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Batter up! The BASE launches girls’ baseball program

Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson is a Boston-based freelance journalist covering urban/social issues and policy. VIEW BIO
Batter up! The BASE launches girls’ baseball program
Batter up during girls’ softball practice at The BASE. The Roxbury-based nonprofit will soon begin offering girls’ baseball. (Photo: Sandra Larson)

A Boston nonprofit known for combining baseball training and competition with academic and life skills support for boys has launched a new girls’ baseball program.

The BASE, headquartered in Roxbury, started with a focus on boys. Founded in 2013 by Robert Lewis Jr. as an evolution of the longstanding Boston Astros team, The BASE’s vision statement includes “combining sports and academic opportunities to transform the lives of black and Latino boys.” In late 2014, a girls’ softball program was added, growing quickly to 200 participants. But The BASE’s core program remains baseball — and now baseball is for girls, too.

“We had the softball program, but we found that girls didn’t have many opportunities for baseball, after Little League,” said Linda Antonucci, manager of girls’ baseball operations at The BASE. “I see this as something that is going to get so big — there’s really no one in the country doing girls’ urban baseball.”

According to the national nonprofit Baseball for All, more than 100,000 girls play youth baseball in the U.S., but only 1,000 girls play high school baseball, despite the Title IX law that gave girls the right to try out for any sports team that uses public resources.

“There are still schools and leagues that don’t allow girls to try out,” said Justine Siegel, Baseball for All’s founder and the first woman to coach a major league baseball team. “We have a cultural myth that boys play baseball and girls play softball. [But] once girls are told baseball is for them, they’re interested in playing.”

On the web

The BASE: http://www.thebase.org

Baseball for All: http://www.baseball forall.com

All-American Girls Professional Baseball League: http://www.aagpbl.org

Gearing up

The BASE’s new program is still in the recruiting stage. This first year, the program will be an “instructional league,” Antonucci said, focusing on teaching girls how to play and acquainting them with The BASE’s activities and culture.

On a recent Tuesday evening, The BASE’s two indoor batting cages hummed with activity during girls-only batting practice. One after another, girls in the softball program stepped up to take a turn, swinging the bat to pound a bucket of softballs to the far wall. If all goes well, the girls’ baseball practice sessions will reach this level, too, said operations manager Karla Aguilar, who will be assisting and coaching in the girls’ baseball program. As girls sign up, they’ll attend their own baseball instruction and practice sessions on Wednesdays.

Down a hallway, the scene changed to academic discipline. All ballplayers are expected to spend 30 minutes doing homework before they hit the batting cages after school, Aguilar explained. Young people just arriving chatted and sat down at tables to do homework; three teen boys listened as an instructor from the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology presented slides for a political science class that can earn the teens college credit. Shelves along the wall hold stacks of college and SAT prep guides.

Open seven days a week, The BASE’s headquarters offers a welcoming space that keeps teens engaged with each other and with adults.

“The BASE is my second family,” said Jalicia Morgan, 18, a Boston Community Leadership Academy senior who started in The BASE’s softball program a year ago. “I come here almost every day. Even when we don’t have practice, I come and talk to the staff, do homework.”

Morgan will be entering Wentworth Institute of Technology this fall with plans to study civil engineering. While she didn’t have a chance to try baseball at The BASE, she is excited to say that her 11-year-old sister is joining the new program.

The BASE Founder and President, Robert Lewis Jr. has been involved in baseball for 38 years. He said plans for a girls’ program were sparked last year when young women began voicing interest in baseball and wondering why they had so few chances to play after Little League.

Now, he said, “The girls are saying, ‘We want to make sure we get the same training as the boys. Are you getting us ready to be champions?’”

And indeed, the girls will receive everything the boys do, “from coaches to equipment, training, conditioning, uniforms, play and travel to national tournaments,” Lewis said.

The new girls’ program was announced at a fall 2015 gala, with excitement heightened by the presence of two pioneers of women’s professional baseball, Maybelle Blair and Shirley Burkovich. The two spoke of their days in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in the mid-20th century, the era that was the basis for the film, “A League of Their Own.”

In addition, Lewis noted, The BASE’s new Women’s Leadership Council — co-chaired by Janelle Woods-McNish, Director of Giving and Service at Harvard Pilgrim HealthCare Foundation and Darla Pires DeGrace, Boston Chapter President of the National Black MBA Association, along with BASE Board Member Danny Levy, Massport’s director of strategic communications and marketing — will be an important force in raising money and providing girls mentorship and connections.

Recruiting for girls’ baseball is still in full swing; interested girls and their families can learn more by contacting Linda Antonucci or Karla Aguilar at 617-606-7137, by visiting The BASE’s website, www.thebase.org, or by emailing info@thebase.org.