Ja’nae Wray dug into the left-handed batter’s field on a discipline 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 she or he unleashed, hammering a three-run residence run over the middle discipline 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 ladies 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 ladies 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 12 months introduced they might collectively spend $30 million to extend baseball and softball participation throughout the nation.

The Trailblazer Sequence, 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 intention was to develop ladies’ participation by displaying them that baseball is for ladies, too. Earlier than coming to Compton, “I didn’t know ladies performed baseball,” Wray stated.

Women and girls have performed baseball nearly because the sport’s invention. Right this moment, more than 100,000 girls play youth baseball nationwide, in line with Baseball For All, a nonprofit that promotes ladies’ participation within the sport.

However at the highschool degree and under, ladies are sometimes pushed away from baseball and towards softball, below the guise that the 2 diamond sports activities are gender equivalents. They aren’t: Federal courts have ruled that, below Title IX, the federal gender fairness in schooling legislation, baseball and softball are separate sports, and that ladies 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: Virtually half 1,000,000 boys, but just 1,290 girls, performed highschool baseball in 2016, in line with the Nationwide Federation of State Excessive College Associations.

Rob Leiter/MLB Images through Getty Pictures

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

MLB’s involvement might start breaking down these boundaries. 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 discipline by 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 Sequence “would have saved me within the sport,” stated Alvarez, who coached on the occasion. “I might have seen that there are different ladies right here.”

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

Ladies have change into more visible at the top levels of baseball in recent times. In 2015, the Oakland A’s made Justine Siegal ― beforehand the primary girl to teach on the minor league degree ― the first woman ever hired to coach for a major league franchise

That very same 12 months, former softball star Jessica Mendoza grew to become the primary girl 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 girl 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 ladies in baseball, stated 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 ladies baseball at MLB.

“They’re rising up listening to Jess Mendoza and seeing Justine Siegal coach,” she stated. “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 concentrating on youth baseball, and MLB’s direct involvement in it ― by the Trailblazer Sequence or different initiatives which will comply with ― might result in a “main breakthrough,” stated Marti Sementelli, a pitcher on the ladies’s nationwide baseball workforce who coached on the match.

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

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

Wray, not 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 affix.

“I didn’t know there have been ladies groups,” Wray stated. “I didn’t know there was a USA Baseball workforce. Now I’m actually all for it. It confirmed me that a variety of different ladies play baseball, and I can play too.”