The Trailblazer Series, MLB’s first all-girl tournament, is the first step in the right direction.
With the support of athletes such as Jennie Finch, the first ever Trailblazer Series designed solely for girls welcomed 100 young women from both the U.S. and Canada. The event, curated by Major League Baseball and USA Baseball, took place at Dodger Stadium where the attendees were able to play baseball, receive instruction from women’s baseball players and coaches, and take part in Jackie Robinson Day festivities. Both MLB and USA Baseball covered the costs of each player who attended.
Many women, like Finch, have used their platforms of success within baseball to help validate women in sports in recent years. Not only was their sense of celebrity used to advocate on behalf of young girls, but it also served as a representative visual to help inspire others, and the league has taken notice.
In 2015, with the help of newly appointed commissioner Rob Manfred — who has adamantly mentioned his desire for an increase in baseball-related participation — the league witnessed some major milestones:
The Oakland A’s offered Justine Siegal a coaching position, making her the first woman ever hired to coach for a MLB franchise. Siegal was the first woman to coach at the minor league level as well.
Jessica Mendoza, a former softball star who won gold with the 2004 Team USA softball team, became the first woman to commentate on a nationally televised Major League Baseball game. Mendoza was recently added as a permanent member of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball broadcast team.
- Melissa Mayeux, a shortstop on France’s under-18 national team, became the first girl in history to be added to MLB’s international registry of potential players who are eligible to sign with a major league team.
Aspire To Inspire
For many, viewing women in these successful roles as players and coaches has begun to shift the perception of women in baseball. The Trailblazer Series was designed to target young girls ages 16 and under who were then divided into two age groups and placed into randomly selected teams. The goal then is to continue to spark the girls’ interest in the sport and fuel that momentum throughout their younger years, so they continue to be inspired to play as they grow — all with the direct help and involvement of Major League Baseball. This series is expected to be just one of many soon to come.
As the years progress, the league hopes more and more girls will seek to utilize these beneficial resources that are at their disposal. One of the many reasons for these initiatives is that young girls don’t see the potential for career opportunities in baseball — at least not in comparison to other sports such as basketball, which is aided by the existence of the WNBA.
Mo’ne Davis, for instance, became the first girl to pitch a shutout and earn a win in the Little League World Series. However, soon after, Davis announced that she would no longer focus on baseball and decided to focus on basketball instead. While her decision could have been based on a number of factors, it still begs the question whether the baseball community could have done a better job of encouraging the talented Davis to nurture her baseball abilities.
Prior to the Trailblazer Series initiative, no direct investment in girls baseball had come forth by any entity, including MLB. However, since Rob Manfred took over, he has made it a priority to increase baseball and softball participation for boys and girls. Due to this, both MLB and the players’ union announced a joint contribution of $30 million to be used to fund these growing efforts, and the four-day Trailblazer Series was the first pioneering project to do so.
“In memory of Jackie Robinson, Major League Baseball is committed to making our sport accessible and inclusive for all those who want to play, coach or participate,” stated commissioner Rob Manfred, adding that “MLB and USA Baseball have listened to the growing demand for girls’ and women’s baseball by launching this unprecedented event. We will be proud to do so on the most meaningful date on our calendar, Jackie Robinson Day, at our Youth Academy in Compton. It is our honor to support trailblazing young women who will be outstanding representatives of their communities.”
The inaugural series was widely considered a success. Paul Seiler, executive director and CEO of USA Baseball, shared his sentiments:
“The establishment of the Trailblazer Series marks an exciting next chapter in the history of women’s baseball. We’re proud to partner with Major League Baseball on yet another impactful amateur initiative.”
In the first month of the 2017 season, Major League Baseball has continued to make strides in support of diversity and inclusion. From the Pittsburgh Pirates’ own middle infielder Gift Ngoepe, who became the first African-born player to join the league, to reliever Dovydaus Neverauskas, who is the first Lithuanian-born player, it is clear that the game of baseball is continuously aiming to reach new heights. This notion rang especially true with MLB’s first-ever Trailblazer Series as it seeks to one day break the “gender barrier” and continue on its path of celebrating and encouraging girls’ baseball.
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