Women’s History Month created a fitting backdrop for Baseball For All's inaugural Women's College Club Baseball Championship tournament, which took place last weekend at the MLB Youth Academy in Compton.
Baseball For All founder Justine Siegal, who organized the first-of-its-kind tournament, has connections to Major League Baseball, having coached in the professional ranks for years, including throwing batting practice during Spring Training for Cleveland and other clubs more than a decade ago.
That connection to MLB opened up the opportunity for the tournament to be held at their facility.
“Major League Baseball, in support of our efforts, provided us the academy,” Siegal said in a phone interview with MLB.com.
The event marked the first time in over 100 years since women in college have had an opportunity to compete against other women’s collegiate baseball teams. Siegal is hoping that one day the tournament will be part of the NCAA. The way the tournament went recently, it could happen.
The teams involved included the University of Washington, Occidental College, Montclair State and California State University of Fullerton. By next year, Siegal is hoping to have 8-12 teams play in the tournament. In five years, she is hoping to expand to 40-50 teams.
The competition was fierce from the start. Pitcher/catcher Carly Mitchell of Occidental College displayed Pete Rose-like qualities from the get-go, getting the first hit of the tournament and then scoring the first run of the game -- head-first, just like Charlie Hustle.
“[Carly] always battles,” Siegal said.
The two-day event turned out to be a high-scoring affair, with Washington going undefeated in three games, scoring 48 runs, while beating Occidental College for the trophy.
“I’m really proud of the students who started their club teams on their campuses,” Siegal said. “It takes initiative and determination and a long-term commitment to make it happen. You could see the hard work pay off on the field during the tournament.”
Siegal’s commitment to the game dates back to when she was a teenager and wanted to play baseball, not softball. In addition to playing college baseball, Siegal became the first woman to coach professional men’s baseball (Brockton Rox, 2009) and the first woman to coach for an MLB organization (Oakland A’s, 2015, Instructional League).
Siegal’s place in history led to her jersey being on display in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. She’s parlayed her love for the game and her belief that girls and women who want to play baseball should have ample opportunities to do so. The recent tournament in Compton is another example.
“The motivation of the tournament is that girls are often told to switch to softball because that’s where some feel the opportunities are,” Siegal said. “By creating college baseball for women, you then have a full path to keep playing baseball from tee ball on – just like the men do.”
University of Washington first baseman/relief pitcher Katie Firestone put her baseball team together, and she was pleased by the team’s consistency in the batter’s box.
“Our team really came together with our first three wins this weekend. We had a lot of good hits,” Firestone said. “We put plays together nicely. It was the first time we played together on the field, which was really cool because we have been practicing in Seattle where it rains. A lot of our practices were indoors.”
Mitchell was pleased to be playing in a high-class facility.
“I felt so supported in the entire process, from recruitment from our club to execution of playing games,” Mitchell said. “Everything felt seamless and everyone was there to help and lend a hand.”
Most of the games were high-scoring affairs, and Siegal is hoping to see an improvement in pitching the next time this tournament is held.
“There have been times where you don’t know who is going to win and then there is the breakout inning. They have been fun to watch,” Siegal said. “With this being the first year, the pitching is what needs to get developed. I’ve already talked to players who are freshmen. They said, ‘I have three more years and I’m going to go back and start practicing.’”
After the tournament, all four teams were hosted by the Los Angeles Dodgers Academy in Redondo Beach for a series of special events, including an exclusive meet and greet with Maybelle Blair, who was a member of the original All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Blair, 95, was seen soft tossing with the college students and talking baseball. In fact, she was telling Firestone to throw harder.
“She is such a personality. It was amazing to get the chance to talk to her,” Firestone said about Blair. “If there is anyone I ever met, she loves baseball more than anybody. Her cane is a baseball bat. You can’t make this stuff up. She said when she dies, she wants to be buried with a baseball, which is commitment for sure.”