Analy High junior Kaija Bazzano gets chance to show her stuff at Major League Baseball expo

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Two days ago, Kaija Bazzano was practicing infield drills with her Analy High School varsity baseball team in Sebastopol.

On Friday, she’ll be playing baseball on the Texas Rangers’ field at Globe Life Park in Arlington.

The high school junior is one of 60 teen girls from North America invited by Major League Baseball to participate in MLB Grit, a showcase event this week for female high school baseball players.

Baseball. Not softball.

The four-day event, hosted by MLB and USA Baseball, begins Thursday at the Texas Rangers’ stadium and is scheduled to coincide with Women’s History Month.

It is designed to help the country’s best female baseball players develop their skills, introduce them to other women in the sport and to allow them an opportunity to play in a big league park.

Bazzano, a middle infielder on Analy’s baseball team and a starting goalkeeper on the girls soccer team, will join Santa Rosa resident Alex Oglesby, a California pioneer in women’s baseball, on the trip.

Oglesby, who played under her maiden name Sickinger, grew up in Pacifica and played in the Ladies Professional Baseball League when it began in 1997. At age 17, she led the San Jose Spitfires to the league’s first World Series championship while winning Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.

She co-founded the California Women’s Baseball League in 2002 and played the next two years with the U.S. national team in the Women’s World Series of Baseball. Her 2004 squad won gold at the Women’s World Cup of Baseball in Canada.

Sickinger married ex-minor leaguer Travis Oglesby, a Santa Rosa native, and the couple is raising two boys here.

Bazzano and Oglesby will be among the elite of women baseball players, including high school girls from the U.S. and Canada, some who competed with Team USA, Team Puerto Rico or Team Canada last year in the Women’s Baseball Cup.

The coaching staff is equally stellar, including pioneering female players and coaches — many of whom played professional women’s baseball — and several former major league players.

“There are going to be a lot of great coaches,” said Bazzano, 16. “It will be a great experience. I’ve heard there will be a lot of (college) scouts there, too.”

Oglesby will help coach one of the four teams made the participants will form.

After positional workouts Thursday morning, the teams will begin a three-day, round-robin tournament, part of which will be on the same field as the Rangers play.

“It will be fun to play in front of people,” Bazzano said. “Playing in that stadium will be a blast.”

Such an event is invaluable for female baseball players to see that there are options to continue to play baseball, not just softball, Oglesby said.

“In addition to on-field activities, they have opportunities to talk to other women who’ve played the sport, either in high school, college or professionally for USA Baseball, and really see what that looks like, to decide, ‘Do I want to continue on this route?’” she said.

“If they’re playing at this level, you know they’re very talented. But so many get pushed to play softball,” Oglesby said, “because school is a factor. That’s a big consideration for these girls. They’ll have the opportunity to talk to people who’ve done that.”

Several young women have played college baseball on men’s teams. Many more switch to softball, including Mo’Ne Davis, the preteen phenom who captured the nation’s attention in 2014 when she was the first girl to earn a win — and pitch a shutout — in the Little League World Series.

So did Melissa Mayeux, a French player who in 2015 became the first female baseball player to be added to MLB’s international registration list, which made her eligible to be signed by a major league club. She is now playing softball at Miami Dade College in Florida.

Oglesby said the MLB Grit event is perfect for Bazzano.

“This is really made to highlight girls like her,” she said. “Who knows who she will talk to who is interested in helping her further her baseball career? She may play in college or with USA Baseball. This can give her insight to where her future will go.”

You can reach staff writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.

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