Major League Baseball held its third annual Girls Baseball Trailblazer Series last weekend in Compton, Calif., an event designed to promote girls’ participation in America’s national pastime.
Of the 96 participants from 21 states, Canada and Puerto Rico, Shy’Asia Ratliff was the only player chosen from either of the Carolinas.
She doesn’t consider herself a trailblazer, though.
As far as the 13-year-old Bladen County resident is concerned, she’s just another kid having a good time playing ball.
Who just happens to be a girl.
“People look at me weird sometimes, but it doesn’t matter to me,” Ratliff said. “I just like to go out and play.”
Ratliff has been playing baseball against the boys since she was 5 and according to her father James and her current coach Ramon Johnson, she has been the best player on her team ever since.
Although she also competes against the girls as a member of the softball team at Clarkton School of Discovery, the seventh-grader also plays baseball on the Carolina Elite travel team, oftentimes going from one practice to another.
“It’s not hard,” she said of the transition. “If you can hit, you can hit.”
Ratliff’s goal is to one day take her cuts as the first female player in the major leagues.
Though still very much a longshot, that aspiration became one step closer to reality last weekend.
Not only did she get to test her skills on the diamond in three games against other talented girls her age from around the country, she also benefited from the instruction of top female coaches and members of the USA Baseball Women’s National Team. The players also met several members of the original All-American Girls Baseball League made famous in the movie “A League of Their Own” and took a side trip to Dodger Stadium to see a major league game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Milwaukee Brewers.
It was an experience her travel coach said could help raise her game to an even higher level than it’s at now.
“Everything was first class,” said Johnson, who nominated Ratliff for the Trailblazer Series through his association with the North Carolina-based USA Baseball. “They did evaluations and got assigned to teams on Thursday, then got their jerseys, pants, cleats and everything. Friday and Saturday were game days.
Ratliff’s team won two of its three games with the local youngster amassing four hits, including a double, in six official plate appearances while splitting time between first and third base. She also pitched a perfect inning on the mound.
While Johnson estimated that her fastball is already up in the low 80s, Ratliff said she prefers being at first because “I get the ball more when I’m playing there.”
Her father, who made the trip to California with her, said that baseball has always come naturally to his daughter.
“It was something I saw real early,” James Ratliff said. “She can get out there and play with the best of the best and hold her own way. I’ve seen her strike out plenty of boys.”
That hasn’t always gone over well. But even though she still gets some of those “weird looks,” from opposing players, coaches and parents when she and her teammates arrive at a tournament, Ratliff has been on the USSSA travel circuit long enough now that most people know who she is and have learned to respect both her talent and tenacity.
“When she plays in North or South Carolina, most people recognize her,” Johnson said. “Now she’s getting national and other people are getting to know her now that she’s connected with MLB and USA Baseball.
“She wears her hair long now so they know she’s a girl right away. At first, she wore it in braids and people didn’t know it right away. They were like, ‘That’s a girl?’ They were astonished because they’re not used to seeing girls play like that. She’s always been the most dominant player on our team.”
James Ratliff is hoping his daughter made enough of an impression to be invited to MLB’s Breakthrough Series for older girls up to high school age next year in Vero Beach, Fla.
Shy’Asia isn’t thinking that far ahead.
Instead of being a trailblazer or making breakthroughs as a girl competing against the boys, she’s satisfied with being just another kid having a good time playing ball.