How One Local Girl Is Changing the Game for Girls in Baseball
By Cassandra Irving / Photos by Chris Cabral
Yenna Robson grew up riding her skateboard at Port Credit’s skateboard park, enjoying family breakfasts at the Sunset Grill and eating ice cream with her family at Scoop’s. She also grew up going to a local summer baseball camp where she learned how to throw a fastball and hit line drives. By the time she was 7, she had earned a spot in the Mississauga Twins youth baseball organization and has been playing with them ever since.
“I remember in my first tryout for the team, Coach told me to go to the pitcher's mound, so I did. He threw me a pop fly, and I put my glove above my head but I couldn’t see the ball. I moved my glove to see and the ball hit me right in the face.” Bleeding, Yenna waited for the coach to approach her at the mound and then asked him if she made team.
“Yes,” he answered, definitive and impressed.
Smiling as she recounts the experience, Yenna says that was the moment she knew the hardships she would face in the sport were “totally worth it.”
Yenna currently plays for the Twins AAA rep team whose coaching staff includes a former catcher in the Toronto Blue Jays organization as well as four NCAA baseball players. Under their leadership, Yenna and the Twins travelled to Cooperstown, New York this summer for the week-long all-star tournament where she pitched two incredible games and hit a home run. She was also a starting pitcher at the team’s tournament in Phoenix, Arizona in November.
It is not only her talent that is getting her noticed, but also her grit. During play-offs, she was struck in the face by a pitch. She had just gotten braces and the pain and shock of the cold metal ripping into the inside of her cheek forced her to her knees. But only for a moment. Before the crowd knew it, she was back on her feet and taking her base. When the umpire called the end of the game a few minutes later, her team flooded the field with cheers and high-fives for her.
“My teammates are very important to me. They have supported me, given me advice and helped me with the struggles I have on the field; they are always pushing me to be a better player,” says Yenna of the boys and girls she has played with over the years, adding, “They have been amazing, and I am grateful.”
Despite Yenna’s talent and tenacity, she is entering a stage in the game when most girls no longer have the opportunity to play. "Baseball is the only sport where we've allowed the equivalent for women to be something totally different...No one was telling Serena Williams to play ping pong," said Malaika Underwood, veteran infielder for USA Baseball's National Women's Team in an article feaured on SBNation.
“Baseball is the only sport where we’ve allowed the equivalent for women to be something totally different. . .No one was telling Serena Williams to play ping pong.”
- Malaika Underwood,
USA Baseball National Women’s Team
“There are a lot of development opportunities for girls at the tee-ball, house league and rep level and some are even able to play in high school either on boy’s teams or with organizations like the Royal York Girls Baseball League or the Ontario Women’s Baseball League. However, if you skip ahead a few years to college, the sport ends for them,” explains Mike Irving, Head Coach of the Mississauga Twins U14 team that Yenna plays for and founder of BatterUpBaseball.ca., which is Canada’s largest youth baseball school and has its office in Port Credit.
Coach Mike says that while there are opportunities for women to play nationally and professionally, the system is failing girls at the college level as there are no baseball teams for young women, only softball teams.
“Since there are no scholarship opportunities or playing opportunities to move into, our best female baseball players find themselves forced to either make an unrealistic jump to the pros or give up the sport. Meanwhile, their male counterparts are able to move forward with their teams, earn athletic scholarships and realize their full potential as players,” Coach Mike explains.
Since there are no baseball opportunities for girls in university, most young women reluctantly make the switch to softball in high school or drop out altogether.
Yenna has done other sports along the way, like hockey and taekwondo, but says she’s built a lot of equity in baseball and doesn’t plan to make a change just when she is hitting her stride as a player. Between the comradery she’s developed over the years with her team (most of whom will be attending Lorne Park next year as they have a Sports Major program) as well the credibility and status she’s built with her coaches and her enjoyment of the game itself, both her and her parents have decided that she will continue. “I have always found baseball fun and mentally challenging—it is an incredible sport for me.”
“We need to start the conversation about women’s college baseball so the development track for girls and women is complete, from tee ball to high school to college to the pros,” says Coach Mike. “The first step is to raise awareness of how talented these girl’s baseball players are and how many of them there are out there. The next step is to innovate the sport by launching college women’s baseball teams and connecting young women with the same scholarships offered to boys.”
Though the necessary changes to the system may still be years in the making, Yenna says she wants to keep playing. It is a risk since softball scholarships are lucrative and now would be the time to make the change, but she is determined to stick with the sport she loves, keep working hard and stay hopeful that the opportunities will be there for her in baseball by the time she starts applying to university.
“I think it’s important for people to know that it’s not easy being a girl that plays baseball. There are a lot of struggles and it’s really hard to get past them, but as long as I have the support of my team, family and friends, I know I’m going to be alright,” says Yenna, adding, “I hope that I can play baseball for a really long time because, personally, I’m not a fan of softball. And, I want a chance in the big leagues!”