CHICAGO – As game-time approaches on a brisk Tuesday evening in mid-June, Humboldt Park Gators head coach Booker Hatcher has a message for his players.
“You quit or what?” Hatcher asks his players gathered in the dugout. “Quit or get better. Quit or get better.”
There is no going easy on this group of girls – stepping up to the plate against new competition and for some, in a new sport altogether.
When Gators player Elizabeth Corcoran tells her friends at school she plays baseball, her friends say, “Oh do you mean softball? But I’m like, ‘no it’s baseball.’”
The Gators—named after the infamous Humboldt Park Lagoon reptile Chance the Snapper — are one of only a handful of all-girls baseball teams in the country who test their talents against all-boys squads.
Alba Cardenas and her husband Chip Mitchell co-founded the 12-and-under travel team in 2019 with their daughter Miriam.
“She was the only girl on her team, so my husband Chip decided let’s have a team together and let’s do it only girls,” Alba Cardenas said.
They recruited girls wherever they could: playing catch at parks or working concessions at local games, but the grassroots effort had its growing pains.
“I remember the first practice we had only four or five girls,” recalls Cardenas.
But the roster grew, and before long, the team was set to debut last spring –until Covid hit.
The Gators got creative to keep their skills sharp, practicing inside their homes in individually in on their driveways, waiting until this April to finally begin their first full season.
“The first game was unbelievable,” Cardenas said. “It was kind of magical for me, it was like this is accepted.”
When the Gators take the field against all-boys teams, their opponents don’t always take them seriously. But it doesn’t take long for the girls to prove they belong.
“I remember playing one team and when we first got on the field they all were laughing at us, saying they probably throw 5 miles per hour and are not going to hit and can’t win,” said Gators player Naomi “Ni-Ni” Gutierrez. “But then once we got on the field our pitcher struck everyone out, we hit bombs off them. We showed them.”
“Once they go against them they think, ‘oh dang these people are good,’” said Mauricio Garcia, who plays for the Barnstormers, one of the Gators opponents.
“When we played them we were really surprised and we kept on playing them and they got better and better,” said Elijah Romero, another Barnstormers player.
Beating the boys is a blast, and so is bonding with their like-minded teammates in the dugout.
“With a girls team everybody feels more confident, “Gutierrez said. “I don’t have to feel ashamed or if they trash talk we don’t take it personally because it’s all girls here so it’s okay.”
The Gators developed a little league team of their own –proving baseball is not just for the boys.
“I’ve wanted to play for long time but was scared to commit, but it’s been a good decision because I met friends and getting me more to hit the ball is the challenge but it’s a good dedication,” Corcoran said.
Asked if she will stick to baseball after this, Corcoran responded, “Yes. 100 percent.”
The Gators now gear up to play in the Baseball For All National Girls tournament July 18th in Maryland. They are raising funds to help cover registration fees. To Donate, you can go to their Facebook page.