By Chris Chaney
When most sports fans think of women in baseball, scenes of Tom Hanks, Geena Davis and Rosie O’Donnell in “A League of Their Own” flash across their mind’s eye, not long before the words, “there’s no crying in baseball!” come out of their mouths.
For Clermont Northeastern Elementary Schooler Olivia Bricker, it’s the boys that she plays against who have to fight back tears.
And later this summer, that number of welling-up boys will increase when Bricker joins the 2013 edition of the Baseball For All 12U Sparks, an elite international all-girls team that competes at the Cooperstown Dreams Park against 103 other teams, all composed of boys.
“It means a lot (to be selected to play on the Sparks),” Olivia said. “I’m really excited because I’ve never done anything like this before. It’s going to be very interesting to see a team of all girls.”
The Sparks became the first all-girls baseball team to ever compete in what was previously considered an all-boys event in 2003 and since then, the Sparks have fielded teams made up of girls from the United States, Canada, Ireland, Australia, Hong Kong and Indonesia.
This year’s edition of the Sparks will compete from August 2-9 in the town that the National Baseball Hall of Fame calls home and will be the 11th straight year that the team has crashed the all-boys party.
Olivia has been crashing that party for nearly a decade now, beginning playing baseball at the age of three at the urging of her father, Mike Bricker, the owner and an instructor at Champions Baseball Academy.
“She started with tee ball when she was three,” Michelle Bricker, Olivia’s mother, said. “She played knothole up until two years ago when she started playing select. A couple tournament teams saw her play and came to her and asked her to play on their team, and that’s how she got to play down in Florida for the last four or five years.”
For Olivia, baseball has always been her first love, so much so that she didn’t rule out softball so much as she never considered not playing baseball. A good portion of the teams that she played on when she was five or six years old have stuck together and Olivia now considers her teammates to be more like brothers, saying playing with the boys seems natural.
As a left-handed pitcher, first baseman and centerfielder who hits for power, Olivia has more than answered the questions about whether she can hang with the other members of her team and their opponents.
“It’s not weird for me because I’ve been playing with (the boys) all my life,” Olivia said. “At first, (some opponents) are kind of surprised that I’m a girl playing baseball, but when I hit the ball or pitch well, they’re like, ‘wow.’”
Olivia’s hitting has been one of her stronger suits. She leads her CNE Rockets 12U squad in extra base hits and has hit a couple of home runs so far this season. Her technique has recently come under the watchful eye of former Cincinnati Reds outfielder and member of the “Big Red Machine,” George Foster.
Foster saw Olivia playing at a tournament earlier this year and approached her offering to help her with her swing. Naturally, Olivia accepted and for about a year, the duo has been meeting at Champions to work on her motion.
With Cooperstown just under a month away, Olivia is looking forward to the week when she will meet her new teammates. She said she hasn’t made any contact with any of her other team members yet, but she and her new team will have two days to practice and get to know each other prior to play beginning.
The team will also be staying in a dorm together, allowing for more team bonding away from their parents, another aspect of the trip Olivia is looking forward to.
The tournament begins on August 3 and Olivia is confident that the Sparks will turn more than a few heads.
“I feel like people are going to be really surprised,” she said. Asked if she thought the Sparks would knock off a couple of the boys’ teams, Olivia smiled wide and nodded.
Hopefully, the Sparks opponents don’t forget to pack their tissues.