Twenty-five years ago we witnessed the ladies of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) come to life on the big screen in “A League of Their Own.” We marveled at their skill during a time when the country was at war. Baseball was the rocket ship that transported the public to a wondrous place for their minds to rest for a few hours. Those ballplayers left it all on the field during the duration of the league (1943-1954) and confirmed that women can play baseball at a competitive level.
There have been numerous attempts to create leagues for girls to play baseball since then; however, the challenge has proved too great at times, and the opportunities unfortunately eroded.
Having just completed their second full season, the Girls Travel Baseball Tucci (GTB Tucci) teams have created quite an impact in a short amount of time. I’ve had the good fortune of spending time with one of their founders and coaches, Josh DeVinney, while coaching against the girls during the Baseball Youth All-American games in Florida this past winter. Their 11U team competed admirably in a 12U bracket against boys from across the country. The girls possessed several admirable attributes, but what stuck out to me the most was their approach to play the game the right way and let their abilities do the talking. Unfortunately, players from other teams as well as parents and even umpires, have acted negatively to the girls for no apparent reason other than they are girls playing what has predominantly been a boys’ game over the years. Sometimes it’s a negative or condescending remark, other times it might be an inappropriate comment or gesture. Regardless, it shouldn’t happen at all, but it doesn’t deter these ladies who are on a mission to put their stamp on the national pastime. In fact, the negative and condescending remarks provide fuel to put a big number on the scoreboard and show those who were disrespectful just how well they can play the game we love.
I asked Josh if anything has surprised him to this point, and he quickly answered, “No, we are seeing pretty much what we expected. Girls playing in a boys’ world can be challenging, but we’re doing it.” And doing it well, I might add.
Being the father of a 10-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son, both of whom are athletes, I know the two genders can sometimes require a different approach from Dad. Josh provided me with insight I didn’t see at the time, but after hearing him share his thoughts, I agree with his assessment: “Girls are mentally tougher than boys. We teach them not to dwell on the negative, focus on the positive and everything will work out.” And work out it has. This past year they had three teams under the GTB Tucci umbrella and next year they are looking to have up to five teams, 10U-15U. Their growth is no surprise, especially since 35 of the 100 participants in the Major League Baseball Trailblazer event held this past May in Compton, CA, were GTB Tucci players. The word is out and girls looking to play baseball have a first-class organization providing a path directly to the USA National Team which begins at 16U.
The opportunities created by GTB Tucci for girls to play baseball is impactful on so many levels. Baseball is a game to be played by kids regardless of gender. The girls from across the country that meet up on the weekends to build relationships, work on their craft and leave it all on the field are positively affecting not only today’s youth, but also the pioneers like Kit Keller, who played in the AAGPBL. GTB Tucci had an opportunity to meet Kit while celebrating the 25th anniversary of “A League of Their Own” in Miami, FL, and her excitement of learning about what the girls were involved with caused her eyes to well up with tears as she said, “You’re all girls, playing against boys.” I can only imagine the flood of emotions experienced by Kit at that moment. Appreciation for what the young ladies have overcome to get to this point. Excitement at their ability to compete with their male peers. Satisfaction knowing that wherever there is a kid, boy or girl, they have a path to play a game that is so dearly loved by all of us.
Watch out for these young ladies as they continue to grow the program and break some windows along the way.
Story by Eric Kaufman – Baseball Youth | Twitter: Baseball Youth