Local Women Baseball Players Have League of Their Own

WASHINGTON — Opportunities for girls to play baseball are few and far between. Even those who do tough it out through Little League, choosing hardball over softball, are often the only female on their team, or even in the entire league. Past that point, the pressure to switch to softball for high school is persistent. Run a Google search for “women’s college baseball” and you’ll be fed a list of links to NCAA softball scores and rankings.

But there are women’s baseball teams dotted around the country, including in the D.C. area. The Eastern Women’s Baseball Conference, or EWBC, is entering its 27th season of play this spring. The league has had as many as six or seven teams over the years, but currently is comprised of four clubs: The Montgomery County Barncats, the Baltimore Blues, the Virginia Flames, and the Virginia Fury. And they’re getting a helping hand from MLB this weekend.

In collaboration with USA Baseball, MLB is hosting the inaugural “Trailblazer Series,” a girls baseball tournament featuring both 12-and-under and 16-and-under age players from across the United States and Canada at the MLB Youth Academy in Compton, California.

Some of the top coaches and players in the world of women’s baseball have been invited to help guide the young athletes. They include Justine Siegal, the first woman to be hired by an MLB organization as a coach; Robin Wallace, one of the first female scouts; and Stacy Piagno, who played for the Sonoma Stompers of the Pacific Association independent baseball league. Joining them will be Codi Dudley, coach of the DC Thunder, effectively the All-Star team of the EWBC, which travels to tournaments around the country each summer.

“This Trailblazer Series is kind of a direct result of the growing demand of girls’ and women’s baseball,” Dudley said. “One of MLB’s biggest priorities was to make the game accessible to anyone who wanted to play.”

That the tournament is happening on the 70th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier is no accident. MLB’s efforts to open the game up to everybody goes beyond trying to make the game more racially diverse.

The interest in baseball opportunities for girls has spiked over the past three years, since Mo’Ne Davis burst onto the scene at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in 2014. Just last year, a 9-12 age girls team called the DC Force started up here in the District. Six of their players will take part in the Trailblazer Series this weekend.

“I think that helped a whole lot, I really do,” said Dudley of the exposure Davis provided.

Role models higher up the chain have been few and far between, and those who have tried to make breakthroughs have often walked a lonely road. Sarah Hudek made headlines as the first scholarship collegiate female baseball player ever in 2015 at Bossier Parish Community College in Louisiana. The daughter of a former All-Star major league pitcher, Hudek earned a win in relief in her first season. And though Hudek has played with USA Baseball’s Women’s National Team over the summers, even she hit a ceiling in the sport, transferring to Texas A&M and shifting to softball last season.

Dudley is hoping that bringing girls who are often stuck playing with all boys together will help propel and inspire them.

“From my experience, any time that we’ve had women’s tournaments and had girls together, it’s such a thrill for them to play together,” she said.

Dudley knows first hand from her time in the EWBC, where she has both played and coached for the past five years. The league has players as young as 14 and as old as 69, and is open to anyone who wants to play hardball. Those interested can still try out before the upcoming season and can learn more about the league at ewbaseball.club.

She hopes this weekend might provide another jolt of interest, enthusiasm and passion for the game for the roughly 100 attendees, so that perhaps one day, one of them might make the ultimate breakthrough in the sport.

“I think that’s going to give us a new generation of girls, as they grow up, that want to play baseball,” she said. “They might be one of the girls that actually makes it, one of these days, up through college and gets a chance to play.”

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