MUENSTER — Muenster’s Sarah Loehr had an unforgettable time participating in a unique female-focused Major League Baseball program in Florida earlier this month.
The daughter of Melissa and Brent Loehr was one of 96 girls aged 11 to 13 selected for this year’s Trailblazer Series. Centered around Jackie Robinson Day, the event provided the female athletes an all expenses-paid opportunity to play baseball, learn from USA Baseball women's national team, and meet record-breaking women in the sport. After Loehr’s April 12-18 trip, there was a segment on the NBC Nightly News about the Trailblazer Series, in which she and some of the other participants could be seen. The group was also shown live on TV while attending a Miami Marlins game on Jackie Robinson Day.
“It’s hard to summarize the week as it was so overwhelming in a good way,” the 12-year-old Loehr said. “I can’t imagine all the work that went into it behind the scenes. I learned a lot about Jackie Robinson and everything he went through to be a trailblazer. Girls also still have barriers to overcome.”
The Trailblazer Series was based at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach. It was once the spring training home of Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers and later the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now it is a training and tournaments destination for a variety of sports. At the complex and elsewhere on the trip, Loehr and the other participants were able to meet and hear from female trailblazers in baseball. At the Marlins game, they got to meet with team general manager Kim Ng. She is the first female general manager in the “Big Four” leagues in North America. Loehr’s father and the other participants’ parents got to join their offspring for the contest. They sat in the 12th row, right behind the Marlins’ dugout.
“It was my first big league game I attended,” Sarah Loehr said. “We got to go right onto the field and take a group picture in right field. They announced us during the game and talked about us on the broadcast. Before the game started, we were in the press room and Kim Ng spoke to us. My dad had told me about her before. She said to never let the naysayers get you down, and that women are just as capable as men.”
The Trailblazer Series also featured an appearance from Mo’ne Davis. She is currently a student-athlete at Hampton (Va.) University, where she plays softball. Davis captured international attention at the 2014 Little League World Series. She was the first girl to earn a win and the first female to throw a shutout at the prestigious event.
“She was super cool and inspiring to all of the girls,” Loehr said. “She talked about that the importance of our lives is to have a positive impact on others.”
There is a long history of women playing baseball. An important and colourful part of that is the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. It ran from 1943 to 1954. It was the subject of the 1992 movie “A League of Their Own,” which Loehr’s family watched a few years ago. Former AAGPBL players Maybelle Blair, 95, and Jeneane Lesko, 87, attended the event.
“Those two were there all day and every day in the 30-degree heat,” Loehr said. “Ms. Lesko even sat on our bench, giving advice. She told me and other girls if we strike out, that we have to stay in there and challenge the pitcher.”
Loehr, a Muenster School Grade 7 student, started playing baseball when she was four. She switched to softball for the first time last season. Loehr was the lone girl on her last baseball team. In Florida, she enjoyed her teammates and noted some had similar experiences as her.
“Everyone was super supportive just like on my softball team, except this was with baseball,” Loehr said. “I was more comfortable playing with all girls, rather than the boys in baseball. I did well and fit right in with all of the other participants. There were some girls though that were A1. I also learned most of the girls were the only one girl on their team if they played baseball and also some switched to softball. Very few of them played on an all-girls baseball team.”
She said that her father, who has travelled extensively with baseball, “always says that people have friends all over the world…they just haven’t met them yet.”
“He’s right,” Loehr said. “There were eight girls from Canada, and 88 girls from the USA and Puerto Rico and I got to know many of them. Some I will remain in contact as friends with them going forward.”
The unique name of her hometown garnered Loehr a nickname from her new friends. They had asked her where she was from.
“One of them misheard me, and thought I said Mustard,” Loehr said. “After that, she was going around telling people I was from Mustard. Then, for short, I was known as Mustard.”
In Florida, she played mostly third base, second and shortstop. While spending some time in the outfield, Loehr noticed a sign unlike any that would appear on the fence at James Korte Field in her hometown.
“On the other side of the fence was a little creek. The sign said ‘Danger: Alligators and Snakes are in the Area.’ Now that I think of it, I am surprised it wasn’t more of a distraction,” Loehr said.
As well as enjoying the event, Loehr also developed her game.
“It’s hard not to improve, after spending all of that time on the field,” she said. “We were practicing, in sessions, having guest speakers, and playing games, while being instructed by the USA women’s national team the whole time. They were awesome.”
One thing Loehr had to contend with was playing all day in the heat. She remarked, “I drank at least 10 water bottles each day, and applied five layers of sunscreen.”
Loehr appreciated how organized the Trailblazer Series was.
“Everything was totally pro. It was super organized and top notch,” she said. “We were treated like big leaguers the whole time in everything we did. I got lots of MLB clothes and equipment too. The week could not have been better.”