While women’s baseball is generally played the same as the men’s game, some differences do remain.
Women use aluminum bats, rather than wood, and they can’t throw the ball as hard as men do, so pitching is a huge part of the sport. The same type of pitches (fastball, curveball, and change-up) are used in women’s baseball but the ball has to be located low in the strike zone in order to have success.
Right-hander Autumn Mills, a pitcher and outfielder for the Canadian national team, knows that first hand.
“Location is really important,” said Mills. “Keeping the ball low in order to get ground balls or strikeouts is key because if you leave the ball high over the plate an aluminum bat doesn’t even have to swing that hard, if it hits the sweet spot it’s going to go.
“I’d say the average pitcher throws in the mid-70’s so we’re not about to overpower anybody with a fastball. Being able to hit your spots, depending on the batter’s stance or the situation on the diamond, is really important.”
Another factor to success in pitching is endurance on the mound, something that is not easy for all girls, according to pitching coach Christian Chénard.
“On average, girls throw 50-60 pitches before you see a decrease in their performance,” said Chénard. “But we do have some pitchers on the national team that can exceed that limit without affecting their performance.”
Although pitching is different in the women’s game, the field dimensions are the same as what the men play with. The bases are 90 feet apart, the mound is 60 feet and six inches from the plate, and there are the same nine positions on the field.
Growing up with the boys
Girls who want to get into playing baseball have to come up playing against boys, as there aren’t any all-girls leagues for those under the age of 14.
Mills grew up competing against boys until she was 15 and was noticed by the Canadian national team. She believes the experience she got from facing them gave her a leg up on her female counterparts.
“Because I started pitching with the boys at a fairly young age, I had that competitive advantage when I made the switch to girls’ baseball and because my arm is my strongest part of my game, it wasn’t difficult for me to establish myself as a pitcher,” said Mills, who works as a police officer when not on the mound.
“The more I coached and played, I understood how beneficial a strong mental game is as well as how much strategy is involved in the sport and being able to utilize those factors is what sets you apart from the next person with a good arm.”
André Lachance, head coach of the Canadian women’s national team, has also seen how beneficial it has been for girls to compete against boys.
“Baseball’s getting more popular and now you see girls’ teams playing in boys’ leagues,” said Lachance. “So they get the social aspect of playing with their friends and at the same time they’re getting good competition … that’s becoming really popular and we are seeing a lot of positives.”
Growth of the Sport in Canada
This summer will be a historic one for women’s baseball in Canada, as it has finally been added to the Pan American Games for the first time.
The opportunity to showcase the women’s game on home soil and to potentially medal is something the national team is looking forward to.
“Going to the World Cup is one thing but going to a first multi-sport games means a lot to those athletes because they’ve been working hard over the years trying to make sure women’s baseball is recognized not only here in Canada but around the world as well,” said Lachance.
“Of course, competing for a gold medal in the Pan Ams means a lot and to be able to do that in front of our family and friends is also great, so we’re looking forward to it.”
Aside from the Pan Ams, another way that women’s baseball is gaining interest here in Canada is with the girls’ day clinics that the Toronto Blue Jays Academy hosts that are sponsored by the women’s national team. They are held in Toronto, Halifax, and Saint John’s for girls between the ages of six and 16 and focus on baseball fundamentals such as throwing, batting, fielding and base running.
Lachance believes that those clinics and the program that the national team runs for girls over the age of 14 have been tremendous in developing the growth of the game and the players.
“The Blue Jays are helping out a lot with their girls’ day camp that they’re running across Canada and it has really been helping over the course of the year,” said Lachance. “When the girls get to the ages of 14, 15, 16, we do have an annual camp that we host and play Cuba at every year.
“The athletes get exposed to the national team program and to other athletes that are part of the program and then they can also see what’s required to play at that level.
“It has been helping the development of the game and at the same time helps create awareness that there are opportunities at the next level and it’s just a matter of seeing if there is a fit for the athlete.”
Lachance also believes that if women’s baseball stays in the Pan Am Games, interest in the sport will only grow.
“There’s no doubt that the interest will get better,” said Lachance. “Especially with the fact that there are now aspirations to go the Pan Am Games.
“That means a lot for those girls and I’m thinking it’s only the beginning and we’ll continue working hard to offer them as many opportunities as possible.”