MLB Grit: High school girls playing games in big league park

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) -- Before Ila Borders became the first female pitcher to start a college baseball game or pitch professionally in an independent league in the 1990s, the lefty felt almost like she was in a fight just to be on the field.

''When I was playing, they tried to do everything possible to not let me play, or they didn't want the media attention, and it was an uphill battle,'' Borders said Friday. ''Now I feel like people are searching and looking and trying to develop that talent. For me, that's an awesome feeling and it's great to see.''

Borders is one of the coaches this weekend for MLB Grit, an inaugural high school invitational baseball tournament for 64 teenage girls from the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico that were split into four teams to play four games each.

On Friday, which was International Women's Day, each team got to play a game in a big league ballpark - Globe Life Park, the home of the Texas Rangers. The rest of the games will be at the Rangers MLB Youth Academy in Dallas.

Ashton Lansdell, an 18-year-old pitcher/shortstop who was on Team USA in the Women's Baseball Cup last summer, hopes to play college baseball next season.

Lansdell has been playing baseball since she was 4 years old - ''I've been told since when I was like really young to go play softball, I just straight-up said 'No','' she said - and started pitching when she was about 10.

''My travel team needed some pitching, and they just put me on the mound,'' she said. ''They just threw me on there and I had good mechanics from watching people and being on the field so much. Ever since then, I've upped my game, my mechanics and velocity.''

The right-handed senior for the varsity team at Wheeler High in Marietta, Georgia, now throws four-seam and two-seam fastballs, with a velocity of just more than 80 mph, plus has two different changeups, a slider and a curveball.

Delaney Dunham, a 15-year-old freshman left-handed pitcher/outfielder from Dayton, Texas, switched from softball to baseball when she was 12 years old and her goal is to play one day for Team USA. She missed a tournament with her Barbers High baseball team this weekend.

Along with the four games each team will play, the girls at MLB Grit will go through special developmental presentations this weekend, including tips on the collegiate recruiting process and information about careers within baseball.

MLB is going into its third year of the Trailblazer Series for girls at its Compton Youth Academy in California, and last summer had its first Breakthrough Series for high school girls at the Dodgertown spring training complex in Vero Beach, Florida.

What made MLB Grit different from those events was having more game competition for the girls.

''Most of them are the only girls on their teams,'' said Kim Ng, MLB's senior vice president for baseball and softball development. ''This is one of the few opportunities they actually get to compete against other girls, which is also why is fairly unique. ''

Ng said youth participation is one of Commissioner Rob Manfred's most important agenda and platform items.

''The first thing is No. 1, just to provide opportunity. No. 2, we need to shed light on these kids, on these young women and girls,'' Ng said. ''We think this is the best game in the world, and we don't want to discourage anybody from playing it.''

Allison Schroder is a 16-year-old junior from Fruitvale, British Columbia who played for Team Canada last summer and is on her high school team that competes in the state of Washington.

''I'd love to play baseball at a college level,'' said Schroder, a pitcher and shortstop. ''Just to be able to play the game while getting an education has always been a good goal of mine.''

Borders is among nine former and current players and staff from the USA Baseball Women's National team instructing the girls. The other coaches are former MLB pitcher Marvin Freeman, infielder Homer Bush who was a member of the 1998 World Series champion New York Yankees and Morehouse College coach Antonio Grissom.

Grissom, the brother of former big leaguer Marquis Grissom, was also part of the Breakthrough Series last summer and has been impressed by what he's seen.

''These girls are fundamentally sound,'' he said. ''In terms of the velocity and the strength, there's a separation there. But in terms of the technique and fundamentals, they're pretty sound. They're going to make the routine plays, they're going to throw strikes. Some of their secondary stuff is above average for their age, so that gives them a chance.''