Breaking Baseball's Barriers: Maddy Lewis' Journey to the USA Baseball Women's National Team Program
DALLAS – It was a hot August night in Dallas as Maddy Lewis looked around the Hebron High School baseball field. Despite not knowing most of the other women standing beside her, Lewis knew one thing they all had in common. It was the thing that had brought them from across the country to that field: a love for baseball.
Lewis, who played for the University of California San Diego softball team from 2015-19, was attending the four-day USA Baseball Women’s National Team Development Program. Some of the women participating had already earned spots on the national team, while others, like Lewis, were trying out in hopes of securing one of the final six spots. For Lewis, it was a long time in the making.
“I’d been in contact with the USA women’s national team director for quite a while; it just never worked out with my schedule,” Lewis recalled. “I think we had finals every time the tryouts were supposed to take place. Finally, after I graduated, I was able to give it a shot.”
Lewis’ journey to the development program began much before her contact with the director. Baseball has been a major part of her life since she was a child.
“I started when I was around six playing t-ball and then I worked my way up through Little League,” Lewis explained. “When most girls would switch to softball, I stuck with baseball. I have an older brother, so I always wanted to follow in his footsteps, and I got along with all the guys; they were like my other brothers. They were always very welcoming and supportive of the whole thing, so I stuck it out.”
Lewis feels that her journey is similar to the other development program participants. They not only grew up playing baseball; they thrived.
“For a majority of the girls, the reason they stick out baseball so long is because they keep up with the guys,” Lewis said. “Although there’s a women’s side to the sport with softball, a lot of times they play baseball because playing with the guys can be more challenging. More than just playing with them, they were able to stand out as well.”
Because Lewis excelled in baseball, she took advantage of as many opportunities as she could to play.
“I participated in a youth baseball showcase that took place in Tennessee with a program called Baseball for All,” Lewis recounted. “From there, one of the parents took the initiative to make a team of the girls that wanted to play with the same players moving forward against other travel teams that were made up of guys. We were called the Dream Team and there were girls from all over the country.”
Lewis made a switch to softball as a sophomore in high school. Following that, she went on to a successful collegiate career with the Tritons. The Alameda native compiled a .312 batting average (172-for-552) and drove in 95 runs throughout her four years. She was named to the All-California Collegiate Athletic Association First Team three times, and garnered All-West Region honors in her debut season.
Making the switch back to baseball for the development program was an interesting experience for Lewis.
“Playing baseball is pretty different [from softball] once you get to the older ages,” Lewis shared. “The field is obviously bigger and the ball is smaller. The pace of the game is also a bit slower than softball. I definitely struggled with some of those aspects and had to adjust.”
Lewis also admits that it was initially challenging playing with so many athletes she’d never played with before. Throughout the program though, she was able to develop relationships with the other participants.
“At first no one really knows each other except for the people who are already on the team, but we all share a common interest of women playing baseball,” Lewis noted. “Over four days when you spend that much time with people, you get out your comfort zone a bit and get to know the other girls.”
One of the highlights for Lewis was getting to know players she was familiar with prior to the program. Lewis had followed their careers and watched videos of their highlights over the years.
“I was able to be in the same vicinity of some of the girls I idolized growing up playing softball,” Lewis remembered. “One of those was Kylie Lahners from the University of Washington. Being able to have a conversation with her and talk about similar interests was pretty cool.”
Being back around other women passionate about baseball, like Lahners, was special for Lewis.
“I think this is one of the major steps they’ve taken to making baseball more inclusive,” Lewis reflected. “To see how far the program has come since when I was first hearing about it is pretty amazing… The reason they have this is because whether it’s breaking barriers or whatever, girl or boy, male or female, it doesn’t matter. They can play baseball too.”
Despite not being selected for the national team this year, Lewis has not ruled out the possibility of trying out again in the future. For now, softball continues to play a major part in her life. Lewis is a communications assistant with UC San Diego Athletics, covering the Triton softball team.
As she transitions to her new role with the athletics program, Lewis feels grateful to have had the experience with the development program.
“I was surrounded with a lot of players and coaches who have so much knowledge about the game [of baseball],” Lewis said. “Being around those people who know so much and still being able to learn at my age, I thought was pretty cool.”
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With 30 national team championships, nearly 150 individual titles and the top student-athlete graduation rate among Division II institutions in the United States, the UC San Diego intercollegiate athletics program annually ranks as one of the most successful in the country. The Tritons sponsor 23 intercollegiate sport programs that compete on the NCAA Division I and II levels and, in summer 2020, will transition into full Division I status as a member of the Big West Conference. UC San Diego student-athletes exemplify the academic ideals of one of the world's preeminent institutions, graduating at an average rate of 91 percent. A total of 82 Tritons have earned Academic All-America honors, while 37 have earned prestigious NCAA Post Graduate Scholarships. In competition, more than 1,300 UC San Diego student-athletes have earned All-America honors.
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