Shaler 5th-grader Hartz leads way for girls in baseball
Jocelyn Hartz hopes to see herself as an ambassador in the game of baseball.
The rising fifth grader at Shaler Elementary is the lone female in the Core Athletics baseball program at the Pittsburgh Indoor Sports Arena in Cheswick.
“I am comfortable playing on the same team with all of the boys, and they have always accepted me,” said Hartz, who began playing baseball four years ago.
“I feel like I fit in more with my (baseball) team. I feel like am just one of the boys playing baseball. There’s not a lot of difference between baseball and softball except in baseball, the ball is smaller and it’s a different color.”
Next week, Hartz, 10, will have the opportunity to test her mettle in the sport and unite with some of the top girls players in the U.S. and internationally at the Baseball For All national tournament in Rockford, Ill.
The event, set for Aug. 2 to 5, will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, and more than 250 girls are set to take part in games for age divisions 11U, 13U, 14U and 18U.
“I am really excited. I felt nervous at first, but now I am pumped,” Hartz said. “I can’t wait to meet my teammates, trade stories with them and play games out there. I really want to hear how girls from around the country have connected into baseball.”
Hartz is a “free agent” and will join a team out of The Bronx, N.Y., assembled for the Baseball For All tournament. The New York City Wonders 11U squad will have players from New York and New Jersey as well as a player from Alaska.
“This is an outstanding opportunity for her and for the expansion of baseball,” said Chris Bardakos, player development director for baseball at Core Athletics. “We would love nothing more than a team of young ladies like Jocelyn with her work ethic and her passion really take hold here in western Pennsylvania and compete.”
Baseball For All’s mission statement includes its desire to “foster, encourage and provide opportunities for girls to participate in baseball.”
The organization provides resources to help teach players, parents and supporters to start girls teams, leagues and tournaments where they live.
“It’s always wonderful to see these girls all play together and against each other,” said Justine Siegal, the founder and executive director of Baseball For All. “Some of these girls are the only girls in their leagues. For this tournament, they get to look to their left and right and see girls who have the same passion for baseball.”
Siegal became the first female coach of a professional men’s baseball team when, in 2009, she joined the Brockton Rox organization in the independent Canadian American Association of Professional Baseball as its first base coach.
The opening ceremonies will be Aug. 2 at Beyer Stadium, home of the AAGPBL’s Rockford Peaches, who played in the league from 1943-54. The AAGPBL was featured in the 1992 movie “A League of Their Own” directed by Penny Marshall.
Members of the Rockford team will be on hand for the national tournament, as will girls who play baseball at the high school level and women who have umpired MLB spring training games.
Oz Sailors, who captained her University of Maine at Presque Isle men’s baseball team and became a member of the U.S. Women’s Baseball national team at the age of 17 in 2010, will run a clinic as part of the national event.
“Baseball For All is as much of a community as it is a playing opportunity,” Siegal said. “It helps inspire them to keep playing for years when others tell them to quit.”
Hartz said she is pleased with the way she has progressed since she started.
“I had a coach who pitched fastpitch (softball) for me at a clinic, and she told me to go to baseball because it will help me get used to the speed of the pitches for fastpitch,” said Hartz, who dreams to one day play for the Pirates, her favorite team. “I went to play baseball with my cousin, and he really helped me get comfortable with playing. After I started playing, I didn’t want to stop (playing baseball). My coach was proud of me and told me I could keep on playing if I wanted.”
Hartz’s current coach, Core Athletics instructor Michael Manning, said she always shows leadership, patience, confidence and an overall understanding of the game, both on and off the field.
“I’ve seen her hit baseballs pretty far, and she’s developed into a pretty good fielder at first base,” said Manning, a former pitcher in the Cleveland Indians organization.
“She’s definitely emerged as a leader for her team. Over the course of time, she just became so much a part of the team. She is a baseball player, first and foremost, not just a girl who happens to play baseball. The boys on her team understand that and respect that. I’ve never seen or heard anything different from that.”
Hartz said she would love to someday soon be a part of an all-girls baseball team to represent Pittsburgh. She hopes she can be one example for other area girls who might want to take a chance on the sport.
“I hope that more girls want to play in the future,” Hartz said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-388-5825, email@example.com or via Twitter @MLove_Trib.