Athletics

Young women of 'Baseball for All' send message of empowerment, support

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Young women of 'Baseball for All' send message of empowerment, support

OAKLAND -- The several pops of orange baseball caps stood out in the sea of Green and Gold. The group of young women of “Baseball for All” sitting in section 310 at RingCentral Coliseum carried infectious smiles. 

I was once one of these girls.

I was 15-years-old when I was told I wasn’t allowed to try out for my high school baseball team. After all, there was a softball team that I was more than capable of playing for. It was offered for girls, and that’s what I was supposed to do -- switch to softball. 

After being told these two were the same sport, I found myself having to relearn how to hit and witnessing a rise ball that I still have nightmares about. Off to softball, I went. 

Justine Siegal, the founder of “Baseball for All,” has heard this story before -- many times. She’s been this story. She was 13 when she was told she couldn’t play the sport because of her gender.

“That’s when I decided I would play forever,” Siegal told NBC Sports California. “Incredibly, girls are being told too often they shouldn’t play baseball and so we had to stop that. ‘Baseball for All provides opportunities for girls to play baseball so while they may be playing with boys, they still have the opportunity to play with girls.”

Siegal said this builds a community that’s so empowering and warm for them.

“The A’s have been really supportive in ‘Baseball for All,’ and girls playing baseball, so we have our tournament here to watch the game and they couldn’t be more excited and the A’s are going to come out as well to the tournament and so some fun activities with the girls.”

The first-ever Tamara Holmes Series took place from July 12-14. Holmes, a gold-medal-winning USA Baseball Women’s National Team trailblazer -- as described in a “Baseball for All” press release -- got her start at the local Albany Little League.

“I would like to thank Baseball For All for the honor of being the namesake of this tournament series,” Holmes said in a release. “I would like to extend a special thank you to Albany Little League for allowing a young African American girl to pursue her love of baseball … when many girls throughout the nation were denied their right.”

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Before @t24onfya started her decade-long career as a @USAbaseballwnt offensive powerhouse; before she hit the only home run in Colorado Silver Bullets history; before she became an award-winning weightlifter, or even became a Lieutenant of the Oakland Fire Department, she, like so many others today, was an just 8-year old girl who wanted to play baseball. • “[37 years ago,] I was allowed to play when many girls throughout the nation were denied their right,” said Holmes. “Without a question, Albany Little league said, ‘yes, girls can play.’” I don’t think at the time that Albany Little League knew how forward thinking they were.” • For the next almost 40 years, Holmes took this one “yes” to heart. She became known as the most dominant offensive player in  USA Baseball Women’s National Team history, hitting the most home runs than any other female baseball player. She is a leader both off and on the field, serving her community as a full-time firefighter, and has also led @usabaseballwnt to win three gold medals, two silvers, and two bronzes over an 11-year span—all with an inconceivable air of humility and poise. • “I have been blessed with a long career in baseball,” said Holmes. “The road to success in playing a male dominated sport is not linear or easy. Your hard work and love for the game will keep you going.” • This weekend, Holmes, the first girl to play in Albany Little League, looked out into a sea of almost 100 girls from all over California and Arizona play on the same field that she started her own career on. • We’re proud to have named this #BaseballForAll tournament in Albany, CA after this #trailblazer, and are grateful for her continued leadership and commitment to being a #rolemodel to girls, on and off the field, as we work together to #growthegame for girls in baseball everywhere 💙 #BFAHolmesSeries • #thankyoutamara #oaklandpride #girlsplaybaseballtoo #girlsinbaseball #rootedinoakland #fortheloveofthegame #sheplayswewin #thefutureisfemale #womeninbaseball #womensbaseball #coloradosilverbullets #trailblazers #travelbaseball #baseballseason #baseballheroes #baseballlegends #powerhitters #homeruns #rolemodwl #baseballhistory #futureofbaseball

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Justice Alcantar, a "Baseball for All" captain, holds many hats. A player in her own right, she’s also part of the player outreach committee -- one of the many committees the organization has.  

“We hand out cards not only to recruit but to raise awareness and to let them know that this is an option and if they want to participate, they could,” said Alcantar, a recent graduate of University High School in San Francisco.

As easy as the tryout process was for her, she knows that’s not always the case.

“My coach is very nice compared to the stories I have heard of other girls trying out for high school baseball. I’m grateful for that,” Alcantar said.

“It’s definitely a different environment, at least with my coach, I felt like even though people aren’t explicitly like ‘Girls can’t play baseball,’ they do treat you differently when you’re on the field. It doesn’t matter if you don’t let me on the team, if I don’t feel part of the team, it’s a whole different dynamic.” 

As far as what to tell those who could be intimidated to play, Alcantar said there are always options. Even if someone is in a community where girls playing baseball isn’t accepted, there are becoming more and more opportunities nationwide.

“There are ways for you to continue to play, she explained. “Especially with all the new programs MLB is helping with.”

