In the moment, Abrielle Shaw was just pitching.
The 11-year-old from Chesterfield didn’t realize the historic significance of the at-bat while it was playing out. The opposing hitter, Aubrey Easley of the Rockingham All-Stars from North Carolina, faced Shaw, a member of the host Chesterfield Baseball Club All-Stars, in the Bronco 11U World Series in late July.
Shaw and Easley were the second and third girls to ever play in the PONY Baseball World Series, and the first to face one another as pitcher and hitter. Shaw struck Easley out, but both laughed about it after the fact, and even took swings in a batting cage together. The pair signed balls that were sent off to the PONY League World Series Museum in Pennsylvania to commemorate the moment.
“It was nice to see another girl prosper and show these boys,” said Shaw’s mother, Melissa.
Abrielle started playing baseball at age 4, inspired by her brother, who is 4 years older. She plays second base and competes at high levels of travel ball.
“We get asked all the time ‘When are you switching to softball?’ It’s because we don’t want to,” her mom said.
“It’s because she can hang with the boys and, quite frankly, is better than most of the boys. So it’s good to have support from our coaches that know her.”
Dave Boim is Abrielle Shaw’s coach at CBC. His step daughter plays baseball as well, and Boim said many male coaches tend to make misplaced assumptions about girls on the diamond.
“I think it’s a big challenge to overcome,” Boim said. “But when you see Abrielle, any coach worth their salt, it takes about two minutes to figure out what kind of player you have in terms of her talent level.”
Boim remembers one practice where his team played a game called knockout, where a coach hits ground balls to players until all but one has made an error.
As players got knocked out, they stood behind Boim while he hit grounders to the remaining players, Abrielle among them.
“She’s the best we have, she’s going to win,” Boim heard teammates say of their second baseman.
She routinely commands that level of respect because of how apparent her commitment toward and love for the game are, he said.
“She has the heart of a lion. When you watch her on the field, she’s competing at a level that most of the team is not competing at,” said Boim, who helped CBC win two games and reach the semifinal of the tournament, which included teams from all over the country.
“As good as our talent was, she is off the charts. She is basically commanding the defense on the field. She’s positioning the shortstop, coaching up the other players. Her sense of things is remarkable for any player of that age.”
Abrielle ended up with the most RBIs on the team, and played “near flawless” defense, Boim said. He’s never had to talk to the rest of the team about treating her with respect.
“One of the beautiful things about 11-year-old kids is they’re pretty accepting, especially when they all realize you have a heck of a player there,” Boim said.
The week before the World Series, Abrielle played in an all-girls tournament in Aberdeen, Md., organized by Baseball For All, a nonprofit supported by Major League Baseball and focused on promoting gender equity in the sport. It was the organization’s sixth annual national tournament, and participation numbers continue to rise. Her team, the Georgia Peaches, is sponsored by her favorite pro team, the Atlanta Braves.
“MLB is really supportive of females in baseball, at her age and up. You just don’t hear about it a lot,” Melissa said.
“They’re definitely there to support girls and their journey and want them to continue and strive to play. You never know, you may see a girl on the field here soon.”
Abrielle dreams of doing just that — breaking the gender barrier at the major league level. Her favorite player of all-time is Jackie Robinson, because she draws inspiration from Robinson’s fight to break MLB’s color barrier.
Melissa said her daughter came away from the tournament with a feeling of increased responsibility as an “ambassador of the game.”
“We want to try and encourage as many girls as we can to stay in baseball,” Melissa said.