HUMBOLDT PARK — Chicago’s only all-girls baseball team is making waves after just two years of existence.
The Humboldt Park Gators won the national title at the 2021 Baseball For All tournament last week. The team went undefeated with a 6-0 record, including one thrilling, come-from-behind win in the semifinals. The Gators called themselves the Chicago Scouts for the tourney and its national audience.
The big win is the culmination of two years of hard work; the team started as five girls with little baseball experience and has blossomed into a nationally recognized force, said Chip Mitchell, general manager and founder.
“There’s really no words to explain it. It was probably the best feeling I could ever have in my life,” 13-year-old outfielder Naomi Gutierrez said of the championship win. “It was just amazing.”
Gutierrez and her 11 teammates traveled to Aberdeen, Maryland, last week to play all-girls teams from across the country for the Baseball For All tournament.
Baseball For All is an organization that aims to combat gender inequity in baseball by providing girls with opportunities to play and coach the male-dominated sport. The nonprofit organizes tournaments across the country.
The Maryland tournament was the Gators’ first national tournament. Every practice and regular season game leading up to the tournament was treated as preparation for the national competition, said Mitchell, a criminal justice reporter at WBEZ.
That preparation paid off, as the Gators swept the tournament in spectacular fashion. Mitchell, whose daughter, Miriam, plays on the team, said there were a couple nail-biters the Gators only won because they delivered plays in key moments.
In Thursday’s game against the Arizona Peaches, the Gators were down 3-2 in the sixth inning, the final inning of regulation play. Then Gutierrez, facing a 3-2 count, drove a hit into right field, tying the game. The Gators ended up winning the game in extra innings.
“It was just like, ‘Oh my God. I feel so special,'” said Gutierrez, a part-time Humboldt Park resident.
The game-changing hit was caught on video by Mitchell’s wife, Alba Cárdenas, who co-founded the team. Scroll down for the video.
Earlier in the week, in a Tuesday game against the D.C. Force, the Gators were tied 6-6 in the sixth inning when 13-year-old Kat MacLeod hit a ground ball to the pitcher. The grounder was enough to score the runner on third base. The Gators won that game 7-6.
Gutierrez said the team’s strong bond is what propelled them to victory. She said everyone genuinely enjoys playing with each other and they all share inside jokes.
“All of us have a lot of chemistry together because we’ve played together before and not all girls teams have,” Gutierrez said. “All of us know each other; we all talk, even when we’re not playing baseball. The big thing is chemistry.”
Mitchell and Cárdenas founded the Gators in spring 2019 with the goal of breaking down barriers for girls who want to play baseball but have been relegated to softball. They recruited girls from their home neighborhood of Humboldt Park and beyond, naming the team after the neighborhood’s famous wayward alligator.
The pandemic forced the team to miss their first season. But this year, the girls played a full season against all-boys travel teams in the Chicago area under the guidance of a few coaches. Mitchell said the national title is the cherry on top of a season that put girls baseball on the map. The team has been covered by several local news outlets since it launched.
“There’s no reason girls shouldn’t be able to play baseball,” Mitchell said. “We created a spectacle for two years and it culminated in a season, a full season against boys travel teams. That team developed into a national title-winning team. I’m very proud of that.”
Like all of the Gators players, MacLeod played on a team of all boys for several years before joining the Gators.
The 13-year-old said she enjoyed playing on the boys team — the Franklin Park Vipers — but playing on the Gators has been a formative experience, especially after winning the national title.
“I was forming bigger relationships with the girls. I felt like they knew me better than the boys knew me,” she said.
The national title only solidifies what MacLeod, Gutierrez and the rest of their teammates already knew: Girls are just as capable of succeeding in baseball as boys are.
“A lot of boys make fun of us because we’re girls playing baseball,” MacLeod said. When “we end up beating them and facing [off] against them, they say, ‘I didn’t know they could have this talent.’ It makes us feel nice.”
After the tournament, the Gators organization is gearing up for fall ball and winter training. For many of the girls, this is only the beginning of their baseball experiences.
Gutierrez said she’s already planning to try out for the boys baseball team when she gets to high school. Playing on an all-girls team and watching other girls play at the tournament gives her the confidence to succeed, she said.
“If they can do it, I can, too. It just gives you the confidence,” she said. “If they’re able to pave the way, so can I.”
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