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Aurora-King Baseball player is making her career through hardball

June 4, 2020   ·   0 Comments

Claire Johnson is one of a kind.

Only 16, she recently tuned into Instagram Live and was pleasantly surprised to hear her name called out by Andre Lachance, Business and Sport Development Director and Women’s National Team Manager with Baseball Canada.

Johnson was selected for the 16U Baseball Canada’s Women’s National Team Identified List as the only representative from Ontario. She felt a shockwave course through her veins, another step on her way to reaching her ultimate dream.

“I’m so humbled and honoured to be selected. It’s almost a dream come true. It’s a step in the right direction. This is something I’ve been working towards since I was really young. To know that I’m almost there, it feels really great,” Johnson said.  

Johnson is the youngest of three. Her older siblings Matt and Olivia previously played baseball growing up. Johnson herself was set up with the perfect system to grow, having two siblings to learn from and derive motivation.

She has been with Aurora-King Baseball ever since her tee ball years. Now, she has been with the Team Ontario U16 Women’s provincial team for the past two years and currently sits on the Aurora-King Baseball 15U Elite Team as the only girl.

It’s been like that for most of her life.  She’s used to being the only girl on the roster and wants to bridge the gap between softball and baseball, women’s baseball and the men, and address societal gender opportunity conundrum in a sport where the difficulty is set to the highest.

Baseball is a traditional game. It has been arguably America’s past-time since the mid 1800s. The first recorded game in 1846 in U.S. history saw the New York Nine defeat the New York Knickerbockers 23-1.

Preparation is strenuous and the technique is clinical, not to mention the sunflower seeds that constantly cover the dugout; nothing like a little culture and a mess to add to it all.

For women, why is hardball unnoticed? In 1887, women’s softball began for women as something more suitable, even though hardball was always around for the men.

Natalie Weiner of SB Nation wrote in 2018, that USA infielder Malaika Underwood was corrected by people when she told them she played hardball. In her report, women were being told to get off the field and baseball in America is no place for them.

Tell that one to Mary Elizabeth Murphy, who is known as “The Queen of Baseball.” She was the first woman to play professional baseball in 1922 with men.

But here, Johnson wants hardball to improve for women in Canada. It’s up and coming now, and Johnson says organizations such as Canadian Girls Baseball are trying to grow the game.

“I’m trying to do my best to prove others wrong, that girls deserve the right to play baseball just as much as boys do and the that’s the high of my motivation. I’m with them in just trying to grow the game and put baseball out there for girls and it’s not just softball.”

She has trained with former of Team Canada international Ashley Stephenson and has been pegged by her as “little Jeter.”

“I really look up to her. She’s such a great person. I used to look her and she used to help me out. I’ve learned a lot from her,” Johnson said.

Johnson is a versatile baseball player. She has pitched, catched and even hung out on first base. But recently, she has made the move to shortstop and hasn’t looked back, earning her new nickname in the process.

She is also a versatile athlete. At Sir William Mullock Secondary School in Newmarket, Johnson led the flag-football team as quarterback to the championship game. She made the AA midget hockey team with the Central York Panthers. These sports, Johnson says, help her on the diamond.

“Everything has helped with my fielding, my soft hands and my footwork in hockey and that all comes back to baseball in the end.”

Johnson is hoping to achieve a scholarship somewhere in the USA. Although the outlets are limited, she says she will continue to strive towards what she wants – and that is the national team for Canada.

Carmen Spilteri-Johnson will help her daughter explore her playing options. Last year, the family travelled to Virginia with Ontario’s travelling team. Many of the opposing players were a part of the American national team.

Her mom credits Team Ontario with inexpensive opportunities to provide all-year round practices and how they aid with all the girls playing baseball in seeking their future endeavours.

She is not your average 16-year-old. She puts others before herself and when her mom was diagnosed with cancer a few years back, Johnson and her siblings had to step it up in the house to help her father and her mother.

“Claire could not have been more mature and resilient and stepped up in the home. I’m very lucky all three of my children are that way. I’m very proud of her as a mom, having gone through that situation,” Spilteri-Johnson explained.

Johnson also helps to coach the sport in the Aurora-King Baseball organization. Last year, she taught 13-year-old boys a surfeit of tips and tricks she has learned over the years. Years down the road, these boys can say a girl instructed them on how to play; a staple as well within the organization to remember.

She is a role model to other younger girls with an interest in the sport and one for her current teammates as well.

“I think my biggest focus is trying to be there for others more than myself. I’ll do whatever I can to drop whatever I have to help someone else,” she says.

Johnson continues to be academically driven. She loves school and loves her friends. She is interested in gender equity, just like her older sister Olivia. Both girls have written research papers in school, challenging the gap between men and women in the sport.

Now through quarantine, Johnson still practices baseball techniques. Her father and her sister help her practice. The family will also allow her to take swings in the backyard and they will send a video of her swing to her coaches at the provincial team for feedback.

Right now, the family is planning to reach out to Baseball Canada in a couple of months to receive further instructions. They expect Johnson will be invited to join a prospects team next year.

When the time comes, Johnson will be ready for the next step in her journey.

By Robert Belardi



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