Girls baseball in full swing at Texas academy

Bianca Smith returns as coach for Breakthrough Series

November 11th, 2021

DALLAS -- When Bianca Smith walked into the Texas Rangers Youth Academy, it looked exactly the same as she remembered it back in 2017, when she worked as a youth baseball coach at the academy.

Four years later, Smith returned to DFW and the Youth Academy as a coach for the Girls Baseball Breakthrough Series, this time after a full year of being a Minor League coach for the Boston Red Sox.

“It’s been awesome,” Smith said of returning to the academy. “As soon as I got off the bus, I kind of looked around and I was like, ‘Nothing's changed.’ I felt like I was just here. It's really cool to be back. Besides being here at the academy and occasionally coaching softball, I've actually never coached girls before. This is a completely different experience. But they're ballplayers who want to get better, and these girls are hungry. It makes it pretty easy, and so far, it's been a great day.”

The Girls Baseball Breakthrough Series is a joint event between USA Baseball and Major League Baseball that focuses on developing youth players both on and off the field. This year’s third annual girls event features multiple female Major League coaches providing instruction -- like Smith, Oakland Minor League coach Veronica Alvarez, Arizona Minor League coach Ronnie Gajownik and Miami strength and conditioning coach Amanda Sartoris -- as well as former big leaguers Lou Collier, Cliff Floyd and LaTroy Hawkins and multiple USA women’s national team players.

This year’s group includes 32 of the best girls baseball players between ages 14-17 from all over the country, going through daily sessions both on and off the field. Each day from Thursday through Sunday starts with development and instruction on the field at the Youth Academy and continues with classroom instruction that focuses on the college recruiting process and other opportunities for women and girls in baseball.

The day then concludes with an exhibition game at Choctaw Stadium, formerly known as Globe Life Park, the old home of the Texas Rangers.

Smith, who played college softball at Dartmouth College, said she wishes there was a program like this when she was growing up, joking that maybe she would have been better at baseball if there was.

“I just love the idea that these girls get to grow up playing the game,” Smith said. “They have a support network. Now they have this group where they know other girls are playing. They know women are playing or coaching. They're working in baseball. That's going to make such a difference in just a few years.”

Smith added that it’s even better to finally get to meet so many other women in Major and Minor League coaching positions that she knew of or had talked to, but never got to meet in person. Hawkins agreed, saying that it’s cool for all the girls at the Breakthrough Series to see women who are excelling in the sport at various levels.

“It’s good for them because the game needs to expand,” Collier added. “Having girls playing the sport and having female coaches that they can relate to that's been through it and played at a high level is going to keep them motivated. Hopefully one of these girls can become a professional Major League Baseball player, maybe they can create a league of their own. I think they just need opportunities like the boys.”

Hawkins has worked with many of MLB’s youth events, including the Boys Breakthrough Series, the Hank Aaron Invitational and the Dream Series. This is his first time working the girls' event, which he calls impressive through just one day of workouts.

More than anything, Hawkins and Collier, who is working on his second Girls Breakthrough Series, both said they want the players to leave the Breakthrough Series with more confidence than they came in with. They want the event to get bigger and bigger each year for more girls and women to be a part of the sport.

“The world is changing, and baseball is changing, too,” Hawkins said. “You're not going to be left behind. ... I'm just excited that everybody's playing the game. And at the end of the day, when you have a love for baseball, you want everybody engaged and everybody playing the game. My only question is what took so damn long. The talent that we have here is getting tapped into, especially for kids who otherwise wouldn't be recognized.”