LOS ANGELES -- For all three years it has existed, the Trailblazer Series has included a trip to Dodger Stadium, where reminders of the contributions of the ultimate trailblazer, Jackie Robinson, are everywhere.
This year, nearly 100 girls ages 11-13 are participating in the all-girls baseball tournament, which is held every year in conjunction with Jackie Robinson Day (April 15). On Friday, they visited the Dodgers’ legendary ballpark. They passed by the Jackie Robinson statue near the left-field entrance, stopping to pose for selfies and group photos with the sculpture of a sliding Robinson that bears several of his famous quotes, including the most oft-repeated: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
Between entering Dodger Stadium and settling into their seats for the Brewers-Dodgers game, the Trailblazers were busy. Before they were honored on the field during a pregame ceremony, the kids were treated to a panel discussion between three trailblazing women with prominent careers in the sports industry: Renee Tirado, MLB’s chief diversity and inclusion officer; Amanda Carmichael, vice president of global ops, SONDOR Electric Bike Co.; and Ashley Dean, director of the Mamba Sports Academy, who is also a member of WISE Los Angeles Board.
Hosted by Dodgers vice president of external affairs Naomi Rodriguez, the discussion covered a wide range of topics, including the most important: how Robinson's legacy shapes their jobs, and what he means to them as women in an industry that is widely understood to still be male-dominated.
Tirado, whose job is to encourage inclusion and diversity at every level of baseball, said she has Robinson in her mind every day as she works to further advance the game.
“We often say, 'We are the sport of Jackie Robinson,'” Tirado said. “We hold that responsibility very close to our hearts in the diversity department. We have to walk the talk that he did.”
Tirado then turned the question over to the audience.
“What are some of the traits Jackie Robinson displayed when he decided to cross the color line?” she asked the kids.
Receiving answers such as “courage” “determination,” “braveness,” “perseverance,” Tirado added, “All those things, and some more things you’re thinking of, are part of my job every day. I’m trying to make sure we are being inclusive of other people.”
Carmichael said her immediate thought about Robinson is how much he rose above criticism that suggested he wouldn’t succeed as the first African American player to play in the Major Leagues.
“They probably said, ‘Hey, you can’t do that,’” she said. “And he did it anyway.”
For Dean, Robinson’s legacy reminds her to follow her heart, as he did.
“Following your heart really can lead you to some amazing opportunities to break these barriers, especially if your heart is telling you it’s something you want to achieve,” she said.
Other topics discussed during the hour-long discussion included not being afraid to take risks, identifying role models and embracing change. But there were some lighter moments, too: questions from the kids largely centered around tastes in music, hobbies outside of work and favorite songs from the hit musical “Hamilton.”
The panelists also were asked who their favorite athlete is. Tirado, who used to work in the tennis industry, did not hesitate with her answer: Serena Williams, winner of 39 Grand Slam titles and one of the best tennis players in history.
“She’s not afraid to show her emotions. Women get criticized sometimes in the workplace for being emotional. She doesn’t care,” Tirado said. “She’s not afraid of it. She makes no apologies about it.
“She’s an entrepreneur. She’s very pro-girl power. Everything she embodies right now is what we need to hear, not only in sports, but outside of sports. I just think she’s a great role model across the board for people as young as yourself and for me. We can learn to stand with our convictions and be OK with it and not worry about people’s outside opinions and noise making us deviate from who we are.”