Athletics

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

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USATSI

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.

A's Mike Fiers won't respond to Carlos Correa, says Astros 'cheated as a team'

A's Mike Fiers won't respond to Carlos Correa, says Astros 'cheated as a team'

As the story keeps unfolding on the Houston Astros' sign-stealing scandal, A's pitcher Mike Fiers is trying to move on. 

When asked Sunday by the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser if he wants to respond to Astros shortstop Carlos Correa saying Fiers "should be man enough" to say Houston second baseman Jose Altuve didn't use the team's trash can method, the A's pitcher declined to comment. But he did add one quote as he walked away. 

"We (the Astros) cheated as a team," Fiers said to Slusser.

Of all the Astros players, Correa has been the most outspoken and the most remorseful in recent days. But he also has come to the defense of Altuve.

"Mike Fiers know that [Jose] Altuve didn't use the trash can," Correa said Saturday to reporters. "You guys are gonna find out because I'm sure somebody is gonna ask him, and he's gonna tell everybody.

"If he's man enough to tell the truth and tell his story and break this story, he should be man enough to say that the MVP of 2017 didn't use it."

Fiers, who played on the Astros during the 2017 season when Houston electronically stole signs and won the World Series, originally broke the story in an interview with The Athletic. The veteran pitcher signed with the Detroit Tigers after the 2017 season and was traded to the A's in August 2018. He told both the Tigers and A's about the Astros' sign-stealing concoctions. 

Slusser reported Wednesday that A's manager Bob Melvin said the A's had called the league about the Astros cheating allegations prior to Fiers going on record. MLB, however, didn't do anything until Fiers went public. 

[RELATED: A's contacted MLB about Astros cheating]

Astros players received immunity for cooperating with the league's investigation, but manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Lunhow were suspended for a year without pay. Hours after their suspensions, Astros owner Jim Crane fired Hinch and Lunhow. 

This story clearly isn't going away as spring training is underway, however, Fiers seems focused on the A's and the upcoming season. 

How Matt Chapman, Matt Olson's defensive chemistry comes so naturally

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USATSI

How Matt Chapman, Matt Olson's defensive chemistry comes so naturally

Glance toward the dugout at any A's game, and there's Matt Chapman giving high-fives and hugs. He'll throw in a Bash Brothers arm shake here, and there as well.

Beyond bringing the energy to the team, he brings a sensational glove as one of the top third basemen in the majors. When he's making stunning defensive plays, he's boosted by the utmost confidence in his first baseman Matt Olson.

The two Matts have built a relationship across the diamond that sprouted in the minors. An undeniable chemistry the two can't describe. 

"It's funny, it just seems so natural -- something that we've never really had to work for," Chapman told NBC Sports California last month. "[Olson]'s obviously super talented defensively, -- I mean, all around, with his ability to work on the bag, off the bag, deep, in -- he can do it all."

"To have somebody like that, that's also not afraid to hang in there on tough throws, dig out throws, take balls up the line, not scared of contact, and on top of it, he's seven-feet-tall," Chapman laughed. "I feel like I can throw the ball anywhere -- it gives me the confidence to just try and chuck balls over there because he can make so many good plays."

Chappy, a recipient of two Platinum and Gold Glove Awards himself, gets to throw across the diamond each and every game to Oly, who matched the number of Gold Gloves in his career. The two always have confidence in knowing the play will get made.

Chapman gets an extra boost from Olson's height (all 6-foot-5 of him) stretched from each part of the bag, and Olson induces some beautiful double plays that don't involve the third baseman on occasion. 

"There will be plays where I know a guy is going to try and go to third base, and [Olson]'s throwing guys out at third and I've been there, you know," Chapman said, "so we are always kind of on the same page when it comes to just being in tune with what's going on with the game and the situation so it's nice to have someone across the diamond you can trust."

Olson can't explain what makes the duo work so perfectly, either.

"Yeah -- I dunno, we've just been on the same page pretty much since we've met," Olson said. "We get along with each other off the field and hang out, and we're card partners and all that, and on the field, we have the same mentality."

[RELATED: Sean Manaea slams Astros over sign-stealing apology]

The fun is obvious, but the moment the pitcher throws ... 

"We like to joke around and not take anything too seriously," Olson said. "But when we're in between the lines, it's game time."