As more women play college baseball in US, this Lyndhurst teen is making history at home
It was her sophomore year in high school, and the starting catcher was taken out of the game after an injury. As the backup, Jorge stepped in behind the plate and took over for the otherwise all-male Lyndhurst Golden Bears.
She did well, even scored a few runs. After the game the coach handed her the team’s coveted wrestler’s belt, an award given to the game’s most valuable player.
“It was like, now this is what the standards are and this is where I belong,” she said. “It felt good.”
It’s such moments that 17-year-old Jorge will miss about high school baseball. But such moments also prepared her for the next chapter of her baseball career — playing in college for St. Elizabeth University in Florham Park.
This fall, Jorge will join an exclusive group as one of the first women to play college baseball in New Jersey and the United States. And as she paves the way for women in her home state, Jorge is also part of a growing class of female athletes who are stepping up to the plate at colleges across the country.
There’s a growing visibility surrounding women in all aspects of baseball — such trailblazers as North Jersey native Kim Ng, who was named the general manger of the Miami Marlins in a historic appointment last year, and Rachel Balkovec, who on Sunday became the first woman to coach in an MLB All-Star Futures Game, have become household names.
Across the country, there is also a movement to lift the ceiling for girls and women who want to play at the highest level. Baseball for All, a nonprofit that helps grow opportunities for girls to play, coach and lead in the sport, is navigating that route on two fronts — by increasing opportunities for collegiate co-ed play nationwide, and pushing for women’s baseball to become its own NCAA-sanctioned sport.
That means supporting co-ed opportunities at the college level, such as having women like Jorge join existing collegiate baseball teams. It also means creating a network of college club baseball teams for women that can compete against each other.
Although the number of women playing college baseball is low, it’s growing. There are currently six women playing college baseball, with two more expected to join those ranks next year, according to Siegal.
“We are now getting colleges asking us if we have any women who would be interested in their program, and that just didn’t exist three years ago,” Siegal said. “There’s definitely an upward trend of colleges wanting to find the best players and now realizing there’s a whole new market of players that they could be tapping into.”
In August, Baseball for All will host its first Women’s College Baseball Invitational, a two-day tournament at Centenary University in Hackettstown for rising high school seniors and current college students. The event, they hope, will help continue openings for women who want to play.
For girls and young women in baseball, playing can be an uphill battle that gets steeper the older you get.
First, there’s the stigma that baseball is for boys. There’s also the societal pressure placed on girls to switch over to softball, which can be tempting considering the much more structured path toward athletic scholarships.
But Jorge, the Lyndhurst catcher who will be playing for St. Elizabeth University, never doubted that she would play in high school — and then college.
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When Jorge plays, it’s hard to tell she is the only girl on the field. She is shorter than most of her teammates, and her shoulder-length hair falls past her helmet and catcher’s mask. Regardless, she is one of the leaders on the field. As a catcher, she yells instructions and positions players in the outfield. She has no issue throwing to second base, and warms up with the starting pitcher on the sideline like any other player would.
“She’s by far the youngest player on the team and she comes in, and she steps up,” Fitzgerald said. “She catches bullpens. She picks up equipment. She does everything that a leader would do.
“And that’s the same thing on the field,” he said. “She’s a catcher so she is the leader of the infield and a leader of the field behind the plate.”
Jorge is clearly talented. At age 16, she became a member of the USA Baseball Women’s National Team. In 2019, she was on the team that won gold at the Women’s Pan-American Championships in Mexico. Jorge would have played with the team in the Women’s World Cup last summer had it not been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s only natural that Jorge would keep playing in college.
“Lex isn’t trying to break any kind of female-male sports college baseball barriers. She just purely loves the game of baseball better than softball,” Fitzgerald said. “She doesn’t play because she’s a girl. She doesn’t not play because she’s a girl. She’s on the team because she is a valuable asset.”
‘It’s bigger than me’
For Jorge, playing in college is about more than baseball. It’s about opening the door so other girls and young women who want to play baseball will follow.
Whenever she sees a girl playing in Little League, where she got her start, she makes every effort to start a conversation. She wants the players to know that they can play baseball, like she did — even through college.
“I really think the more girls that go out and show college baseball programs that they can play, the better obviously for younger generations so they know that It’s possible,” Jorge said. “I think it’s really important. It’s not just for me. Yeah, I’ve always wanted to play college baseball — but it’s going to influence so many other people. It’s bigger than me.”
At a recent high school game in May, Brian Glasser and his 10-year-old daughter Olivia were in the stands watching Jorge play. Glasser said his daughter met Jorge about four years ago during a baseball camp the local high school team runs. Olivia was immediately drawn to Jorge, he said.
“Ever since [Olivia] knew that Alexia played baseball and she watched her, she looks up to her,” Glasser said. “She’s been a great role model telling Olivia to keep with school and her grades, and to not to get discouraged if anybody says any comments or anything about her playing baseball.”