Ja’nae Wray dug into the left-handed batter’s field on a area at Main League Baseball’s youth academy in Compton, California, Friday afternoon, her bat raised simply above her shoulder as she waited for her pitch. A belt-high fastball got here towards her, and he or she unleashed, hammering a three-run dwelling run over the middle area fence.

Not unhealthy for somebody who’d by no means performed organized baseball earlier than.

Wray, a 12-year-old from Douglasville, Georgia, was certainly one of 100 women who traveled to Compton final weekend to take part within the inaugural Trailblazer Series match, an all-girls youth match organized by MLB and USA Baseball (the game’s American governing physique) to assist pave the best way for a brand new era of women to play the game.

Till this weekend, MLB had by no means made such a direct funding in women baseball, not to mention hosted an all-girls youth match. However MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has made rising youth baseball a priority for his league since taking on in 2015, and MLB and its gamers union that yr introduced they might collectively spend $30 million to extend baseball and softball participation throughout the nation.

The Trailblazer Collection, which concluded Saturday, was a part of that effort. Together with USA Baseball, MLB lined the journey prices of every participant who attended the four-day occasion.

The goal was to develop women’ participation by exhibiting them that baseball is for ladies, too. Earlier than coming to Compton, “I didn’t know women performed baseball,” Wray mentioned.

Women and girls have performed baseball virtually because the sport’s invention. At the moment, more than 100,000 girls play youth baseball nationwide, in response to Baseball For All, a nonprofit that promotes women’ participation within the sport.

However at the highschool stage and beneath, women are sometimes pushed away from baseball and towards softball, below the guise that the 2 diamond sports activities are gender equivalents. They don’t seem to be: Federal courts have ruled that, below Title IX, the federal gender fairness in training legislation, baseball and softball are separate sports, and that women can’t be denied entry to baseball simply because a college has a softball workforce.

However the notion that softball is baseball for ladies is highly effective: Nearly half one million boys, but just 1,290 girls, performed highschool baseball in 2016, in response to the Nationwide Federation of State Excessive Faculty Associations.

Rob Leiter/MLB Photographs through Getty Pictures

100 women from 20 states, Washington, D.C., and Canada participated within the first Trailblazer Collection women baseball match.

MLB’s involvement might start breaking down these obstacles. Veronica Alvarez, a catcher on the U.S. girls’s nationwide workforce, began enjoying baseball when she was 5, solely to finish up on a softball area via highschool. Solely later, when she found the existence of the U.S. girls’s workforce, did she return to baseball.

An occasion just like the Trailblazer Collection “would have saved me within the sport,” mentioned Alvarez, who coached on the occasion. “I might have seen that there are different women right here.”

“I admire the experiences I had in softball,” she added. “However I want these experiences might have been in baseball.”

Girls have turn out to be more visible at the top levels of baseball in recent times. In 2015, the Oakland A’s made Justine Siegal ― beforehand the primary lady to teach on the minor league stage ― the first woman ever hired to coach for a major league franchise

That very same yr, former softball star Jessica Mendoza grew to become the primary lady to call an MLB playoff game on television. French teenager Melissa Mayeux, a shortstop on France’s under-18 nationwide workforce, grew to become the primary lady added to MLB’s international registration list, making her eligible to signal with a serious league workforce. And the U.S. girls’s nationwide workforce won the gold medal on the Pan American Video games.

That has begun to shift perceptions of girls in baseball, mentioned Jennie Finch, who gained an Olympic gold medal pitching for the U.S. girls’s softball workforce and is now a youth ambassador for each softball and women baseball at MLB.

“They’re rising up listening to Jess Mendoza and seeing Justine Siegal coach,” she mentioned. “The following era, it’s not even going to face out. It’s going to be the norm.”

However connecting the momentum in MLB to decrease ranges would require years of focusing on youth baseball, and MLB’s direct involvement in it ― via the Trailblazer Collection or different initiatives that will comply with ― might result in a “main breakthrough,” mentioned Marti Sementelli, a pitcher on the ladies’s nationwide baseball workforce who coached on the match.

“They’re a powerhouse. It provides us extra alternative to do extra issues,” Sementelli mentioned. “We’ve at all times mentioned we wished MLB can be part of it.”

“This has opened our eyes a bit. The response has been nice,” mentioned Kim Ng, a senior vice chairman at MLB. “By advantage of getting the 2 large actors on this panorama ― between MLB and USA Baseball ― I believe that sends a transparent and resounding message that we’re in.”

Wray, no less than, is proof that the match left an affect on the women who participated. She plans to play each baseball and softball when she goes again to Georgia ― in Compton, she met one other Georgian who performs on an all-girls journey workforce she hopes to hitch.

“I didn’t know there have been women groups,” Wray mentioned. “I didn’t know there was a USA Baseball workforce. Now I’m actually focused on it. It confirmed me that lots of different women play baseball, and I can play too.”