Still, after 15 years that have ticked by from the time I was told “no,” those hardships are still there. 

One girl told me she feels it’s more noticeable when she messes up rather than when a boy messes up.

“Luckily, I never mess up,” she joked.

Pitcher/catcher Susannah Bader said nobody has the right to make you do anything, especially someone forcing a girl to play softball. And she noticed the pressures that go with being a girl on an all-boys team.

“I always felt like if I messed up that someone’s watching and I always wanted to do my best because I wanted to get on the same level with the boys so I could get higher -- and that I’m not looked at as someone less,” she said. “But that I’m looked at as someone equal.”

Siegal made history by becoming the first female coach of a Major League Baseball team in 2015, when she was a guest instructor at the A's instructional league in Arizona. But she made her presence known years before that -- and she did it all just because she was told she couldn’t.

[RELATED: A's team with Baseball for All' to inspire girls in baseball]

A movement has started and the young women I met that day were full of hope and confidence in a world where, from the beginning, they were told they didn’t belong.

That -- to me, is historic.

Why A's will greatly miss Ramón Laureano while he serves suspension

Why A's will greatly miss Ramón Laureano while he serves suspension

A's manager Bob Melvin wasn't sure if he'd have Ramón Laureano in center field for Wednesday's game against the Los Angeles Angels. Laureano is appealing a six-game suspension for his role in Sunday's A's-Houston Astros brawl, and Oakland expected to learn about his appeal before first pitch at Angel Stadium.

But Laureano started, and the A's were beyond thrilled to have him in the lineup for Wednesday's 8-2 win. He drove in a pair of runs and saved at least one, casually robbing a home run from Angels outfielder Brian Goodwin in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Laureano was just as happy, but he toned it down -- as he usually does -- in a video conference with reporters after the game.

“Yeah, I mean I didn’t pay attention too much, I was ready to play since I woke up,” Laureano said of potentially not playing Wednesday.

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Laureano has a way of making these incredible plays and acting as if each were as simple as going grocery shopping. Is it as effortless as he makes it look?

“It’s never an easy play, I just get good timing on it and the outfield here is pretty short in center field," Laureano said. "I always feel good playing here.”

Laureano hadn't watched the game film yet, so he wasn't aware how impressively easy his catch looked.

Pitcher Chris Bassitt was. He pumped his fist in gratitude toward Laureano after each of the outfielder's highlight-reel plays.

“He’s a Gold Glove center fielder,” Bassitt said. “No doubt, but I mean, he won us the game defensively. I mean, I know we won it by a couple more runs, but he definitely saved us.”

Bassitt said balls can really fly in Angel Stadium, and playing during the day forces outfielders to work even harder. But that was no worry for Laureano. He thrives there.

A’s manager Bob Melvin gets to see it all unfold from the dugout. 

“I enjoy watching him play, he’s energetic, he’s exciting, he’s a thrill a minute -- and we’ve seen those plays in the outfield,” Melvin said after the win. “This wall can be fairly easy, not that it’s an easy play, but he times it very well. He knows once he hits the warning track how many steps to the wall and he’s really confident doing it.”

Angels' manager Joe Maddon was pretty upset Laureano didn't start serving his suspension Wednesday.

A total game-changer. 

[RELATEDStewart believes 'justice was done' in Laureano, Cintrón bans]

Whenever Laureano starts serving his suspension, the A's will miss him. Oakland can have a glimmer hope of knowing that Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly's eight-game suspension was reduced to five when he appealed. Kelly threw at Astros players and mocked them as he walked off the mound.

“Since you’re telling me that, I will take that bait,” Melvin said after the game. ”Yeah, I would like it to be reduced, so we’ll see where it goes. I’m not in charge of that.”

Watch Ramón Laureano casually rob home run from Angels' Brian Goodwin

Watch Ramón Laureano casually rob home run from Angels' Brian Goodwin

A’s pitchers Yusmeiro Petit and Chris Bassitt are going to buy Ramón Laureano a nice steak dinner after the performance(s) he put on Wednesday.

The A’s centerfielder made a few strong plays against the Angels, but one in particular was peak Laureano. The fact that he robbed a home run of Los Angeles outfielder Brian Goodwin was great, but watch how casual he made the catch look:

I’m literally laughing out loud. How does he make it look so easy? All in a day’s work for Laureano.

This saved the Angels from tying it up in the bottom of the seventh, but that’s typical of the A's outfielder.

[RELATEDCintrón apologizes, denies insulting Laureano's mother]

Laureano was given a six-game suspension after his role in the A’s-Astros bench-clearing brawl on Sunday, but has elected to appeal it. That means, when he does serve the ban, the A’s will be without him for the time being, but they have a phenomenal back-up plan in Chad Pinder.

Pinder’s middle name could be “diverse,” if it wasn’t Hudson. The guy can do it all, and he can do it well. Just as he did on Tuesday night against the Angels in the 6-0 loss. 

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]