”

The seeds for that dream are being planted in Texas.