Ghazaleh Sailors couldn’t believe what she was reading.
It was a story in the newspaper about a girl breaking barriers in the game of baseball.
A girl fighting to stay in the game past Little League -– when most are forced to make the transition to softball. A girl surviving and thriving on the pitcher’s mound –- using guts and guile to record outs, even strikeouts. A girl proving that baseball could be a co-ed sport.
It was the story of her life.
Except the story wasn’t about her.
Unbeknownst to Sailors, Marti Sementelli was growing up just a few hours away from her in Southern California, going through the same ups and downs.
“It was incredible to see it,” Sailors says. “We share the same story and have followed a similar path since childhood.”
The two connected on Facebook, then met in person for the first time last summer while playing on the U.S. Women’s National Baseball Team.
Saturday they made history.
When Sailors and her San Marcos High teammates traveled from Santa Barbara to Van Nuys to take on Sementelli and Birmingham High, it marked the first time that a varsity high school baseball game features two female starting pitchers.
Sementelli (in white) got the better of Sailors, throwing a complete game and allowing only five hits in a 6-1 win.
But they blazed a trail together.
“I think we have a really cool story -– one a lot of girls don’t know about,” she says. “It’s something me and Ghaz share. But we want to spread the word and get it out and get more girls playing.”
Sementelli and Sailors, both seniors, developed their love for baseball at a young age.
Sementelli’s father had Marti doing drills from the time she could walk. When she was 5, she was not only playing baseball with the boys, but playing baseball with 7- and 8-year-old boys.
Sailors says her start came after tagging along to her older brother’s T-ball games. “They needed a player one day and asked me,” she says. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do since.”
Neither has ever played –- or has any desire to play –- softball.
Their stories divide a bit after that.
Sementelli (left), 18, has been a media and YouTube sensation. She appeared on the Jimmy Kimmel show when she was 10 (yeah, she threw it past him) and was in a Nike ad with Mia Hamm at age 14 (she said her dream was to pitch for the Red Sox). RivalsHigh featured her last spring.
Sailors, 17, tells a different story.
“I had a rough time until last season,” she says. “I always had people telling me that I need to switch to softball. Always had people telling me I could play in Little League but not in high school. Then I made the freshman team and they said I couldn’t make J.V. Then I made J.V. and they said I couldn’t make varsity. It pushed me. It made me want to break those barriers.”
Both struggled at the start of their high school careers and transferred from their first schools. Sementelli left on good terms; Sailors did not.
“There was some abuse, some cyber bullying,” she says of her old baseball teammates.
Neither, however, has had any difficulties with softball players. Sementelli, in fact, says she gets along great with them.
“When they ask me why I don’t play softball,” she says, “I ask them why they don’t play baseball -– and then they get it.”
So here’s the question: Can they play?
Here’s the answer: Yes.
Sementelli, 5-2, throws in the mid-70s. She pitched 25 innings on the varsity last season, earning one win. She says the key to her success is her control and ability to spot her numerous curves.
“I’m all about keeping the batters off balance and messing up with their timing,” she says. “I throw what they’re not expecting.”
Birmingham coach Matt Mowry says Sementelli is the No. 4 or No. 5 pitcher on the team. And she’s one he won’t hesitate to use all season.
“She’s going to help us in the middle innings and spot start when we have a lot of games in a week,” he says. “She’s treated like any other player on the team; when we need her, we call upon her.”
Sailors (right), just a bit bigger at 5-3, also throws in the mid-70s. She’s in her first varsity season.
“I need to attack the hitters with location,” she says. “I know I’m not going to overpower them.”
Sementelli is strictly a pitcher. Sailors likes to hit –- “Not much for power but I put the ball in play consistently” -– and can play third base.
The two helped the U.S. win a bronze medal at the 2010 World Cup in Venezuela. Sementelli was the top pitcher, going 4-1 with a 3.12 ERA. She led the team in innings pitched (26.0) and strikeouts (23).
Sailors was 1-0 with a 3.86 ERA, striking out one in seven innings of work. Sailors, who also plays third base, went 4-for-9 (.444) at the plate.
Both plan to play baseball in college.
Everyone knows the movie "A League of Their Own." Some know the legend of Jackie Mitchell, the 17-year-old who struck out Babe Ruth an exhibition in 1931. But few know roughly a thousand girls played high school baseball a year ago or that there is a U.S. National Team.
“I think a lot of people have the assumption that girls only play softball,” says Ashley Bratcher of USA Baseball. “I think they are surprised that they are playing baseball at the high school level.”
The problem is they rarely play together or even against each other, as the limited numbers keep the players isolated. Bratcher says one of the biggest thrills she gets is to see the look on the faces of the women when they get to train together.
Sailors, for one, will never forget her trip to train with the national team last summer in Cary, N.C.
“It was amazing,” she says. “I had never played baseball with another girl –- even in T-ball. It was great to finally be with girls who were like you.”
The future of women’s baseball is unclear. Should it attempt to establish its own identity -– as basketball and hockey have -– or should it attempt to blend in with the boys in greater numbers?
Justine Siegal, the founder and operator of the website, Baseball For All, is a proponent of the co-ed game.
“Every time we see a co-ed experience that’s positive, we know where it can go in the future,” she says. “(Sementelli and Sailors) are on teams that support them. That makes a difference.”
Siegal, who made headlines earlier this week when she threw batting practice to major-league hitters in spring training, says a female eventually will play Major League Baseball.
“I think we’re within 10 years of that,” she says.
Both girls were excited in the days leading up to their historic matchup. In fact, they say it was their idea.
“Marti and I wanted to make it happen,” Sailors says. “We talked about it in North Carolina. We said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to make history?’”
Mowry, after consulting with San Marcos head coach Tony Vanetti, agreed.
“The idea was brought to me: Do you want to throw the girls together?” he says. “I said let’s go ahead and do this. How many times are you going to get a chance to do this in a varsity high school baseball game? It will be a good thing and a lot of fun.”
And a lot of cameras. Local and national media have been on the story since the matchup was announced last weekend. Cameras, however, clearly didn't bother the media-savvy Sementelli.
“No one can really get in the way of you and the ball,” she tells younger players. “If you want to play, no
one can stop you. You’ll have to find the opportunities, but they are there.
“No matter how many ‘Noes’ you’re going to get, there’s going to be a ‘Yes’ somewhere.”
- Tom Bergeron is the editor of the RivalsHigh (www.rivalshigh.com), the national high school sports web site for Yahoo! Sports. John Klima contributed video and reporting for this story.
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