Alvarez helping next generation to blaze their own trails

April 15th, 2024

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- The definition of “a trailblazer” is twofold.

The first, more general definition is a pioneer or innovator.

The second, which is more literal, is as follows: “A person who makes a new track through wild country.”

Per Google trends, the usage of trailblazer has increased exponentially since the 1950s, and for good reason. There have been countless trails blazed as the Civil Rights Movement, second, third and fourth wave feminism, and other social movements changed the landscape of the country and the world.

And yet, there will likely never come an end to the need for trailblazers.

On a beautiful sunny weekend in the middle of April, a group of 96 girls ages 11-13 gathered in Building 42 at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex. It was the start of the seventh-annual Trailblazer Series, a two-day event -- culminating with a skills competition on Jackie Robinson Day -- hosted by MLB for girls to hone their skills while learning from the foremost women in the sport of baseball.

Participants in the 2024 Trailblazer Series gather for a group picture at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex.Jared Blais/MLB photos via Getty Images

“We have all different generations of women that came before them in the game, and women that have done extraordinary things within it,” said Veronica Alvarez, MLB’s inaugural Girls Baseball Ambassador and the manager of the U.S. Women’s National Baseball Team. “I could list it off, but I mean -- we have, obviously, the women from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League [Maybelle Blair and Jeneane Lesko]. We have Colorado Silver Bullets [in Rocky McCann]. We have Kelsey Whitmore, who plays professional baseball. We have Mo’ne Davis, who was a standout in the Little League World Series. … We have all these women with these extraordinary resumes.

“For these young girls to be around them, and just to be in this very powerful environment, it's wonderful. I also love the fact that the parents get to see it. … And] the fact that the girls see that there are older women, there are women that have children -- there are all these different parts of or types of women on the team; it's like, it gives them hope that they can have a career later, right? That if they didn't make [the National Team] at 16, it’s not the end of the road.”

Outside of giving these young girls a glimpse into their potential futures -- after all, there have been former Trailblazer attendees who are now on the Women’s National Team -- it’s vastly important for those involved that the event is centered around the day that MLB celebrates its foremost trailblazer, Jackie Robinson.

“Jackie Robinson being the Trailblazer he was, just kind of inspiring the message of the importance of diversifying, right?” Alvarez said. “And we found an incredible talent in Jackie Robinson, and after him the incredible talents we've found since then because he broke the barrier, and I think that's the same for the girls in the game.”

U.S. Women’s National Baseball Team manager Veronica Alvarez also serves as MLB’s inaugural Girls Baseball Ambassador.Jared Blais/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Trailblazer Series is the first step of a path that leads to a variety of possibilities. Alvarez has seen many girls come through the MLB Develops programs; from Trailblazer to the Elite Development Camp and the Breakthrough Series, the programs act as a sort of feeder system to the Women’s National Team tryouts (which are open to 16-year-olds).

While she values teaching these girls life lessons through baseball, whether that’s showing them that life’s a process -- just like baseball -- and that as you try to be better each and every time you’re at bat, you have to grow with whatever new information you receive. One of her other favorite lessons is that, while they’re training their bodies, they’re also training their minds.

Alvarez has learned plenty from the attendees, too -- perhaps most importantly, the power of a familiar face. It’s a lesson she has carried into her work with the Oakland Athletics as the coordinator of development in Latin America.

Players who knew Alvarez from MLB Develops programs would arrive at National Team tryouts as 16-year-olds and come up to her and tell her a joke. Alvarez was taken aback at first. As the manager, she wasn’t the person to be joking around with.

But she took a step back and thought about it.

“In my mind, I’m like, ‘Why are you talking to me like this?’” Alvarez said. “Then I took a step back and I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m the one face to them that was familiar.’ I was the safe space.

“That just reiterated the importance of a familiar face. I’ve used that with the men in the A’s organization at our academy in the Dominican, too.”