In a league of her own, Shelburne's Elise Berger is often the only girl pitching in high school baseball
Champlain Valley Union High School sophomore Elise Berger plays baseball really well. She was one of just 40 girls from around the country invited to train at a national girls' development camp in Florida last month. And she was so good in that camp that she was asked to stay behind to train with the U.S. Women’s National Development Baseball Team.
VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Shelburne resident Elise Berger about the training camp, her past success as a Little League Baseball player, which garnered national attention when she was just 12, and what it was like to be invited to stay on and play with some of the best women's baseball players in the country. Their conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Elise Berger: Well, first and foremost, it was a really big honor to be able to play with them. And it was definitely something I haven't experienced before. I originally went to just try out and work with a bunch of other high school girls, and [then] got selected to stay and work out with the [U.S. Women’s National Development Baseball Team.]
Mitch Wertlieb: Were most of these women older than you? Were you one of the younger players there?
I was. There was a couple of us who were 15 or 16, a few more who were in college, but I would say the majority were in their 20s.
This is hardly your first foray into baseball, you famously competed on a little league team, an all-girls team, that beat several boys teams on the way to the semi finals in a tournament. And I understand you pitched a no-hitter in one of those games?
"At the time, I had no clue I was throwing a no hitter. I kept going out, and after the game, my dad comes up to me. And he’s like, 'You know, you just threw a no-hitter?' I had absolutely no clue."Elise Berger, baseball player
I did. It was, I believe, the quarter final. Actually, at the time, I had no clue I was throwing a no hitter. I kept going out, and after the game, my dad comes up to me. And he’s like, "You know you just threw a no-hitter?” I had absolutely no clue.
What about the rest of your team? They didn't know either?
We were focused, I guess.
That is amazing. It must have felt incredible, after your dad told you you'd pitched a no-hitter. How did the boys teams that you defeated during that tournament — I think there were four or five of them, that your team beat — how did they react to that?
There were some mixed reactions. Definitely that team that I threw against that day was a bit upset that they had just gotten beat by a bunch of girls, let alone no-hit. And there were some comments, kind of like, “Wow, like these girls can play.”
"There is always some — I’m trying to think of the right word — there’s always some hesitancy against seeing girls play [baseball]."Elise Berger, baseball player
I've been lucky that has been most of the reactions I receive. But there is always some — I’m trying to think of the right word — there’s always some hesitancy against seeing girls play.
I'm curious as to why girls don't have baseball leagues of their own, to steal a line from that Penny Marshall movie [A League Of Their Own]. Nothing against fast-pitch softball — it’s a great sport in and of itself and it's played by extraordinary athletes — but why not have more baseball opportunities available for girls? Why do you think that can't get going?
We're trying to get it going. There's an organization called Baseball For All, and they've been running tournaments for about five or six years now, I believe. And it's girls teams from all over the country. We come together and we play.
But yeah, if you compare [things in the U.S. to] Japan, [which] has a National Pro women's league where there's four teams, but we don't have anything like that right now [in the U.S.] So, I think it's definitely a possibility for us to develop a lot more for girls' baseball. And I think it's coming.
What do you like about baseball better than, say, softball?
I've never actually tried softball. I've never played.
I grew up with baseball. My dad always had games on. And my parents actually asked me, like, softball? T-ball? And I chose T-ball, I guess. I don't remember this, but I chose T-ball and I’ve never left.
Do you have a favorite pitch, or an “out” pitch, that you like to throw most when you've got, like, two strikes on a batter and you're looking for that punch out?
I like to use multiple different pitches, mix it up. But a curveball, low and away, is always a fun pitch. Or the change-up, low and away, that gets the batter out in front, on their front foot, and then they just have no shot at the pitch.
And that's one you can set up with, I guess, a fastball beforehand, you change the bat speed, the eye level, all that good stuff.
"I do think — and I really hope, one day — that yes, a woman will play pro [baseball]."Elise Berger, baseball player
Baseball to me seems to be — of the major, let's say, five sports of baseball, hockey, football, basketball, soccer — it seems like the one sport that could one day see a woman playing professionally. It’s non-contact. Especially pitchers. I think women could go out there and compete.
Do you think we'll ever see a woman playing professionally on a men's team in Major League Baseball?
I hope someday we do, yeah.
I think, as you said, as a pitcher — and we’ve seen this even with men in the Major Leagues — that you don't have to throw 95 [miles per hour]. You can throw slower, and mix up your pitches. And I think a lot of people think, “Oh, but women aren't gonna be strong enough to compete,” and that's one really interesting thing about baseball compared to those other sports you mentioned. It’s that all different types of athletes and players can play baseball, so you don't have to be the strongest.
So, in that respect, I do think — and I really hope — one day, that yes, a woman will play pro.
And what's next for you in terms of continuing baseball, which you obviously love so much?
I'm really lucky. I play on a travel team in Williston, called the Bases Loaded Bulldogs. They've been very supportive, and I play with them year-round. That's all boys, and we go to other travel tournaments, and often, I'm the only girl in those tournaments.
"We go to other travel tournaments, and often, I'm the only girl in those tournaments."Elise Berger, baseball player
My goal is to play in college. Again, my coaches with that team are very supportive and helpful. And I believe, if I'm not mistaken, there are seven women playing in college this year. So, it's definitely possible. It's most likely D3. So, that's my goal.