Trailblazer Series takes historic first steps

12U/16U rising stars begin playing games today

Trailblazer Series takes historic first steps

LONG BEACH, Calif. -- This Jackie Robinson Day, Major League Baseball is honoring the big leaguer who broke baseball's color barrier in 1947 by furthering his legacy of inclusion with the inaugural Trailblazer Series, a girls baseball tournament in Southern California.

The three-day event at the MLB Youth Academy in Compton began Thursday with practices at the facility's four playing fields followed by a banquet dinner at Hotel Maya in Long Beach. The first evening featured a video message from Commissioner Rob Manfred and some notable guest speakers, including softball legend and MLB's youth softball ambassador, Jennie Finch, and MLB's senior vice president for baseball operations, Kim Ng.

"Seeing them with resources, with opportunity and some of the things that I didn't necessarily have when I was growing mean means the world to me," said Ng, who is one of three women to serve as Major League assistant general managers, a position she held with the Yankees and Dodgers.

"I don't think girls necessarily think of baseball being an option for them. I think what this does is puts it on the map for sure."

Tournament games will be played today and Saturday at the academy with 96 girls participating from 20 states, as well as Washington D.C. and Canada participating, split into two age groups, 12-under and 16-under. Members of the USA Baseball Women's national team are coaching, along with Ila Borders, the first woman to receive a college baseball scholarship, and Justine Siegal, founder of "Baseball for All" and the first female coach in MLB history.

The eight teams are named after notable alumnae of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), which rank from 1943-54 and is the league portrayed in Penny Marshall's 1992 film "A League of Their Own." Two former AAGPBL players, Shirley "Hustle" Burkovich and Maybelle "Mae" Blair, were in attendance Thursday and are scheduled to throw out ceremonial first pitches before the tournament games.

"I think that it's a big stepping stone for them to continue on and play the game. As they grow, they're going to remember this," said Destinee Martinez, a former Team USA softball player who won an NCAA championship with Oklahoma. "Giving these girls this opportunity at such a young age is just incredible. I really think that this could be the future of women's baseball."

The Trailblazer Series culminates Saturday with the unveiling of Robinson's statue at Dodger Stadium during a pregame ceremony prior to the Dodgers' 6:10 p.m. PT contest against the D-backs. Robinson's wife, Rachel, and children Sharon and David are expected to be in attendance.

"What Jackie meant to the game in terms of paving the way for others, inclusion, perseverance," said Tony Reagins, MLB's senior vice president of youth programs, "those things all apply to what we're trying to accomplish here with this tournament in giving young ladies an opportunity to accomplish their dreams."

Reagins said the Trailblazer Series was a response to increased interest in the game from young women as well as growing participation by girls in national skills competitions like Pitch, Hit and Run. He said the plan is to turn the tournament into an annual event.

"We want to build this program. Hopefully it morphs into something much greater, but you have to start somewhere," Reagins said. "We're not going to look back. We're planning on doing more and seeing how we can do more to give young ladies opportunities to play."

Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.