The 2022 Women's Invitational Tournament was this weekend in Stonewall, MB. Teams from across the country came together to compete during a week full of exciting baseball.
“We had two great fields to play on and I think athletes [and coaches] were just so happy to be back.” explained Ashley Stephenson, former Baseball Canada Women’s National Team star and now Manager of said team.
Team Manitoba at the 2022 Women's Invitational Tournament in Stonewall, MB. Photo Credit: Darryl Gershman Photography
This event was the largest Women's National event yet, with nine teams competing.
“The addition of Manitoba and Saskatchewan at the Senior Women’s level was huge for us.” said Stephenson, who has committed her career to the growth of female athletes within baseball and hockey.
During the tournament, Stephenson and the rest of the coaching staff selected twenty athletes for the Women's National Team. This team is compiled of talented athletes from across Canada, one of which is Manitoba's own Zoe Hicks.
The Women's National Team on their way to Thunder Bay, ON. Photo Credit @BaseballCANWMT
"At least one player from all nine teams that [attended the Women’s Invitational Tournament] have been selected to represent Canada at the Friendship Series.” said Stephenson.
“Unfortunately, this is a little bit of a tough year for us.”
The Women's National Team was originally scheduled to compete in a Qualifier that is currently still happening in Venezuela, but due to safety concerns, Baseball Canada’s and USA Baseball’s governing bodies deemed it unsafe for teams to travel to the event.
“We no longer have an embassy there, they’ve removed it from a political standpoint.” explained Stephenson, "but we are hoping to get an exemption into next year’s Qualifier.”
This change of plans led to the organization of the Friendship Series.
“After [the Friendship Series] we’re kind of in a ‘wait-and-see period’, said Stephenson, "we might have to [compete later this summer or in the fall] to prove that we can get into next year’s Qualifier.”
Despite the team's busy schedule, we were lucky enough to host a Girl's Baseball Session run by Stephenson and the rest of the team for our young female athletes.
The Girl's Baseball session occurred on July 25, 2022, at Shaw Park. The event was right after the 2022 Women’s National Championships and right before the Women’s National Team left for Thunder Bay, ON.
Stephenson instructing a group of young female athletes during the Girl's Baseball Session at Shaw Park.
This session was in partnership with Baseball Canada, and the goal of the event was to expose youth female athletes to the Women’s National Team to inspire them to continue a pathway in baseball.
“[Baseball] is great for everybody, but the impact it has on females, especially females who are under-resourced, is absolutely massive.” said Stephenson.
Playing a sport like baseball can help young athletes build and develop important skills like leadership and working within a team.
Stephenson talks with a young athlete as the group works through a dynamic warmup.
“We try to not just say [we support female athletes] but to prove it through our actions,” said Stephenson.
The session was an intro clinic for female athletes in Manitoba. 40 female athletes signed up for the event, but the team would’ve run the event no matter what the registration numbers were. To Stephenson, this event was important for two reasons:
Two National Women's Team athletes and a participant during a scrimmage.
‘Firstly, lots of people don’t know our program exists, so some visibility for it is nice.” she explained. “And secondly, the most important reason, this is an opportunity for girls to play baseball and not be forced to play softball.”
Softball is a great sport with many benefits, but it is important that girls have the option to play baseball and not be forced into softball because they don’t feel as if they belong in baseball due to their gender.
The group gathers in the outfield of Shaw Park during the session.
Not only is it important to Baseball Canada, but it is also important to all of us at Baseball Manitoba that we are inclusive to all and that we can prove our baseball community is a safe space for everyone to join.
Ashley explains that the purpose of this session is to show young female athletes what they’re capable of, and mentions Billie Jean King as a source of inspiration.
“[Billie Jean King] always talks about ‘if you can see it you can be it.’"
A participant catching a fly ball during a drill.
“If this is just a great experience for [participants] today where they see other women that look like them and do things that they like to do and see that there are other girls who do the same things, that’s perfect. It's those little things that matter”
We at Baseball Manitoba have multiple all-female provincial teams, our 14U, 16U, and 21U/Senior Women's teams, but we know many of our female athletes compete on teams alongside and against male athletes.
"I grew up and I played baseball with boys primarily" explains Stephenson, "and even now we have an all-girl team but we compete against boys because there are not enough girls to play."
Stephenson had some great advice for any young female athletes who may feel too intimidated to start.
“There are so many people [within the baseball community] that will be really welcoming, and you just don’t necessarily know because you’re a little bit intimidated because you’re the only [girl].”
A group of participants listen intently as an instructor explains the next drill.
Sport offers many great opportunities for individuals to move outside of their comfort zones. Joining a new sport is not without its challenges, but Stephenson herself has met many great allies over the years in sport because she wasn't afraid to join the team.
“When I put myself on the field I don’t like saying I’m ‘one of the guys', I’m not one of the guys, I’m just another player who loves to play baseball.”
All of us at Baseball Manitoba want to thank Ashley Stephenson and the rest of the Women's National Team for helping us put on such a great event, and we wish them the best of luck in Thunder Bay! We hope all participants enjoyed the Girls Baseball Session, and we hope to see everyone out on the field next season!
A group photo of all participants and instructors at Shaw Park.