Start paying attention to the U.S. women's baseball team -- right now

When Tamara Holmes isn't playing baseball, she's a full-time firefighter, part-time welder and co-owner of a CrossFit gym. AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

TORONTO -- After pitching a shutout in the Little League World Series last summer, 13-year-old Mo'ne Davis made the cover of Sports Illustrated, threw out the first pitch at a World Series game and was the focus of a Spike Lee short documentary for Chevrolet.

Earlier this summer, French 16-year-old shortstop Melissa Mayeux became the subject of widespread media coverage when she was added to baseball's international registration list, making her eligible to be signed by a major league team.

Meanwhile, you likely have not heard a lot, if anything at all, about the women on the U.S. national baseball team playing here at the Pan Am Games. But the talented players on its roster are hoping to build on the momentum of Davis and Mayeux and widen the spotlight.

"Mo'ne is obviously a great pitcher. She made it to the Little League World Series, which is the coolest thing ever -- my team growing up never made it," veteran U.S. outfielder Tamara Holmes said. "But what people find to focus on sometimes is interesting, and that just shows the amount of exposure that's out there [for others].

"You look at this team and I've got 10-plus, 20-plus Mo'ne Davises out there. Which is not to take anything away from her, but they're just not seen. There was that big deal about the French player because of that technicality that she could get in the major leagues, and of course there was a huge uproar and people were texting me and I was like, 'She wouldn't beat Jade Gortarez. Jade is the most amazing shortstop I've seen.'"

Holmes is not being critical of Davis; she says she does not want to take anything away from what the teenager has accomplished. But at the same time, it would be nice if people also knew that Davis and Mayeux aren't the only females in the world playing baseball at a high level.

"That just shows the [difference in exposure]," Holmes said. "Everyone blows up on this one player and no one knows about USA Baseball, the highest level in women's baseball right now."

Gortarez, meanwhile, says it's positive to see attention being given to females in baseball.

"I'm hopeful for them because they're getting it out there," Gortarez said. "The more and more people know about them, hopefully, they'll also decide to do some research and find out that we do have a women's national team and we're pretty good."

Women's baseball is in the Pan Am Games for the first time, and the U.S. team has a good chance at a gold medal. The Americans are 3-0, have outscored their opponents 30-6 over that span and face host Canada on Friday for a spot in the gold-medal game. Japan, which is not a participant here, has won the past four women's baseball World Cups, but the U.S. finished second in the past two Cups, third in 2010 and 2008, and won it all in 2004 and 2006.

Holmes was on that 2006 championship team and is still playing nearly a decade later at age 41. She has played baseball much of her life, including a stint with the Silver Bullets, the professional women's team that was managed by Phil Niekro in the mid-1990s.

"That whole experience was incredible," Holmes said. "We got to travel around the country, we got paid to play, we had big-league coaches. We had spring training. We saw a new city every three days. And to play baseball, and against guys, that was unheard of then. The base pay was $20,000, which was three months. But they paid for everything and we got a per diem. And free Coors Light."

Holmes, a Berkeley graduate, full-time firefighter, part-time welder and co-owner of a CrossFit gym -- "I don't sleep," she said with a laugh -- is the oldest player on the U.S. roster, which has quite a range of ages. Left-hander Sarah Hudek, the 18-year-old daughter of former big leaguer John Hudek, has a scholarship to play college baseball at Bossier City Community College. Gortarez, 17, will enter her senior year of high school. She has already committed to play softball at the University of Texas, where she plans to study biomedical engineering.

Despite the range in ages, Holmes says the team chemistry and camaraderie is great. "If we're sitting around, we can find anything in common to share or laugh about," she said. "There's a little bit of a pecking order where we make the younger ones carry the equipment, and I let them beat up on me a bit. I get a lot of the old-age jokes, but at end of the day, they know who's doing what."

While Mayeux officially became eligible for signing with her international registration, no team has done so yet. Will someone get signed? Davis? Mayeux? Gortarez or Hudek? Who knows yet. But no matter who it is, Gortarez thinks a woman will eventually break through to the majors.

"The world is changing," Gortarez said. "Every day, every pitch, every game we play, it's changing and becoming more accepting, so I believe that one day it will happen."