Major League Baseball's commitment to growing youth interest in the game, and its dedication to ensuring all kids are given the same opportunities to play baseball, will take a giant step forward in the coming weeks, beginning with the second annual Trailblazer Series, to be held in Compton, Calif., April 13-15.
The Trailblazer Series is unique in that it is dedicated to girls who play baseball, and it's one of two major all-girls events planned in the first three months of the season this year. The second event, the inaugural Girls Baseball "Breakthrough Series" Showcase & Development Camp, will take place May 31-June 4 at historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla.
Major League Baseball has been collaborating with dozens of national organizations, all of which have committed to providing girls the opportunity to participate in their baseball leagues. USA Baseball's National Member Organizations -- AABC, American Legion, Babe Ruth League, Dixie Boys and Majors, Dixie Youth, Little League International, NABF, NFHS, PONY and USSSA -- are all committed to making young women feel welcome playing baseball in their leagues.
"Women playing baseball is an important part of our sport's history," Commissioner Rob Manfred said. "That legacy is also significant to the game's present and future. We are proud to work alongside USA Baseball in creating events that raise the profile of girls and women in baseball. We are committed to ensuring that any young woman who chooses to play baseball, particularly through our RBI programs and MLB Youth Academies, will have the opportunity to do so."
The Trailblazer Series, fittingly, will be held in conjunction with the celebration of baseball's most famous trailblazer, Jackie Robinson, whose memory is honored every year on April 15, the day he broke baseball's color barrier in 1947.
Approximately 100 girls, ages 11-13, representing 21 states across the country as well as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and Canada, will participate in the four-day Trailblazer Series, to be held at the MLB Youth Academy in Compton.
Some of the nation's top female baseball coaches and players, including those from USA Baseball's Women's National Team, will serve as coaches.
"USA Baseball has prided itself on providing an avenue for women to play baseball through the inception of our Women's National Team program in 2004," said USA Baseball executive director and CEO Paul Seiler. "It is inspiring to witness the tremendous growth in participation and popularity of women's baseball in our country, and we are honored to work with Major League Baseball to continue providing fruitful opportunities for any young woman who is passionate about playing the game of baseball."
The all-encompassing nature of organizations supporting this initiative is part of what make the upcoming events so groundbreaking. Essentially, every prominent group associated with youth baseball has committed to supporting participation in baseball by young women.
"Since 1974, hundreds of thousands of girls around the world have enjoyed the benefits of playing Little League Baseball," said Stephen D. Keener, Little League president and CEO. "Little League is a program for every child that desires to play, and all girls should have the opportunity to play the sports they love, especially baseball.
"Little League International strongly encourages each of our 6,500 affiliated programs to welcome and fully support the girls in their community to pick up a glove and a ball, join a team and have fun."
Said Abraham Key, president and CEO, PONY Baseball and Softball: "PONY Baseball fully supports the participation of girls in the great game of baseball. We encourage girls participation at all ages in baseball, and our leagues make every effort to be inclusive."
The Girls Baseball Breakthrough Series (GBBS) is a new, groundbreaking event specifically designed for the on-field development and scouting of female baseball players. A joint effort by MLB and USA Baseball, the GBBS is the newest iteration of the existing, diversity-focused amateur development camps operated by MLB, USA Baseball and USA Softball.
The event will serve as an opportunity for on-field development as well as a scouting showcase for dozens of girls, ages 17 and under, from around the country. Participants will receive daily instruction in an environment similar to an MLB Spring Training camp.
While traditionally more closely associated with playing softball, women and girls who aspire to play baseball has been, over more recent times, a growing, thriving trend. If girls are seeking role models in this area, they don't have to look far.
Justine Siegal, founder of the national organization Baseball for All, threw batting practice for several Major League teams during Spring Training in 2011, has been a coach for an independent league team and served as an instructor for the Oakland A's instructional league team in '15.
French shortstop Melissa Mayeux became the first woman to be added to MLB's international registration list in 2015, making her officially eligible to be signed by a Major League club.
In 2015, left-handed pitcher Sarah Hudek, daughter of former Major League pitcher John Hudek, became the first woman to receive a scholarship to play college baseball, spending one season with the Bossier Parish Community College squad.
In 2016, three women played for the independent league Sonoma Stompers -- outfielder/pitcher Kelsie Whitmore, infielder Stacy Piagno and catcher Anna Kimbrell.
The list goes on, and it continues to grow. The affirmation from the dozens of youth baseball organizations nationwide will only help speed up the effort.
"For over 90 years, American Legion Baseball has prided itself on creating a welcoming environment to all age-eligible players, regardless of gender, race or background," said Gary Stone, chairman of American Legion Baseball Committee. "From the first girl to pitch in an American Legion Baseball state tournament in 1928 to the first woman to coach at the American Legion World Series last year, American Legion Baseball is proud to see the impact women have had on our program, and we are excited to see the next chapter these trailblazers write in our history."