In seventh grade, Winnetka’s Taylor Daniels was cut from a travel baseball team — not because she lacked talent, coaches told her, but because she was a girl.
Friday night, Daniels stole a base, scored and relayed to throw out a runner at home in a 2-1 victory. But not with that travel team. She’d found a more talented group to play with, at least for the weekend — 60 of the top female high school baseball players in North America, hand-selected by MLB for a player-development event in Dallas.
She’d found a more notable ballpark, too — Globe Life Park, home of the Texas Rangers, who will play host to the Cubs on Opening Day later this month.
“As soon as I got off of the bus with my team, it was the biggest stadium that I’ve ever seen,” she said. “Seeing the field for the first time — all the green grass, the thousands of seats, all the advertisements — it’s just like it is on TV.”
MLB has run several girls baseball events in recent years, but this past weekend was the first edition of the GRIT series, which focuses on both player development — as prior events have — and tournament-style competition, a new twist. Everyone in the group of 60 played in one of two games at the Rangers’ 49,000-seat venue, and then in a tournament the next two days at the Rangers’ youth academy facility.
Daniels, a sophomore at New Trier, and Trevians classmate Lidia Orta were the only Chicago-area representatives in a field that included five participants in the Women’s Baseball Cup last summer. Former MLB players and current and former women’s baseball national team members helped coach, and panelists also talked to the group about potential collegiate and career paths for women in baseball.
“The girls’ baseball focus just fits in with Major League Baseball’s broader goal of participating youth participation in baseball,” said Elizabeth Benn, a youth program coordinator for MLB. “We know that girls play baseball, so of course we’re going to pursue opportunities for them to get more involved. Really the goal is just to provide the girls the option to play whatever sport they want to play.”
For Daniels, now a high school sophomore, that choice was made years ago. Youth baseball was first offered in first grade; softball wasn’t offered until fourth grade. Why wait?
“A lot of my friends, like guys in my class, played baseball,” she said, “and it was something I always wanted to do.”
She was the first girl to make a travel team in Winnetka, and then the first girl to make the New Trier feeder team in middle school.
In high school, Daniels has finally switched to softball, partially because her size made it unlikely she’d be able to progress to the varsity baseball level, and partially because softball offers more college scholarship opportunities. In fact, it offers the only scholarship opportunities: Miami-Ohio is the only university in the nation that offers girls’ baseball, and it’s just a club team.
Daniels remains heavily involved in girls’ baseball, however, attending numerous MLB-hosted events in recent years. And she’s doing what she can in the Chicago area to encourage others to follow her path, fueled by the sting of that seventh-grade discrimination.
“That really inspired me to help build [the sport], so that others won’t have that same experience that I did,” she said. “That winter, I went to talk to local elementary schools to promote girls’ baseball. As a result, that doubled the female participation in our local little league that year, and I coached a team that had as many girls as boys.”
Daniels is now one of 12 high school-aged captains for a non-profit organization called Baseball for All, which aims to increase gender diversity in baseball. She’s also working with the Chicago Baseball and Education Academy to put on a girls’ baseball training event at UIC’s Curtis Granderson Stadium in May. She dreams of one day recreating a modern version of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which played its last season in 1954.
Proud as she is of her trailblazing among boys’ teams, her goal is to eventually make being a girls’ baseball player not newsworthy at all.
“With boys’ baseball, as the only girl on the team, you’re constantly having to prove yourself every single day that you deserve to be out there — you have to be better than all the boys just to be seen as one of them,” Daniels said. “With girls’ baseball, everyone there loves the game and there’s not as much pressure on you. You can enjoy the game more.”