Nine-year-old Blakely Olszewski only has been playing baseball for about a year.
But already, she’s one of the best players in Winter Garden.
Most recently, she was selected to be a member of Winter Garden Little League’s 9U All-Star team.
And although she’s the only girl on the team. But don’t make the mistake of thinking she was a novelty pick. She earned her spot — fair and square.
“Our ultimate goal was to find the best 12 baseball players to represent (the league),” said head 9U All-Star division coach Chad Feaster. “We were kind of in that process of checking out what some of the players were and we went and watched one of Blakely’s games.”
What amazed Feaster during the game he saw her play was her determination and how she recovered right away from being taken down by a sliding runner who was trying to steal second base. She was playing shortstop.
“She just popped right back up,” he said. “She went right back into her position, and the very next inning she was one of the first players to hit, and she just ripped a single into the outfield.”
Blakely’s innate determination, discipline and hard work are perfectly suited for competitive ball.
“She is probably one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen,” her dad, Matt Olszewski, said. “We started her off showing her how to hit, how to throw and stuff like that. She’d get home from school, and without me even asking, she’d be in the front yard hitting off a T — practicing hitting, practicing throwing, for hours by herself and with her sisters (Ella and Everly, who also play baseball).”
Blakely said the excitement of the game — and its many challenges — have captivated her.
“You start off not very good, and then you become good,” she said. “I love hitting. The ball is smaller — so it’s harder to hit. I love to see how far you can hit the ball.”
During the 2023 season, Blakely played for the 9-10 Division during the regular season, and in the 9U All-Star division, where she showcased her skills as shortstop and pitcher. In fact, her favorite memory ever, up until today, was when she was able to strike out four hitters in one game.
“It’s fun to strike people out,” she said.
When selecting the 12 best players in the 9U All-Star Division, the coaches weren’t looking for players who had been playing since they were 3 or 4 years old. Instead, they wanted a roster of players who displayed the will to learn and to become a better player every single day.
“It’s one of those things with kids this age,” Feaster said. “It’s a bit of you have it or you don’t. It’s determination. It’s not so much the skill set at this young age. It’s just that she has that desire to constantly get better. And then, on top of that desire to constantly get better, she’s willing to listen to critique and willing to listen to the coaches. She doesn’t think she has all the answers. She’s open to hearing what we have to say and wants to try it … to be the best baseball player she can be.”
Through the season, Blakely went from being a surprise asset for the team to becoming a leader on the field.
“I’m sure some of the parents were saying, ‘What’s she doing out here?’” Matt Olszewski said. “And by the end of the season, all the parents fell in love with her. Everyone wanted her on their team, and it’s been awesome to see how the parents and her teammates just embraced her. And now, she’s not a girl playing baseball. She’s a baseball player, and they all love her.”
Blakely said she will continue to play baseball and has no desire of trying out softball. She believes that if boys can play baseball and play it well, she can do it, too. However, despite being signed up for fall ball, she also is considering other sports as well, such as basketball or tennis.
“That determination of wanting to be the best sometimes is good and sometimes is bad,” Matt Olszewski said. “She’s probably harder on herself than I am. She makes an error or strikes out, and that makes her try that much harder. I try to tell her that’s part of the game, but it’s hard for her to grasp that, because she strives for perfection.”
Staff writer Andrea Mujica covers sports, news and features. She holds both a bachelor's degree in journalism and an MBA from the University of Central Florida. When she’s not on the sidelines, you can find Andrea coaching rowers at the Orlando Area Rowing Society in Windermere.