History In The Making: Centenary University Hosted First-Ever Women’s College Baseball Invitational
By Michael Rosen
The women’s baseball movement has made huge strides over the last few years, with history already set to be made in March 2022, when the first Women’s College Club Baseball Championship tournament is played in Los Angeles.
It will be the second inaugural women’s baseball event in a seven-month span. The first took place this past summer during in Hackettstown, New Jersey. From Aug. 13–14, Centenary University hosted the first-ever Women’s College Baseball Invitational. The two-day showcase was organized by Baseball For All, a nonprofit with a mission to increase opportunities for girls and women in baseball.
Over the two days at Centenary, 29 players from 14 states and Canada had a chance to show off their skills in front of four college coaches and four players who are slated to compete at the collegiate level during the 2022 season. The 29 players, mostly high schoolers, spent the weekend taking batting practice and running infield and outfield drills. They were also separated into three different teams for a tournament held throughout the weekend.
“I think it was really important to show all of the high schoolers that we are out here doing it and they can do it too if they work hard enough,” said Skylar Kaplan, one of the college players in attendance who is currently a sophomore at Anne Arundel Community College. “It was really cool to see so many girls who want to play college baseball. There’s a lot of good talent out there.”
In total, eight women are slated to play collegiate baseball during the 2022 season, despite the fact that resources for women to play baseball are few and far between by the time they reach high school. Baseball For All is looking to change that and invitationals of this nature will only become more prevalent.
“Five years ago, no one would have seen something like this coming,” said Luisa Gauci, an infielder at Green River College. “When I was looking at colleges there was nothing like this. It’s awesome to have an event like this where girls — who want to follow the path we college players took — can use it as a great resource. There are a lot of opportunities in baseball and they are only getting bigger.”
Baseball For All plans on hosting similar invitationals every year, including having multiple invitationals in various regions of the country so players all over the United States have an accessible way to play college baseball.
One aspect of this year’s invitational that players found beneficial was a panel in which the high schoolers had an opportunity to ask the college players and coaches questions. Many of the questions geared towards the coaches dealt with the recruitment process. However, a lot of the questions the college players were asked dealt with the obstacles they have faced, and in some instances, still face. This includes how they have been treated by their male teammates and how they fit in with the rest of their team. The college players gave tough but honest answers.
“You don’t want them to think it’s so easy that when they experience something tough, they back away from it,” said Beth Greenwood, a senior at the University of Rochester. “But you also don’t want them to think they can’t do it. You want them to know that you’ve had to put up with a lot to get to where you are and it’s not going to be easy. You have to learn, put in the time, and the work, but I wanted to let them know that if we can do it, they can too.”
While it may have been tough to hear about some of the prejudice the college players have experienced, many of the high school players have had similar experiences and weren’t discouraged by the panel. In fact, for Elise Berger, a high school junior from Vermont, the honesty from the panel was very useful.
“It was great to hear about the college players’ paths since I’m just beginning the path to play in college,” Berger said. “The coaches told us that there are going to be coaches who say no and that’s okay because as long as you get those few people who say yes, you’re still going to get that opportunity. There are also going to be coaches who don’t respond to you, but that’s not against you personally. Looking at this truthfully is important because realistically people are going to say no.”
One of those coaches was Scott Kushner, the head coach of Centenary who helped organize the event and was one of the coaches evaluating the players.
“I was really impressed, not with just their skill set but also their technique and their training,” Kushner said. “Their swings were mechanically really solid and they were making some really tough plays in the field.”
Kushner became involved with women’s baseball after a player in a Facebook group he is part of reached out to him and asked for some feedback on her swing. Eventually, someone recommended he reach out to Justine Siegel, the founder of Baseball For All. After Siegel told Kushner about the invitational, he was quick to offer his field as a site.
Kushner is eager to continue his support for women’s baseball and is a firm believer that there should be more opportunities available for women who want to play at the collegiate level.
“NCAA women’s baseball isn’t much of a thing in our country the same way other women’s sports are,” Kushner said. “Other women’s sports are well supported and have an infrastructure, so it seems odd that there isn’t the same for baseball. The end goal is not that baseball at the collegiate level should be co-ed. It is wonderful that we have some girls playing college baseball, they are trailblazers, and we should be very proud of them. But it isn’t like that in other sports. We don’t expect a women’s college basketball player to compete with a men’s college basketball player. If we can at least build up the infrastructure at the college level, whether it begins at the club level and then eventually turns into varsity, I think people will see that it is great for baseball as a whole.”
One of the 29 players in attendance, Sabrina Robinson, has already jump-started a club team at a school not far from where the invitational took place, Montclair State University.
Robinson began playing baseball when she was five and played through middle school, eventually trying out for her high school team. Robinson put her skills on display and proved she was good enough to make the cut, but was still denied a spot on the team.
“’You’re good enough to play middle infield, but we can’t have you on the team’ is what the coach said to me,” Robinson said. “That made me feel like baseball wasn’t for me.”
Instead, Robinson did what many girls who are denied access to baseball do, and made the switch to softball. She was a member of the varsity squad all four years, but her heart still belonged to baseball.
“Ask my teammates, I was always talking about baseball,” Robinson said.
Around the time Robinson was getting ready to graduate high school, years after she thought her baseball career was over, she heard about the Women’s College Baseball Invitational. The fact that the invitational was taking place in Robinson’s home state made it all the more enticing for her to attend.
“When I heard there was an invitational, I realized I didn’t have to stop playing at age 18,” Robinson said. “Growing up and being told I can’t play baseball and then having college coaches tell me I am good enough to play was really inspiring. It gave me the confidence to play at the collegiate level.”
For a time, Robinson was going back and forth between playing for the NCAA-sponsored softball team at Montclair or starting her own club baseball team. She followed her heart and is in the early stages of starting up a club women’s baseball team on campus.
It isn’t an overnight process, as starting a club team involves a lot of discussions with the club sports office. Before a team can be approved, it needs to be demonstrated that there is a strong enough interest in the sport. Robinson has already brought a few other players on board and is confident she can find more in time to begin practices this fall.
“Recruitment is the biggest challenge for starting a club team,” Robinson said. “The start-up process isn’t easy, but [I will do] anything I can to keep the sport going and keep playing. I never thought I’d be playing in college, let alone for the school.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Centenary University, Pexels