Growing Up a Girl in a Baseball World
By Gavin Menu
The social norms have it all laid out for children as they come up through t-ball and graduate to Little League and ultimately interscholastic athletics. Tradition says that boys, come springtime, get together and play baseball, while girls head off to play softball.
Jade Maldonado never saw it that way.
The high school junior who transferred from Longwood to Bridgehampton prior to the current school year said in an interview this week that those rules meant little when compared to her passion for the game of baseball, which she developed at an early age.
“I loved baseball, it was my first love,” said Jade, who will play for Pierson/Bridgehampton’s junior varsity team this spring.
What Jade, who is now 16, could not foresee when she began playing baseball at the age of 5 was the rocky road that lay ahead — the uncomfortable stares from her boy teammates, the lonely days at practice and the cuts she endured year after year through middle and early high school following grueling tryouts prior to the spring season.
“I never really knew there was softball until I was 7, I just thought I was the only girl who played baseball,” said Jade, whose older brother, Raymond, will play varsity for Pierson this spring. “They didn’t really accept me. There’s never been a time where I was accepted 100 percent. I learned to just ignore it and do what I love.”
It Started with a Move East
Jade and her brother, who is a senior at Bridgehampton, attended school at Longwood before their mother accepting a position as a special education teacher at Bridgehampton, which allows students to attend school in the district if their parent is a teacher. The Maldonados live in Coram, where Jade and Raymond’s younger brother, Nathan, currently goes to school.
After playing baseball through Little League, Jade wanted to try out for her middle school team, but the coach asked her to play softball instead. Determined to continue playing baseball, she spoke to the athletic director and wrote a letter saying that she had never played softball and was reluctant to start fresh and leave behind the game she loved.
“They granted me permission to try out,” Jade said. “We had to run a mile and I outran a few boys. But they always found one problem why they couldn’t take me on the team. The boys were fooling around half the time and weren’t taking it seriously and they all made the team.”
Jade played travel baseball and worked out with private trainers and instructors. Once she reached high school at Longwood, she went through long tryouts that stretched on for months through the winter and early spring. Despite her improved skills, which she thought were good enough to warrant a spot on the JV, she again failed to make the cut during her freshman and sophomore years.
“I always felt a little uncertain with myself, but I was always good enough to play with the boys,” Jade said. “I could catch fly balls, I could track groundballs, and I could hit and keep up.”
“For the most part it hasn’t been easy,” Jade’s father, Raymond, said from his home in Coram this week. “There were times where the whole team wouldn’t even talk to her. My wife and I explained to her that if you’re going to do this, it’s not going to be easy. She always wanted to be a baseball player.”
And now at Pierson she will be given the chance.
Competition Between a Welcoming Group of Boys
The Whalers have a new varsity coach in Sean Crowley, who is not exactly new considering he coached the team for 20 years starting in the early 1990s. Jonathan Schwartz is the junior varsity coach, and he, along with Crowley and Jade, agreed there would be an opportunity for more playing time on JV as the season progresses.
“Things are going well so far,” Schwartz said on Tuesday. “She’s been quiet, but really going about her business and doing everything I ask of her. We have 17 players for JV, which is more competitive than middle school. Playing time is not going to be even. That being said, everyone has responded and reacted really well and there have been no problems. The boys have really treated her like anyone else and everyone is very accepting.”
Jade, who plays outfield and second base, said she has received an overwhelmingly positive welcome from the boys on her team, who all attend Pierson. She has felt good in practice so far, but added that competition for playing time will be tough given the talent on the team.
“They were so open and welcoming,” Jade said about her new teammates. “I introduced myself and they were all so nice. They include me in things, they’re interested about why I’m playing, and they’re asking me where I used to play. It’s really nice to have a group like this.”
Jade’s father, who works as a carpenter in western Suffolk County, will undoubtedly be making the trip east for games this spring to watch his daughter fulfill her dream of playing high school baseball. He said it’s been a long haul, one fraught with anxiety for him and his wife.
“I’m ecstatic about it,” he said about Jade’s joining the team at Pierson. “She’s been working her whole life for this, and we’re just going to try to make the most of it. The time is finally here and I’m a little scared. But I can tell she’s not.”
For her part, Jade seemed confident and content this week as the Whalers began their pre-season practices, a routine for some, but a life-long dream for an outcast who at last seems to have found a home playing baseball.
“I loved the game so I just kept playing,” Jade said about all those years of struggling to fit in. “I think that this year on JV is going to be really good for me. I think it will build my strength up to the ability I need for varsity next year. I have a good feeling about it.”