There are girls in baseball

Hitting a home run in a Little League game is a big deal. Hitting your first Little League home run in a Little League All-Star game is an even bigger deal—and that’s what Kylie Liu did playing for the Palo Alto Little League (PALL) Nationals All-Star team in June 2017.

June 23 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the President Nixon’s signing of Title IX legislation, which opened doors for women and girls to participate more actively in sports that they had previously been prevented from playing. Kylie is one of the thousands of girls who have played Little League baseball since girls were first welcomed onto teams in 1974, and she is one of the many who have played in Palo Alto.

Little League International celebrates the history of girls who have participated in Little League baseball with Girls with Game month, and PALL is recognizing some of the girls who have called Palo Alto’s Middlefield Ballpark their home field. Saxon Noh, current PALL president, said “It’s great that Little League is highlighting the many successes and contributions girls have made to Little League and baseball as a whole.”

Joc Pederson, Alex Blandino, and BJ Boyd are among PALL alumni now playing in the major leagues, but another of PALL’s most storied players is Talia Grossman. Talia played for three PALL All-Star teams from 2012 through 2014, and she was profiled in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd.” Talia continued to play baseball beyond Little League but now is focused on soccer at USC.

Ingrid Lee, a former player, said “PALL introduced me to a community that encouraged everyone to play baseball, not limiting the sport by gender.” While watching a current PALL game, one might see Ingrid. Ingrid, who played in PALL until 2016, is now one of the league’s most seasoned umpires, serving the league for seven years, and her skill was recognized by the honor of being selected to umpire 2022 Majors All-Star games at the district level. Of umpiring, Ingrid said “I have learned grit and commitment and how to balance everything in between; from being a confident leader on the field to teaching players the importance of sportsmanship, but while staying in the background.”

While Talia continued to play baseball through high school, both Ingrid and Kylie made the transition to softball. Ingrid and Kylie are teammates on the Henry Gunn High School softball team. Kylie and Ingrid led the Gunn team to the playoffs, and both girls were honored as first team All-League in the Santa Clara County (High School) Athletic League. When asked about her success at the high school level, Kylie said, “I definitely feel the baseball coaches helped [me].”

Nationwide, it is estimated that 100,000 girls play Little League baseball. From its inception in 1939 through 1973, Little League was the exclusive purview of boys aged 12 and younger. Girls played–often disguised as boys or in leagues where officials looked the other way. However, soon after the signing of Title IX legislation (and after more than one lawsuit), Little League International officially welcomed girls to play. Since then, thousand girls have participated in Little League at its various levels.

PALL was right behind; girls first played in PALL in the late 1970s. During the spring 2022 season, more than 40 girls (roughly 8 percent of the league’s total) are playing baseball across eight divisions in PALL. Kim Ngyuen, former PALL president, said “It was wonderful to see female participation increase over time. The girls benefitted from the camaraderie among the players; learned to persevere in the face of failure; and left the field with the belief that there is a hero in all of us.”

PALL does not offer a girls division, so players such as Julie Kassel (this year’s lone female Major’s player and on the PALL’s 11u All-Star team) and Helen Pitman (who delivered two hits in this year’s minors championship game) go head to head with the boys. Noh hopes the success of Julie and Helen (and their predecessors) “inspires the girls enrolled in our program to continue to play, to learn from this game we love, and to let other girls know that we welcome them with open arms.”

Women have also played a prominent role in PALL and held major leadership positions. Many women have served on the Board of Directors, as division player agents, and umpire coordinators, not to mention the many who coach and manage. Kristin Foss is among the trailblazing women who preceded Kim Nguyen as league president. Nguyen said “The six years I spent on the PALL Board provided some of the most fulfilling and rewarding experiences of my life. It changed my life in all the best ways possible by helping me see the positive impacts that baseball can have on our kids.”

According to Ingrid Lee, “PALL taught me the importance of not only hard work and integrity but also of teamwork and leadership.” Using these skills and their experience, who knows, maybe Kylie or Ingrid or Julie or Helen might follow in the footsteps of Kim Ng, the Miami Marlins general manager, or of Alyssa Nakken, the first woman to coach on the field in a Major League Baseball game, or of Rachel Balkovec, a manager in the Yankees minor league system, or of Kelsie Whitmore, now playing minor league ball with the Staten Island Ferry Hawks.

2022©Richard Sousa