MLB puts focus on girls in underserved communities
By Michael Kinney
One minute Jayden Clark was talking with Olympic Gold Medalist Jenny Finch on playing with swagger. The next minute, the Tampa Fl. native was getting swing instruction from Oklahoma alum and College Word Series star Destinee Martinez.
That is how it went for Clark for four days in early June as part of the 2nd Annual Softball Breakthrough Series. Anything she wanted to know about softball, legends of the sport were on hand to pass on their knowledge.
“That’s the best opportunity ever,” Clark said. “Seeing someone who has went through the same challenges that I’m going through right now, and letting them be able to talk to me and tell me how I can do better, it’s the best thing ever.”
Clark was one of 60 young girls invited from across the nation to participate in the Breakthrough Series, which was held at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium June 12-14.
According to USA Softball, the Series is designed to promote softball as a viable collegiate option for youth from underrepresented and under served communities. That includes kids from predominantly minority and low income neighborhoods, where playing softball past little league is more of a dream and actual goal.
“I think cost of participation limits interest for some children in lower income communities,” Mustang coach Jaime Roberts said. “Local high school programs and elite travel ball organizations can help increase participation and interest in softball among these underserved youth by offering free camps and clinics. I believe Institutions, athletic departments, and communities need to make an ongoing commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Great leadership and persistence can help achieve more diversity and inclusion in the sport.”
Other programs MLB have instituted throughout the years include RBI, Breaking Barriers, The Urban Youth Academy and The Baseball Tomorrow Fund.
According to Tony Reagans, Senior Vice President of Youth Programs for Major League Baseball, making sure African Americans are not excluded from the future of baseball and softball is a priority for MLB.
“We have a number of programs that really focus on the underserved girls and boys from African American communities. So this is just one part of that initiative to, one, give African Americans, people who are underserved, give them an opportunity to experience something like this,” Reagans said. “And the really cool thing about this program is that this is cost-free to all the participants. So Major League Baseball and USA Softball funds the entire event whether it be equipment, travel, food, hotel. So we take care of all that for the girls and hopefully all they have to do is have a good experience here.”
Even though over 80,000 teams, 1.3 million players participate in ASA youth softball on an annual basis, those numbers are not translating into high school and beyond. That includes the new pro softball league that is still trying to find its footing.
Finch, who is one of biggest names in softball history, says the Breakthrough Series is a game changer for softball.
“This is huge. I am so excited about the partnership with Major League Baseball,” Finch said. “Major League Baseball is really stepping up to the plate and telling these young girls that they matter, and including our sport of softball and women’s baseball and all of the above. It’s exciting to see these young ladies get the opportunity to come out here and train with the best of the best on the world’s best softball. They’re just in awe, and it’s exciting. This is life-changing for a lot of them, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Camp instructors included Finch, Martinez, Sue Enquist, Shelia Douty, Erin Miller, Kellie Fox, Jessica Vest and many more.
While Clark’s goal is to make it to the top levels of softball, if she doesn’t, the Breakthrough Series showed her other avenues to stay involved with the sport.
“Even if softball doesn’t take me far,” Clark said, “with the knowledge I have I can show other people and kids younger than me how to be better than what they are.”
That is the type of attitude that really got Finch and her fellow instructors excited about the future of the sport.
“I love seeing just the raw talent, full of hunger. I mean, these kids, they want more, and they want to pick our brains,” Finch said. “And, yes, it’s about softball, but it’s way bigger than that. It’s about life. It’s the lessons that softball brings and sport brings from discipline, teamwork, leadership, all of those things that they’re learning.”
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with Eyeamtruth.com