Trailblazer Series helps girls overcome adversity, chase excellence

April 15th, 2023

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- When walking around the spacious Jackie Robinson Training Complex, it is hard not to be overwhelmed by various feelings that arise when thinking about the great Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers teams that trained here during Spring Training.

Adversity certainly came into play during those balmy spring days.

Players may not have shown up in tip-top shape after a long offseason, maybe packing on a few extra pounds and eventually huffing and puffing their way from one end of the complex to the other -- pausing at practice fields to catch a breath or two.

Of course, one particular Dodger -- the man whose name is on the signs all around the facility -- had plenty of pitfalls to avoid in those days in the facility, which dates back to exhibition games in 1948.

But few this weekend have had to overcome the adversity that faces Zoe Wood, a participant in the Trailblazer Series that is taking place for girls age 11 to 13.

A first baseman and pitcher, the 12-year-old Wood had her fingers stop growing on her left hand just past her palm, forcing her to basically play the challenging game one-handed.

That hasn’t deterred the native of Mullica Hill, N.J., who is competing in her second Trailblazer Series.

“It’s really fun and it’s good to see other girls play and see how other people can play,” said Wood of why she returned to the event. “Some people play different and have different motions. Some [of these girls] can be better than boys.”

Constant repetition with her glove, removing it and throwing have made her a skilled player over the years.

“I was born with it -- so when I play baseball, I have a glove that goes on my right hand,” she said of playing in the field. “I put it in my arm [after the catch], take the ball and throw it with my right hand. I also have a glove that is ambidextrous, so I can wear it on both hands.

“If I’m pitching, I can put it on my left hand so I can just pitch normal. If I’m at first base, I can put it on my right hand and do the transition.”

She doesn’t let any chiding from the other dugout get in her way, either.

“If someone says something, it doesn’t really matter,” Wood said of facing adversity from opposing players.

Wood’s prowess may be at the plate.

Last year, she hit two home runs over the fence in a game and has proven to be a strong offensive player.

“I’ve learned how to swing the bat and hold on with one hand at the end,” Wood said.

Her coach, Mike Aherns, called her “an inspiration for everyone’s that out there” and added that her talent shows up on the field.

Meanwhile, Wood credits the input of her brothers and her father in helping her develop her baseball skills.

Fellow camper Ashlynn Jolicoeur, 12, is trying to refine a skill she has -- pitching right-handed and left-handed.

Jolicoeur, who normally plays in the middle infield, had a straightforward reason for coming back to the tournament for a second time.

“It was just such an awesome experience last time being around all these really good girls,” she said with a grin, displaying both her excitement and her braces. “Playing with other girls is also so cool. They’re all really good at baseball.”

A naturally dominant righty, the Ontario, Canada, native has been honing her craft as a southpaw.

“I think it’s going to be so cool to throw lefty -- just to have [the ability to do] it -- in games. When I get it strong on both sides, I’m going to do it -- and I think it’ll be so cool,” Jolicoeur said.

“Just this past month or so, I’ve been working on it a lot. I’ve been to lessons and stuff and it’s gotten a lot better,” she said. “It’s pretty comfortable now, way more than a month ago, but I’m still working on it.”

Even with the improvement, she realizes there are going to be some challenging moments.

“There are still some wild pitches,” she said with a smile as wide as a sweeping curveball, “but that’s going to happen on both sides.”