Young Women of ‘Baseball for All' Send Message of Empowerment, Support

OAKLAND -- The several pops of orange ball caps stood out in the sea of Green and Gold. The group of young women of "Baseball for All" sitting in section 310 at RingCentral Coliseum carried infectious smiles. 

I was once these girls.

I was 15-years-old when I was told I wasn't allowed to try out for my high school baseball team. After all, there was a softball team that I was more than capable of playing for. It was offered for girls, and that's what I was supposed to do -- switch to softball. 

After being told these two were the same sport, I found myself having to relearn how to hit and witnessing a rise ball that I still have nightmares about. Off to softball, I went. 

Justine Siegal, founder of "Baseball for All," has heard this story before, many times. She's been this story. She was 13 when she was told she couldn't play the sport because of her gender.

"That's when I decided I would play forever," Seigal told NBC Sports California. "Incredibly, girls are being told too often they shouldn't play baseball and so we had to stop that. ‘Baseball for All provides opportunities for girls to play baseball so while they may be playing with boys, they still have the opportunity to play with girls."

Siegal said this builds a community that's so empowering and warm for them.

"The A's have been really supportive in ‘Baseball for All,' and girls playing baseball, so we have our tournament here to watch the game and they couldn't be more excited and the A's are going to come out as well to the tournament and so some fun activities with the girls."

The first-ever Tamara Holmes Series took place from July 12-14. Holmes, a gold-medal-winning USA Baseball Women's National Team trailblazer, as described in a "Baseball for All" press release, got her start at the local Albany Little League.

"I would like to thank Baseball For All for the honor of being the namesake of this tournament series," Holmes said in a release. "I would like to extend a special thank you to Albany Little League for allowing a young African American girl to pursue her love of baseball … when many girls throughout the nation were denied their right."

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Before @t24onfya started her decade-long career as a @USAbaseballwnt offensive powerhouse; before she hit the only home run in Colorado Silver Bullets history; before she became an award-winning weightlifter, or even became a Lieutenant of the Oakland Fire Department, she, like so many others today, was an just 8-year old girl who wanted to play baseball. • "[37 years ago,] I was allowed to play when many girls throughout the nation were denied their right," said Holmes. "Without a question, Albany Little league said, ‘yes, girls can play.'" I don't think at the time that Albany Little League knew how forward thinking they were." • For the next almost 40 years, Holmes took this one "yes" to heart. She became known as the most dominant offensive player in  USA Baseball Women's National Team history, hitting the most home runs than any other female baseball player. She is a leader both off and on the field, serving her community as a full-time firefighter, and has also led @usabaseballwnt to win three gold medals, two silvers, and two bronzes over an 11-year span-all with an inconceivable air of humility and poise. • "I have been blessed with a long career in baseball," said Holmes. "The road to success in playing a male dominated sport is not linear or easy. Your hard work and love for the game will keep you going." • This weekend, Holmes, the first girl to play in Albany Little League, looked out into a sea of almost 100 girls from all over California and Arizona play on the same field that she started her own career on. • We're proud to have named this #BaseballForAll tournament in Albany, CA after this #trailblazer, and are grateful for her continued leadership and commitment to being a #rolemodel to girls, on and off the field, as we work together to #growthegame for girls in baseball everywhere 💙 #BFAHolmesSeries • #thankyoutamara #oaklandpride #girlsplaybaseballtoo #girlsinbaseball #rootedinoakland #fortheloveofthegame #sheplayswewin #thefutureisfemale #womeninbaseball #womensbaseball #coloradosilverbullets #trailblazers #travelbaseball #baseballseason #baseballheroes #baseballlegends #powerhitters #homeruns #rolemodwl #baseballhistory #futureofbaseball

A post shared by Baseball For All (@baseballforall) on Jul 14, 2019 at 10:08am PDT

Justice Alcantar, a captain on the 18U team holds many hats. A player in her own right, she's also part of the player outreach committee. One of the many committees the organization possesses.  

"We hand out cards not only to recruit but to raise awareness and to let them know that this is an option and if they want to participate, they could," Alcantar, a sophomore on the University High School's varsity baseball team said.
And as easy as her tryout process was for her, she knows that's not always the case.

"My coach is very nice compared to the stories I have heard of other girls trying out for high school baseball -- I'm grateful for that," she said.

"It's definitely a different environment, at least with my coach, I felt like even though people aren't explicitly like ‘Girls can't play baseball,' they do treat you differently when you're on the field. It doesn't matter if you don't let me on the team, if I don't feel part of the team, it's a whole different dynamic." 

As far as what to tell those who could be intimidated to play, Alcantar said there are always options. Even if someone is in a community where girls playing baseball isn't accepted.

"There are ways for you to continue to play, she explained. "Especially with all the new programs MLB is helping with."

Still, after 15 years that have ticked by from the time I was told "no," those hardships are still there. 

One girl told me she feels it's more noticeable when she messes up rather than when a boy messes up.

"Luckily, I never mess up," she joked.

Pitcher and catcher Susannah Baker said nobody has the right to make you do anything, especially someone forcing a girl to play softball. And she noticed the pressures that go with being a girl on an all-boys team.

"I always felt like if I messed up that someone's watching and I always wanted to do my best because I wanted to get on the same level with the boys so I could get higher -- and that I'm not looked at as someone less," she said. "But that I'm looked at as someone equal."

Siegal made history by becoming the first female coach of a Major League Baseball team in 2015. But she made her presence known years before that -- and she did it all just because she was told she couldn't.

[RELATED: A's team with Baseball for All' to inspire girls in baseball]

A movement was started and the young women I met that day were full of hope and confidence in a world where from the beginning they were told they didn't belong.

That -- to me, is historic.

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