- July 16, 2015
KISSIMMEE — Usually, when Caitlyn Naginey takes the field for a baseball game at Winter Garden Little League, she is “the girl” on the team.
Her teammates probably don’t see it that way. After all, Caitlyn is a bonafide power hitter and ace pitcher for her team, the Rays. And although girls playing Little League baseball is not uncommon, especially at younger ages, the fact is the number of girls who continue to play as they get older does dwindle as many will gravitate toward softball or other sports.
But some continue on — Caitlyn included.
Last week, though, Caitlyn wasn’t “the girl” on the team — or even one of a couple girls on a team.
That’s because Caitlyn joined girls from around Central Florida as a member of the Central Florida Rays to play in an all-girls national baseball tournament — the first of its kind. An event put together by Baseball for All, an organization dedicated to advancing baseball opportunities for girls, the 2015 Baseball for All Nationals brought together teams from all over the country — and one from Canada — for a weeklong tournament.
In addition to the teams and families traveling from across the nation, the event was highlighted by a piece on ESPN. The significance of playing in such a groundbreaking event was something that wasn’t lost on the 13-year-old Bridgewater Middle student.
“It’s fun — we just play and we go compete just as much (as if they were playing with/against boys),” Caitlyn said. “It’s really cool.”
The team representing Central Florida consisted largely of players from Orange, Seminole and Lake counties, with Caitlyn being the only girl from West Orange. Josh DeVinney, the coach of the Rays, is a board member for Baseball for All, along with his wife, Karen. Their daughter, Grace, played alongside Caitlyn, and Josh said the Winter Garden youngster made quite an impression in the month they spent practicing for the tournament.
“She came out, I met (Caitlyn) and, at the first practice, she’s got one of the best personalities I could ever possibly meet,” DeVinney said. “Baseball-wise, she has got a ridiculous amount of potential. … She’s a girl who is throwing absolute gas (as a pitcher).”
DeVinney’s involvement with Baseball for All includes having Grace be a part of an all-girls team that made headlines for winning a boys tournament in California last year. Although many of the girls take pride in playing with — and beating — the boys, he said part of the significance of the tournament was in showing the girls who love the game that they’re not alone.
“It allows them a chance to come out and play with other girls,” DeVinney said. “They’re not just ‘the girl’ on the team with the boys. It’s a welcoming environment — the girls go out there, they play baseball, they take pictures after the game, and it’s fantastic.”
Caitlyn’s team made it all the way to the championship game but fell to the Carolina Terminators. That game will still be memorable for the Naginey family, though. Caitlyn belted a home run that helped fuel a comeback attempt and also pitched well.
Other highlights for Caitlyn, who also was juggling playing in the District 14 Top Team Tournament during that week — a week that saw one day where she played three games (and loved it) — include meeting some of the women who played in the women’s professional baseball league made famous by the movie “A League of Their Own.”
“It was cool — they have really good stories about (the league and their experiences),” Caitlyn said.
Caitlyn’s biggest supporter is probably her mother, Tambria Naginey, who coaches Caitlyn’s team at Winter Garden Little League — although brothers Cody and Dakota might be a close second. Tambria said her daughter, wanting to be like her older brothers, took to the game at a very young age.
“Two years old, I have a picture of her on the bases running the bases. She wanted to play at 4 years old — but she wanted to play (only) if I managed,” Tambria said. “I have no baseball background, whatsoever — I never played an organized sport my life.”
Tambria has learned the game plenty over the years, though, as her daughter has grown into a formidable ballplayer. As a parent, one of the things with which Tambria has had to contend is the pressure to steer her daughter toward softball, where there is a much larger chance of her playing on into college.
“She tried softball pretty much because everyone’s saying, ‘You’ve got to put her in softball to get a scholarship,’” Tambria recalled. “So I got her to be willing to try it, and she tried it and did well. But she came back to baseball and felt it messed up her swing — and we were done (with softball).”
Whether a woman will ever break into the ranks of high-level college baseball or Major League Baseball, as a recent AT&T commercial has depicted, is hard to predict. One of the goals of Baseball for All is to create coed opportunities within the game, as well as more girls-specific teams and leagues.
In the long run, Caitlyn may pursue baseball on into high school, or she may decide to give softball another shot — perhaps lured by the ultra-competitive softball scene in West Orange County.
The important thing to Tambria, though, is that the decision will belong to Caitlyn — and only Caitlyn.
“I’m pretty much going to support her, whatever she chooses to do,” Tambria said. “She has a good academic background, so I’m not really worried about the whole (softball) scholarship aspect anymore. (Baseball) is what makes her happy, and I’ll support her however far she wants to go.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].