The players of the Montclair State women’s baseball team admitted they were “a little nervous”.
For many of this small team, last weekend marked the first time in a real game that they stepped up to the plate, caught a ball in the outfield or cheered after scoring a few points. The team’s debut on the diamond was agonizing even for its veteran players, including 19-year-old team captain Sabrina Robinson.
“I don’t usually pitch, and I had to pitch six innings in two games – so that was new for me too,” she said. Yet she saw the big picture. “Being a pitcher in college baseball was such a weird feeling. I had to keep doing reality checks myself.
That’s because the team was participating in a tournament that will be remembered as a historic milestone for all women who dream of playing college baseball.
The Montclair State team competed in the first-ever Women’s College Club Championship over the weekend, hosted in California by Baseball for All, a nonprofit that strives to bring more girls and women at all levels of sport. It marked the first such event in about a century — Vassar College had a women’s baseball team from 1866 to 1888 – and was also a key first step in a years-long process to make women’s baseball an official sport.
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Thanks to the tournament, organizations like Baseball for All are well on their way to achieving their ultimate goal of having women’s college baseball sanctioned by the NCAA.
“You have to start somewhere. I know that from experience,” said Justine Siegal, founder of Baseball for All. “We had three teams this year, and next year we already know we will have 8 to 12 teams – just because of the interest we have. This year, it’s about showing that the model works — that there are students who want to play baseball and there are student leaders who are ready to form teams.
In addition to Montclair State, the inaugural tournament featured teams from the University of Washington and Occidental College. Two other teams – Miami University in Ohio and California State University at Fullerton – dropped out of the tournament at the eleventh hour. However, athletes from other colleges interested in starting clubs from their schools were also on hand to help fill out rosters of participating teams, including Montclair State.
The University of Washington captured the inaugural league title after a 19-3 victory over Occidental College. And even though Montclair State finished third in the three-team tournament, dropping games at Washington (15-7) and Occidental (13-5), the players have every intention of coming back – and improving – the ‘next year.
During the tournament, held at the Major League Baseball Youth Academy in Compton, Calif., Robinson wanted to “make sure [the team] knew there was no pressure because a lot of them had never played before, so it was more to get rid of the nervousness,” she said. “Everything went well, so I’m excited for next year, and I’m really looking forward to seeing in two, five, 10 years where that will be.”
Over the weekend, organizers offered players the opportunity to train at the Los Angeles Dodgers Training Academy. They also caught up with Maybelle Blair, 95, a former All-American Girls Professional Baseball League player. The women’s professional baseball league, which ran from 1943 to 1954, inspired the famous 1992 film “A League of Their Own”.
“It’s magical to see the younger generation with a woman now in her 90s who can still play wrestling,” Siegal said. “We are all leaning on the shoulders of those who came before us. Maybelle Blair is one of those shoulders we’ve stood on.
There will be pressure to create more college teams across the country ahead of next year’s tournament. The focus will be on larger cities where there are greater concentrations of colleges so teams have opponents to face.
Siegal said she would like to have more than 40 teams organized over the next five years.
“We think it’s going to increase quite quickly because our students are aging outside of our curriculum at the high school level,” she said. “At our national championships this year, we are expecting around 700 girls, and I would say we have maybe around 15. [high school] the elderly. We know some of them will come out and create their own team.
“Even today I heard someone say, ‘Hey, I have to go tell such-and-such a subject to start a team in his school,'” Siegal said.
Once the goal of 40 teams is reached, organizers will have the NCAA declare women’s baseball an “emerging sport” – the same path other college programs, such as women’s wrestling, have taken in recent years. .
Montclair State is currently one of the only women’s college baseball clubs on the East Coast. According to Baseball for All, a freshman at St. John’s University in Queens wants to start a team by the fall. This would open the door for both teams to face off.
With the tournament behind them, Montclair’s team captain Robinson said the players will return to training this Sunday. The team also plans to hold a clinic with Philly Girls Baseball “so that young girls can see ballplayers at the college level and they can get that experience,” she said.
The team plans to return to California for the second iteration of the College Club Championships next year – and organizers have no doubt the number of teams in attendance will more than double by then.
“We’re going to build these teams,” Siegal said, “because if you saw the joy I saw on the pitch, there would be no doubting how quickly we’re going to grow across the country.”
Melanie Anzidei is a reporter for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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