Amy McCann recaps the celebration of women’s baseball that was the Australian Women’s Baseball Showcase—the curtain-raiser to the inaugural women’s professional league in Australia.
In a defining moment for baseball in Australia, the country’s elite female baseballers descended on Adelaide for the Australian Women’s Baseball Showcase on May 1-2. The showcase is a curtain-raiser to an inaugural women’s professional league in Australia.
An exciting and diverse 33-member squad boasting elite international talent and raw potential represented the Adelaide Giants and Brisbane Bandits, with twelve 2018 World Cup Emeralds and 30-squad members lining up.
Two generations of female baseball talent took to the diamond, with Emerald’s veterans Shae Lillywhite, Tahnee Lovering, Laura Neads and Bronwyn Gell joined by eleven highly touted teenagers at Adelaide’s Bennett Stadium.
It was a mixture of pure excitement and relief as the players donned the jerseys of the Australian Baseball League (ABL) franchises after three straight domestic COVID outbreaks forced the postponement of the Showcases scheduled for Adelaide, Melbourne and Brisbane in early 2021
With the COVID Pandemic also linked to the cancellation of both the 2020 and 2021 Australian Women’s National Championships, in addition to multiple postponements of the 2020 WBSC World Cup, Emeralds coach Jason Pospishil was pleased to have the squad together for the first time since October 2019.
“Our players don’t get a chance to get together enough at the moment, so they’re all on the avenue of playing club baseball, so we need them to have opportunities for higher quality calibre games,” said Pospishil.
“The women’s ABL is a big part of the puzzle. It is just the beginning for us in terms of identifying and developing talent, and for us too, as a nation, to be able to get back to where we should be from an international standings point of view.”
A testing schedule saw four five-inning games held inside twenty-four hours, while several innovative new formats, including a hitting power play, proved highly influential on the scoreboard.
Saturday’s first two games were punctuated by the long ball, with Brisbane’s Laura Wagner, 31, and Elodie O’Sullivan, 27, clearing the Bennett Field outfield fence twice on the opening day. Likewise, fellow Bandit Abbey McLellan, 26, and Adelaide Giant Ticara Geldenhuis, 20, showed off their power-hitting as they also went deep as the two teams split the offence-dominated clashes.
In the field, 31-year-old Emeralds Laura Neads, a member of the Emeralds since 2008, was dominant on the mound, while Neads’ World Cup teammates Morgan Doty, 28, and Maddison Tabrett, 24, provided golden glove defence for both the Bandits’ outfield and Giants’s infield, respectively.
“The depth of the young girls coming through in the last couple of years is, it’s great for the program,” said dual World Cup representative Doty. “It keeps lifting us veterans, and you need everyone in the team to lift the bar across the board, so it is good to have the young girls nipping at your toes.”
The Showcase also signified the coming together of the squad for the first time since the tragic passing of Emerald alumni and best friend to Neads, Jacinda Barclay.
A five-time Emeralds World Cup representative between 2008-2016, Barclay made her World Cup debut as a 17-year-old in 2008 with Neads and was part of the Emeralds’ silver medal-winning team in 2010.
The Showcase opened with a minute’s silence in recognition of Barclay, while the players wore black armbands in honour of one of the most inspiring and influential players to ever set foot on a baseball field.
“Barks was such a talented, hardworking and inspirational athlete who was such a great role model, particularly for the younger generation, always willing to give her time to help others,” said Neads.
“She was such an advocate for equality in all aspects of life, especially in women’s sport and would be incredibly proud of this event and the movement of establishing a professional women’s baseball league here in Australia.
“We will continue to play the game she loved with the same passion, fearlessness, competitiveness and fun as she did. And she will always be within us.”
On Sunday, home runs to Tabrett and Abbey Kelly, 22, ignited the Giants’ offence and provided ample run support for teenager Lianna Davidson, 18, an international rising star in javelin, who shut down the powerful Brisbane bats.
In a fitting finale to the Showcase, baseball’s rising stars shone brightly with an early pitching duel between the Giants’ 17-year-old flamethrower Caitlin Eynon and Brisbane’s 20-year-old Jordan Richardson. Brisbane’s Maddison Heath, 20, exploded with a game-clinching grand slam, which ensured the Showcase would end with the teams deadlocked with two wins each.
However, the significance of the weekend’s games went well beyond the home runs, strikeouts and box scores, with the Showcase another critical step towards a much-needed and oft-discussed Australian professional women’s baseball league.
Baseball Australia is committed to establishing a dedicated league, which will aim to fill the Australian elite performance pathway gap while also increasing participation numbers across the country.
Seven-time World Cup catcher Emerald Tahnee Lovering, 22, who delivered in clutch moments for the Giants across the weekend both behind the dish and with the bat, was proud to be a part of the Showcase and eagerly awaits the new league.
“It was great getting to hang out with girls after COVID as we’ve been waiting a long time to get out there and do something like this, to have this opportunity,” said Lovering.
“It is the first time in history, so we are very, very grateful. We are fortunate, and hopefully, it is something that starts something bigger.”
Similarly, Brisbane Bandits Coach Lisa Norrie, who in 2017 became the first woman to hold an assistant coaching position at an ABL club, is ecstatic to see the dream of a Women’s ABL close to becoming a reality.
“It has been a bit of a whirlwind trying to get to Showcase played, but it finally happened,” said Norrie. “It was fantastic to be able to showcase the talent we have in this country.
“To have the ABL women’s league starting is a dream come true for a lot of people, players, staff and fans. There are exciting times ahead, and I am very honoured and excited to be a part of it.”
The celebration of women’s baseball across the weekend was also evident with an all-female umpire crew overseeing the on-field action. A junior girl’s coaching clinic took place on the field between Saturday’s games, with tee-ballers later accompanying their senior counterparts onto the field for the national anthem.
The Showcase took on even greater significance with families and friends able to tune in to the groundbreaking live broadcast on FoxSports and Kayo, which allowed the Aussie game to reach new audiences all over the country and the world and reach the hearts of loved ones, including the daughter of four-time World Cup representative Tabrett, who watched on from their Sydney home.
I was privileged to provide expert commentary on the broadcast, and while I would have dearly loved to have been on the field in such a showcase during my playing days, it makes me so happy to see what was a dream for me, has now become a reality for today’s generation.
Watch all four games from the Australian Women’s Baseball Showcase for free via the Baseball Australia Youtube channel.