Two weeks ago, a group of 11 girls from eight states met for the first time in Chino Hills, California, brought together by their love of baseball. The next day they took the field as a team -- the only all-girls team in a tournament of boys.
It wasn't about wins or losses; the victory was just getting to play. Nobody told that to the girls, though.
After playing independently on boys' travel and recreational leagues in their hometowns, they finally got the chance to play alongside other girls thanks to Baseball For All, an organization dedicated to providing opportunities for women and girls to play, coach and umpire.
Most of the Team Baseball For All girls had never met, only hearing about one another from afar. "It was a fun experience to travel across the country and meet other girls who like to play the game I love," said Aubrey Evans, 10, of Apopka, Florida.
The tournament, a qualifying tournament for the United States Specialty Sports Association global world series, started on a Saturday, and manager Justine Siegal had the task of turning a roster of players into a team. Siegal, a founder of Baseball For All, has an impressive baseball pedigree: She is the only woman to throw batting practice to an MLB team (the 2011 Cleveland Indians) and coach men's pro baseball (the 2009 Brockton Rox). Add in her assistant, Kelsie Whitmore, a high school baseball player in California and member of the women's Team USA 40-man baseball roster, and the 10-and-under girls had about the best coaching possible.
The girls needed the coaching. Playing together for the first time against established boys' teams, they lost their first two games, 6-5 and 10-6. "These girls yearn to play alongside other girls and to have a female coach," Siegal said. "They want to be a part of a team that fully accepts them. So as a coach you smile a lot, give fist pumps and let them see they can trust you. The team comes together."
By Sunday the girls' chemistry caught up to their talent and they earned their first win, 12-2. But another loss stuck them with a No. 4 seed heading into the playoff rounds.
Early Monday, Team Baseball For All fell behind by four runs in an elimination game. But they fought their way back and won in a walk-off, 8-7, to keep their tournament alive. Next up: a meeting with an undefeated team from Las Vegas that owned the No. 1 seed.
The girls smoked 'em 12-1 to advance to the championship game.
"I think some of the boys were surprised, for sure," Siegal said. "We heard some grumblings from other parents but to be honest this was the most respectful tournament I have coached at. I have been to tournaments where parents threaten their sons if they don't beat us."
Josh DeVinney, his wife, Karen, and their 10-year-old daughter, Grace, traveled from Longwood, Fla. to California for the tournament. "For the most part, the boys were all accepting of the girls," said DeVinney, who was one of the team's scorers. "Especially when they realized that these girls were the real deal."
In the title game, Team Baseball for All scored 10 runs in the first, six in the second and two more in the third, holding the boys on the other team scoreless through three. The girls won, 18-0, on a mercy rule. If it sounds like a Disney script, well, it could be. They'd won the whole darn thing.
"We came together as a team," Siegal said. "The first couple of days were exploratory, but by playoffs we were able to play girls in their best positions. It helps that our pitching was lights out and that our bats were on fire."
It was a victory not just for the team, but for girls who love baseball. Josh DeVinney watched as his daughter and her teammates opened eyes at the tournament.
"From a parent's standpoint the most impressive thing to take away is the influence the kids will have on the generations to come," DeVinney said. "A number of younger girls were at the tournament watching their older brothers play, and they were migrating over to our games and even watching the girls taking BP."
"These girls will now take what they have learned and the publicity they have received and use it to help the younger girls in their park and anyone else who is interested."
Ten-year-old Grace DeVinney said, "It was fun to play against boys from across the country, meet and play with new girls and spend time with Justine and Kelsie."
Team Baseball For All hopes to reunite for further tournaments, but they don't have any games on the books just yet. After receiving their trophies they took lots of pictures to remember their big win and the new friends they'd made.
"The win was a total team effort," Siegal said. "The team showed what is possible when we believe in our girls."