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WHY NOT BASEBALL, LADIES?

WHY NOT BASEBALL, LADIES?

The growth of women's baseball is undeniable. Québec's Player of the year Alexane Fournier is proof of that.

I’m 48 years old and have played baseball my whole life. During all these years, a question kept popping up in my head every once in a while: “Why don’t we ever hear about women playing baseball?”

For all most people know, the last women to actually play hardball were the ones portrayed in the 1992 classic movie A League of Their Own, featuring Tom Hanks and Madonna, among others.

Elite female sports has made great strides over the last three or four decades. Female tennis stars now make almost as much money as their male counterparts. LPGA golf isn’t too far behind and still growing in popularity. There are now women’s pro leagues in basketball, hockey, volleyball and handball.

But where does baseball figure in all this female sports progress?

Some girls start out playing baseball with the boys, but around age 14 (Bantam level) only the very best female players can still compete with the stronger boys and the majority of girls are forced to switch to Fastpitch (Softball) to get their fix of competitive sports. In fact, Women’s Fastpitch was once an Olympic sport, and as such, the only viable option for female ball players seeking to reach the highest possible level of competition.

Consequently, many girls choose Fastpitch at a young age and never even try baseball. But the recent participation upswing in female baseball across Canada, and especially in Quebec, seems to be driving a veritable culture shift.

Female participation in baseball has exploded, as these numbers show:

 

Growth

(last 10 yrs)

Growth

(last 5 yrs)

Canada

+45.3%

+22.5%

Québec

+76.6%

+47.7%

*Sources: Baseball Canada/Baseball Québec

There are presently 23 046 female baseball players of all ages in Canada, including 3443 in the province of Quebec. To get a better perspective on the state and future of women’s baseball, I went straight to the source. I interviewed one of Baseball Town’s very own, and Baseball Québec’s reigning Female Player of the Year, Alexane Fournier.

AGAINST THE GRAIN

Why did Alexane persevere and resist the common switch to Fastpitch?

“I like that baseball is more competitive. Fastpitch is a little more recreational, they have songs (to cheer teammates on).”

Although the growth of the female game is undeniable, there still aren’t enough elite female players to actually form a league. That leaves women’s provincial teams no other alternative than to play boys’ Midget A and AA teams during the season. Other than playing in those two leagues, Team Québec will compete in two or three tournaments, also against the boys.

Then come the Canadian Championships in August (corona virus crisis permitting), followed by the WBSC (World Baseball Softball Confederation) Championships, scheduled for September 11-20 in Monterrey, Mexico. Yes, the 17 year-old pitcher/short-stop from St-Jean-sur-Richelieu is also a member of the Canadian women’s national team!

You may be surprised to learn that Canada ranks second only to Japan in women’s baseball world rankings!  And the WBSC’S biannual event is another testament to the global growth of the women’s game.

The first ever WBWC (it was then known as the Women’s Baseball World Cup) in 2004 only had 5 teams competing for the title. It has since become a 12-team tournament. Japan has won the last 6 editions, with the USA taking the first two. In fact, the Japanese currently carry a 30-game winning streak at the Worlds. Canada has racked up 2 silver and 4 bronze medals in 8 events.

As for Alexane, her summer will be spent with Team Quebec. She wants to work mostly on her mental game.

“I tend to get down when things don’t go well. You have to keep your head up even if things aren’t going you way, you need to keep a cool head”, adding that she also needs to improve her leg strength. As for the young athlete’s best assets? “I’m a strike-thrower and a good contributor to the team spirit, especially as a short-stop where you are the leader of the infield.”

Let’s keep in mind that Alexane still needs to make Team Canada’s 2020 edition at the selection camp, but I had to ask her what it would take for Canada to beat Japan.

“They are technically better, especially at the plate,” she conceded. “They bunt, they place the ball, instead of going for the fence all the time”, implying that Canada has to adapt and play better small ball, offensively. Alexane believes that the Canadians have more power, throw harder and are superior defensively to the Japanese.

So girls, there’s nothing wrong with Fastpitch, but if you’ve always hesitated to switch or stick with baseball into your teens and beyond, just know that the sport does offer opportunities to compete in world-class events. And it’s only getting better!

If you’re a woman baseball player, a parent or someone with intimate knowledge of the women’s game, we’d love to have your perspective.

Don’t hesitate to post your comments!

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