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Finch set to kick off preseason girls clinics

National Girls & Women in Sports Day is the perfect time to get ready for a full slate of female softball and baseball events
MLB.com

Jimmy Dugan, the brash manager of the Rockford Peaches, a women's baseball team and the focal point of the sports-comedy flick A League of Their Own, gave baseball players around the world some sage advice in the movie's critical moments.

"It's supposed to be hard," Dugan, played by Tom Hanks, said of our national pastime. "If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great!"

Jimmy Dugan, the brash manager of the Rockford Peaches, a women's baseball team and the focal point of the sports-comedy flick A League of Their Own, gave baseball players around the world some sage advice in the movie's critical moments.

"It's supposed to be hard," Dugan, played by Tom Hanks, said of our national pastime. "If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great!"

There are few words truer than these. Yet, just as the Peaches did in the 1992 film, girls and women on diamonds across the country are making the sport look easy. From seven-year-old Hailey Dawson's inspirational first pitches, to Shay Knighten's dramatic 17th-inning home run for Oklahoma in the Women's College World Series, female ballplayers are following in the footsteps of the real-life Peaches, who dominated the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League 75 years ago.

Wednesday marks National Girls & Women in Sports Day (NGWSD), a day devoted to celebrating the achievements of female athletes in all arenas, as well as recognizing the march toward gender equality in sport. This year's theme is "Play Fair, Play IX," an homage to the groundbreaking legislation that ensured equal opportunities for women in interscholastic athletics.

Tweet from @WomensSportsFdn: Happy 32nd National Girls & Women in Sports Day! In every state in our country today thousands will honor the exceptional achievements of girls and women in sports. While we recognize this momentous occasion, we remember the work still left for equality. #PlayFairPlayIX #NGWSD pic.twitter.com/mqUoIXA0Us

Cities across the U.S. are celebrating NGWSD, from the eastern end of Long Island, N.Y., all the way to the University of Washington. However, MLB's commitment to letting all athletes, no matter their gender, find their love for the game doesn't stop on Wednesday. It is just getting started.

The full calendar of events kicks off with the Play Ball Nashville event -- aimed at both girls and boys -- on February 10 at Vanderbilt University, the collegiate home of MLB stars such as David Price, Dansby Swanson and Sonny Gray. There are Play Ball events sponsored by USA Baseball and USA Softball happening from coast to coast throughout the year, so every ballplayer can cash in on these exciting opportunities.

MLB has scheduled several events specifically designed for female baseball and softball players in 2018, including a pair of one-day clinics hosted by softball legend and former Olympic gold medalist Jennie Finch. The first of these takes place on February 24 at the MLB Youth Academy in Compton, Calif. and is a great way for girls to sharpen their skills between the foul lines. That same day, there's also a softball clinic hosted by former Rawlings Gold Glove winner AJ Andrews at the New Orleans MLB Youth Academy.

Not only did these trendsetting players get to play the game they love, they also learned from some of the brightest minds in the sport, working with current and former Women's National Team players and coaching staff to hone their game.

The Trailblazer Series is back for a second year, allowing another set of roughly 100 girls to live out their dreams in a tournament held over Jackie Robinson Day Weekend in April.

"Every single day we're reading about a new trailblazer," said Finch. "And that could be any one of us. Seeing young girls break the glass ceiling, it's an exciting time for our game all across the board."

Similarly-specialized showcases and clinics for girls will be held all year long, such as a Play Ball event at the Women's College World Series, the Elite Development Invitational and, for the first time ever, the Girls Baseball Breakthrough Series at the end of May. These events give girls a greater opportunity to follow their ambitions and work toward an equal, diamond-filled future.

Dylan Hornik is a reporter for Major League Baseball.