CINCINNATI -- It was not a scheduling coincidence that Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred visited the RBI World Series on a day when girls softball participants were playing their semifinal games on Wednesday. Manfred came to Cincinnati specifically to talk softball and to engage with young women who play.
Manfred was part of a roundtable discussion at the Kingsgate Marriott Hotel at the University Of Cincinnati that included Reds chief operating officer Phil Castellini, Reds senior vice president of business operations Karen Forgus and Northern Kentucky University softball head coach Kathryn Gleason.
"It gave me an opportunity to put a special focus on softball," Manfred said. "Youth participation is a huge priority for Major League Baseball. I think historically we have given inadequate focus to softball in addition to baseball. We want to make sure that our efforts capture the entire population, male and female. We love the idea of making our softball programs every bit as high profile as our baseball programs."
Cincinnati, the Reds and the MLB Urban Youth Academy are hosting the 25th annual Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) World Series baseball and softball tournaments. The semifinals were scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, and the finals are slated for Friday.
During the roundtable discussion, it was the softball players who got to ask the questions.
"What opportunities do you have for women who want to play professional baseball?" one player asked the Commissioner.
In his reply, Manfred brought up visiting the Little League World Series shortly after his 2014 election as Commissioner and meeting Mo'ne Davis, a pitcher out of Philadelphia who became the superstar of the tournament, and who helped her team from Philly win the RBI World Series Junior Championship, throwing five sold innings in the semifinals.
"She changed my view of the prospects of a woman playing professional baseball," Manfred said. "When she looked at me and I looked at the look on her face, and she told me she thought she was going to be able to be good enough to play professional baseball. ... There was a look of determination in her eye that was really inspiring to me. One of the reasons that we started the women's baseball part of our [youth] program was to recognize that some young women out there would prefer to play the same game the boys play for a longer period of time."
Another young woman asked the panel how girls could eventually take their jobs in the future. Fogus noted that courage is often more important than talent.
"The road to greatness is along the lines of working hard and being a great teammate wherever you go," Forgus said. "It starts on the inside, and you keep working your way through enough to be irreplaceable at every single thing you do and you will rise."
Castellini encouraged everyone to not only seek internships, but to stand out during them by asking to do more and not just doing the minimum.
"They're the ones that stick around and ask, 'How else can I help? What else can I do?'" Castellini said. "Because then when there is something else to do, and we haven't identified somebody yet, the first person you'll go to is that person you knew stood out, because they asked for more. Those people who ask for more will be given more, and that's where the opportunities come."
Gleason told the women to be their own self advocates as they pursue their career choices.
"You can't wait around for somebody else to do it for you," Gleason said. "Don't let anyone else tell you that you can't do it. Always remember that every person that you meet might help you down the road. Treat everybody with respect, and honor what they're doing, because you never know when you might need that person."
Manfred grew up in Rome, N.Y., and played youth baseball. He wanted both boys and girls to take values from the game -- including perseverance and teamwork -- into their professional lives, even if it's a life outside of sports.
"I was not a good baseball player. I kept playing," Manfred said. "I worked really hard at it. That effort, that idea that even if you're not good at something, you can make yourself better, I think is one of the values that our game instills in young people. Whether baseball or softball is part of your career going forward or not, that value and that learning is something that is important in any professional setting."
Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.