Stephenson is the anchor of Canada’s women’s team
* Ashley Stephenson (Burlington, Ont.) is headed for her fifth Women’s Baseball World Cup in Edmonton ….
By Alexis Brudnicki
Do you ever wonder what baseball players write under the brim of their hats?
Some have inspirational words or meaningful phrases, others have names; while several have numbers.
Ashley Stephenson always has two names written inside each of her ball caps.
“My dad was really instrumental in my life and my grandma as well, so in the beak of my hat I always put my number, in case I lose it, and then I always put on one side, ‘Dad’ and on the other side, ‘Grams,’ to remember the people who’ve helped me get there,” the 29-year-old said.
Stephenson has added those names to a new ball cap this week, as she and the rest of the women’s national team are in Alberta preparing for the upcoming Women’s Baseball World Cup in Edmonton.
Though her father passed more than two decades ago, the Mississauga native keeps him in her mind whenever she is playing.
“My dad introduced me to t-ball when I was only four years old,” Stephenson said. “I used to play out in the park by my house or in the backyard, all the time with him. He’s one of the reasons I love baseball. He introduced me to it and I often think that he’s watching and enjoying it.
“But I put his name in my hat as a little bit of a reminder that even when maybe a game is going tough that things aren’t so bad. I’m still playing baseball and loving it.”
Team Canada’s third baseman is still playing for the national squad, and has been since it formed in 2004. The tournament in August will also mark an impressive fifth World Cup competition for Stephenson. The sport is a source of national pride, competition and enjoyment now, but baseball was once an escape.
“My dad actually died when I was very young,” she said. “I was only eight years old and I played baseball and hockey at a really competitive level and for me it was a nice outlet. It was always somewhere I could go and just be like everybody else. I could be with my teammates and have fun and forget about other things that might be going on that might be tough.
“I love the competitiveness of the game, I love the skill that it takes, I love being with my teammates; things like that, and I think getting kids involved with baseball or any sport at such a young age is fantastic, teaching dedication and teamwork and things like that.
“For me, I’ve learned all kinds of skills but the best thing was when I was young it was an outlet for me. It was somewhere I could be successful; somewhere I could have fun and be like everybody else and forget other things that were tough at the time.”
Stephenson is a vocal advocate for getting children into sports at a young age. During her segment of a Public Service Announcement promoting youth baseball, which was put together by the Toronto Blue Jays and Baseball Canada and also featured Brett Lawrie, Justin Morneau and John Axford, Stephenson made sure she acknowledged the young athletes who play just because they enjoy the game.
“The honour to compete for your country is unbelievable,” she said. “But I understand that a lot of athletes won’t ever get to that point and I don’t want to forget about the athletes who play because it’s fun to play and not because they want a scholarship or not because they want to play for their country.
“It’s a huge honour and it’s fantastic but not everybody wants to do that. I think we often forget about having kids play for the sake of playing and how important it is to make friends and learn life skills by playing the game.
“Even though the guys [in the PSA] talked about what an honour it is to wear ‘Canada’ on their jersey – and I’m as honoured, if not more – but I want to encourage as many people to play baseball and to play sports and to stay active.”
Stephenson was incredibly proud to take part in the commercial promoting amateur baseball in Canada, and to be the female face among the athletes.
“I was honoured that they asked me and I really enjoyed that opportunity,” she said. “I really hope that we continue to do things with the Blue Jays and with Baseball Canada to promote female baseball. I think a lot of people see that [PSA].
“I’m a high school teacher and I have students coming up to me regularly saying, ‘I went to the Jays game and I saw you on the Jumbotron,’ so people do notice it. I think it’s important just to get it out there.”
Stephenson teaches at Nelson High School in Burlington, also coaching field hockey and boys’ ice hockey for the school. While taking time off for events like the World Cup can be an issue for some of the women playing, Stephenson’s school board is happy to assist her, and proud of the role model they have in the young teacher.
“My principal, Jacqueline Newton, is extremely fantastic,” the infielder said. “She’s always a huge supporter and enjoys having positive female role models, especially in athletics, so she is always more than willing to contact the board and put in a good word. They’re very good.”
While in Alberta, Stephenson will have the support of her students and fans at home. She and the rest of Team Canada will also have the advantage of playing on home soil, and they are hoping to impress the Canadian crowd.
“Playing in front of your home country is awesome,” she said. “It was fantastic in ’04 [when the tournament was also in Edmonton], so we’re hoping for big things again this year … You always know that you’ve got someone behind you. It’s like the 10th player on the field. That’s nice. I like that.”