Female players break the mold for Park City High School baseball
The Park City High School softball and baseball fields are separated only by a small berm and two chain link fences, but there is an obvious gender divide between the two diamonds. That is not something that makes Park City High School different from any other school in Utah — but the team’s baseball roster does. This year, for the first time in the coaching staff’s collective memory, Park City High School’s baseball team has girls on it — Lexie Hudgens and Taylor Lundbeck.
From the top of the berm on Monday, a spectator would have had a clear view at Lundbeck and other outfielders throwing batted balls to the infielders, including Hudgens at second base, during practice.
When a coach shouted “Catch the ball!” as the drill started to deteriorate, he was ostensibly addressing the team, but Lundbeck and Hudgens were not the ones that needed to hear the message. They are solid defenders. But regardless of their talent, which has earned Hudgens a starting position on the freshman team at shortstop, with some second base sprinkled in, and Lundbeck solid playing time at catcher, the two are rarities in high school baseball in Utah.
Last year, the National Federation of State High School Associations tallied 3,653 boys playing baseball at 165 Utah schools, and no girls. Not since the 2008 season, in fact, has Utah had any female players (there were two). The recent high for female players was 2004-2005, when there were 12 girls playing at three schools — and 2,760 boys. But according to the Miners, the girls fit right in — at least, they do now.
Mike Stokes, who coaches the freshman team, has coached a core group of players that make up the squad for several years, and moved up with them when they entered the Miners program.
He recalled the circumstances under which Hudgens joined their ranks during their 10U season.
“I didn’t make the tryouts that day — I was traveling for business — and my coach calls me after the tryouts and gives me the lowdown,” Stokes recalled. His assistant coach asked him what he thought about having a girl on the team, and Stokes asked if the player was good.
“She says ‘She’s probably better than about half the kids we’ve got.’ I said, ‘Let’s go with it.’”
So Hudgens was brought on.
“I was at that tryout,” said Ryan Hunt, a freshman. “It was weird, it was definitely weird. The first couple years, it was weird because you’re like, ‘Oh man, what are the other teams going to think of us?’”
Now, Hunt said, having capable female players is a point of pride.
Hudgens said she grew up playing with her brother and generally spent more time around boys. She said that upbringing made her feel more comfortable playing baseball than softball, and she doesn’t have plans to switch to softball any time soon.
“My heart is set there, and I just want to keep pushing and challenging myself to play baseball,” she said.
Lundbeck, who joined the team last year, tried softball, but ended up liking baseball better.
“Just the competitiveness wasn’t there for me,” she said of softball.
Unlike Hudgens, she said she might try softball again at some point in hopes of earning a college scholarship.
Though Stokes isn’t advising the girls to go one way or the other, he said they could easily make the transition back to softball if they wanted to. And given the number of colleges with softball teams, it wouldn’t be a bad financial choice.
“Their opportunities will probably be better in softball,” he said. “But I’m not saying they couldn’t try baseball, but it would be difficult.”
But the girls have embraced difficulty — it’s what drew them to baseball in the first place.
“I just feel like the competition is so much greater in baseball,” Hudgens said. “I feel like baseball is going to get me there, going to make be me better. … I want to do well, not just go out and say oh, ‘Yay, I got a hit.’ I want to show my skillset.”
As far as they know, Hudgens and Lundbeck are the only two girls playing high school baseball in Utah right now. Between them, they have seen only one other girl play over their baseball careers, and don’t expect to see many more.
The Miners program could easily cycle through a thousand players before having two more girls join the team, but Lundbeck and Hudgens encourage others to give it a shot.
“If you are a girl and you want to pursue a guy’s sport, just do it and don’t be afraid of what others think of you,” Lundbeck said. “I don’t really care and I’ve gotten this far.”
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Baseball returns to Park City as it hosts the Triple Crown World Series for the 12-and-under age group, beginning Monday