U.S., Canadian women take important steps

Development program helps athletes gauge their baseball skills

U.S., Canadian women take important steps

WASHINGTON -- For most young athletes, wearing your country's name across your jersey is a dream come true. But it means even more for the American and Canadian women participating in the USA Baseball Women's National Team Development Program.

Those countries have provided women with astonishing resources to pursue baseball careers even while most women play softball. Those baseball assets were on full display during the program's Prospect Development Pipeline at the Nationals Youth Academy on Thursday morning.

About 61 combined members of the U.S. and Canadian Women's Baseball Teams partook in a series of exercises that tested their athletic ability, health and vision to become better athletes, the same program the U.S. men perform.

"They continue to be trailblazers. That's the goal for us," said Jules Johnson, USA Baseball's Prospect Development Pipeline Director. "For any little girl who's out there, who's playing the game, who's told you're going to have to play softball someday, they're proving that's not true. You can play the game of baseball at a high level, and it doesn't matter if you're a boy or a girl."

The women endured a 30-yard sprint test, which evaluated step-by-step which foot helps them accelerate and if they have any underlying imbalances that could cause injury. They completed a vertical jump to capture their dynamic stability and the group tested their reflexes, vision and agility by standing in a box surrounded by blue lights and touching the light that turned green as soon as possible.

Many of the women said the most interesting event was the vision screenings, which tested dynamic and performance vision. After seeing different prompts, they needed to process what they saw and react to it quickly.

In a few weeks, USA Baseball Women's National Team staff will send a 70-page digital pamphlet to each athlete, which includes the data from each test. The players will learn their strengths and weaknesses, as well as any side effects that could potentially cause injuries.

"A lot of the testing seems really relevant," Canada's Amanda Asay said. "Giving a kind of whole package in one standardized test and being able to compare that to other athletes … will be very valuable. See where you're at, see what your weaknesses are, see what other people are doing to get better, and that will make yourself better as well."

While some participants said they had seen similar technology, most were amazed by how advanced the tests were. This is the first year the National Team has completed the Prospect Development Pipeline after launching in December 2016.

The U.S. and Canada teams have a chance to learn from each other as they also partake in a set of scrimmages throughout the week. Many of the current U.S. players and coaches were a part of the team that won the gold medal in the 2015 Pan American Games -- a tournament in which Canada finished second.

"Any time I've ever been involved with USA Baseball in any event they've put on, it's always a blast," Anna Kimbrell of the U.S. said. "I've been picking the coaches' brains a lot this week. Just trying to figure out something I can learn to do better or grow my game. Eventually, hopefully, coach somebody else and pass along the tricks and trades of the game."

While the women learned everything they can from their experience Thursday, Johnson believes this is just the beginning to promote women's baseball and its athletes as the club continues to implement new technology in its programs.

"U.S. Baseball is pretty much one of the most amazing things I've done in my life," Marti Sementelli of the U.S. said. "They do a great job of recognizing women's baseball just as well as the men's."

Kyle Melnick is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.