California teen Marti Sementelli thought she was walking into a scene of a new movie on that 2008 summer day.
But the lights weren’t for cameras and the 100 or so girls were not actresses.
“They were all just like me,” Sementelli said. “I was like, ‘Woah!’ I was shell-shocked because I had so much in common with them.”
It wasn’t just because they all had ponytails draped outside of their hats.
They were all baseball players competing for a roster spot on the USA Baseball women's national team.
“I didn’t even know there were others girls who played baseball,” said Sementelli, who has made the USA roster for the last three summers. “I really thought I was dreaming. It didn’t look real.”
Yes, girls play baseball, even at the high school level.
According to the National Federation of High School Sports Participation Survey, 698 girls played high school baseball in the USA last season.
One of them was Sementelli, a pitcher for Birmingham (Lake Balboa, Calif.) High School who made headlines last year when she was a part of the first high school baseball game that featured two female starting pitchers.
“I’m not a softball player or a volleyball player,” the 2011 graduate said. “I am a baseball player.”
Sandy Almon remembers one of the first times she toed the rubber in a high school baseball game. It’s a story she loves to revisit and tell.
“When I got to the mound guys on the other team laughed at me and taunted me about my appearance,” she said. “First guy came up and I struck him out on three pitches. Next guy? Infield fly out. Third guy? Ground out. It was an eye-opener for them.”
And a teeth-shower for her. She ended up pitching six scoreless innings that day.
“I smiled big,” said the 2011 graduate of Mt. Pisgah (Ga.). “I love it when people tell me I can’t do something when I know I can.”
Like Sementelli, Almon played for the USA national team last season and expects to be on the team next summer.
And like Sementelli, Almon often hears the repetitive question from peers: Why baseball and not softball like all the other girls?
“Softball isn’t baseball and I like playing baseball,” Almon said. “It just didn’t make sense to just stop playing baseball because I was a girl. So what’s the big deal?”
Almon is a big deal. She reportedly has been clocked at 86 mph on the radar gun and currently plays for the Chicago Pioneers, a women’s baseball traveling team.
During her senior year she struck out nine batters in her first six innings of work.
“I don’t look at it like everyone else sees it,” she said. “Yes you see me as a girl playing baseball. But I see me as a baseball player part of a baseball team. I run as hard as everyone. I throw as hard. I work as hard.”
Playing baseball has been the norm for her since her dad starting teaching her the game. She played on boys teams all through Little League and eventually landed a spot on a high school squad after searching for schools which would allow a girl to try out for the team.
“As I got older people said I needed to go to softball because baseball was moving to a bigger field and I wouldn’t be able to do it,” she said. “Well. I never thought about switching. And I never will.”
She shined as a relief pitcher and also started some games at second base.
“People tell me I make a difference out there for other girls,” she said. “But I am really just trying to be like any pitcher – which is to get the next guy out. Only difference is I prove a girl can do it.”
Most players on the USA women’s national team are closer to the age of 25 than 20.
But Sementelli and Almon are proof high school teens are getting better at the sport. They are two of seven girls born after 1991 who made last year’s squad, marking it one of the youngest squad in the team’s seven–year history.
“I was really young when I first played in 2008,” Sementelli said. “I am still really young now and I am considered one of the veterans. But it appears more younger players are starting to make the squad.”
Enter Wynne McCann.
Last year the Boyertown (Penn.) teen became the youngest to play for the squad when she sported the red, white and blue at 16 years old.
“It was definitely scary being the youngest out there,” she said. “I never thought I would make the team because there is so much talent out there. But they gave me a shot. I took it.”
When Almon got her shot, she also took it.
But it didn’t come easy to her at first.
“I am used to playing with all guys so it was a little weird,” she said. “But it was great looking around and seeing all the talent. Everyone was so fundamental. I am sure we can beat a lot of men’s teams.”
The team won bronze medals at the World Cup in 2008 and 2010 and expects a strong showing at next year’s Cup in Canada.
“It’s truly amazing to play for your country,” Sementelli said. “It’s the best feeling.”
Her favorite part is learning from the veteran players and hearing stories about baseball.
“It’s just great to sit there and talk baseball with people who went through the same experiences as you,” she said. “It’s normal when we are together. No one is whispering about a girl playing baseball.”
Sementelli, Almon and McCann are not finished making names for themselves on the diamonds across the country.
After her senior season this year McCann plans on playing college softball but will continue her baseball career with the national team.
Sementelli recently accepted a partial scholarship to play baseball at Montreat College in the mountains of North Carolina, and Almon expects to begin her college career next year. She also has bigger dreams.
“I am pushing for the majors like I always have,” she said. “It’s been my dream, and it will continue to be my dream. I’ll make it, and when people say I throw like a girl, I’ll say, ‘Yes. Yes I do.’”