By Mary Helen Kelly
When spectators sit and watch the Rangers of the Northside Youth Organization play baseball, they see a field full of kids with caps on and gloves down, ready for action at every pitch.
A long blonde ponytail sticks out of the back of one cap. It belongs to 11-year-old Olivia Bailey, the only girl on this NYO All-Star team and the only girl in her age group in the baseball organization based at Chastain Park.
“A lot of times people don’t know what to expect when she hops in the batter’s box, but as soon as she starts swinging, people start paying attention,” said her dad, Jimmy Bailey.
Olivia began playing when she was 8 and “fell in love with it.” She’s played ever since, and has been selected for multiple NYO All-Star teams. She plays middle infield, pitches, and regularly bats near the top of the lineup.
This summer, she took her game to a new level. She was invited to take part earlier this month in an all-girl’s baseball tournament sponsored by Baseball For All, an organization that supports and fosters girls’ baseball.
Olivia said playing in the tournament was a “good opportunity for [her] to show that girls can play baseball, too.” Members of the original 1942 All American Girls Professional Baseball League – the women players made famous in the movie “A League of Their Own” – and other female baseball pioneers were to attend.
Eight teams composed of players from around the country competed in Orlando, Fla. Olivia’s team, the Georgia Peaches, won two games and
“I’m thankful for the opportunity to have played at the first Baseball For All Nationals with so many girls who love the game like I do,” Olivia said in an email. “It was a great and unique experience that I will not forget.”
Olivia attributes some of her interest in baseball to her older brother, James, who’s 13. She watched him play growing up.
They now play alongside one another on their school team. Sometimes, they are literally side by side — their father recalls one game where Olivia played second base and James played shortstop. “My sister Olivia is a very good athlete,” James said. “It’s neat to be able to watch her play baseball with younger friends of mine at NYO. We also practice together in our backyard, which is great,” James
Olivia says playing at school gives her a chance to play with people who are older than her, but at NYO she plays within her age group. In general, Olivia says playing with the boys is “interesting.”
Olivia first played for Baseball for All last fall. Her school coach, Cliff Philips, had a former player who was involved with the program, so he suggested the Baileys contact Justine Siegal, founder of Baseball for All.
After seeing photos and videos of Olivia’s play, Siegal invited her to be a part of a team that she took to play in an all boys’ tournament last fall. The all girls’ team won their division and took home the trophy.
Olivia was excited about her trip to Orlando, but says her ultimate goal for baseball is to play with Baseball for All in the annual American Youth Baseball Hall of Fame Invitational Tournament in Cooperstown.
The tournament is a typically all-boys tournament held each summer for teams under the age of 12. Every year Siegal takes one all-girls team to compete, and Olivia hopes to be a part of that team before she ages out of the tournament.
“Olivia has a lot of passion and drive, and you can see that when she’s playing baseball. Her hard work pays off on the diamond, and we’re glad she could come represent Georgia on the Peaches team,” Siegal said.