March in time to lead baseball boom

In a duel between hitter and pitcher, a lot of things get processed over mere seconds of a pitch.

Burnaby’s Emma March dreams of that situation, where the count and the variables of what her opponent will offer all add up to opportunity.

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Will it be a fastball, curve, a slider? Is the ball meant to push her back, freeze her or cut her at the knees? Before the catcher feels the comfortable ‘thunk’ of ball meeting glove, March has made contact, launching the orb into the outfield.

It’s the dance of spring baseball fans love, and one that March patiently prepares for.

And while there are more 17-year-old girls than ever chasing their field of dreams, few have taken it to the heights she has, and will, as the weather warms up.

“It’s just battling, a battle between you and the pitcher. It’s a mind game, what’s he going to pitch, but when you get that right hit and feel it hit the sweet part of the bat, there’s nothing like it,” March said of her role as a slugger.

It was that role she was assigned as one of the youngest members of the Canadian women’s national team at last year’s World Cup in Florida.

In a classic ‘Wide World of Sports’-like moment, the youngest player on No. 2-ranked Canada’s roster was sent in to pinch-hit against a two-time World Cup MVP, Japan’s Ayami Sato. Trailing 2-0 despite out-hitting their rivals, Canada struggled to find a clutch hit. Manager Andre Lachance tapped the then-16-year-old March in the sixth inning, with a runner in scoring position, to step up.

“I didn’t have much time to think what I was going to do against one of the best pitchers. … I was so nervous, I had never seen her before, but I knew why my manager picked me; he wanted me to get a hit,” she recalls.

“I completely missed the first two pitches. She threw some nasty curves. From what I saw and know, she wasn’t going to go three curves in a row, so I waited on the fastball and she threw it. I nailed it into right field and (drove in) a run.”

Although Canada would fall 2-1, March experienced a moment that she had dreamed of ever since she started swinging for the fences as a seven-year-old playing with boys.

“It was pretty neat. That was a lot of fun, unbelievable really. I could hear my dad and my brother cheering.”

That moment alone could have made all the harsh experiences she endured seem small. Even when, as a child, those tough tests pushed her to tears.

March was put into baseball, along with her twin brother Evan, with the hopes that both would find something that was enjoyable and competitive. As both climbed that ladder, getting picked year after year for the all-star squads, the young girl experienced the taunting and silence of teammates and opponents.

“Playing baseball and being the only girl on the team shaped me to who I am now,” she says. “I had to prove myself all the time and show that I could play. So many times I came home in tears because of the teasing or just no one talking to me.

“I wanted to prove to them my love of the game is stronger than the hate I’d get. Sometimes I came home crying, but it was all worth it.”

Her father Derrick, a life-long baseball fan, provided enormous support, even building a batting cage for the twins to use during the regular spurt of inclimate weather.

“My dad, he’s a huge role model (for me). Ever since I was younger he’s always encouraged me to be the best I can be. He built a batting cage in our backyard so all winter we could go out and hit.”

He introduced March to some inspirational baseball stories, like one-time California Angels pitcher Jim Abbott – who despite being born without a right hand, went on to enjoy a 10-year MLB career, tossing a no-hitter along the way.

“I’d hear my Dad talk about guys like (Abbott) – everything he did was so inspiring.”

The siblings would reach a pinnacle in 2014 when their South Vancouver team won the Canadian Little League title and made the trek to Williamsport to compete in the Little League World Series.

March suddenly found herself, along with a pitcher from a Chicago team, in the media spotlight as the tournament’s baseball-playing girls in a boys’ world.

“It was an unbelievable experience, something I’ll never forget,” she recalled. “It was the first time I experienced and was exposed to that kind of publicity. I was very nervous and overwhelmed, and I wish I could have handled that stress a little better, but I was only 12.”

The New York Times wrote about her, and people flocked to see her and meet her as Canada went through the tournament.

Among the throngs of fans at that World Series were young girls who, like her four, five years earlier, looked up at someone who was achieving what they saw as a dream.

“To have so many girls looking up to me, that was so incredible. I was kind of humbled and overwhelmed, really.

“It made everything feel connected, like what I went through when I was younger had an impact. It shaped me and gave me confidence to keep playing.”

It brought back memories to one of her first heroes, East Vancouver’s Katie Reyes, who was a big reason why Hastings Little League team advanced to the World Series in 2009. Reyes was also on the national women's baseball team before shifting over to softball.

“Watching (Reyes) do it, it gave me a sense of ‘If she can do it, I can do it too.’”

That inspiration and a lot of hard work began to pay major dividends in 2017, when the then-15-year-old pulled on the Canadian jersey in a series of games against the U.S. women’s team. March proceeded to wield one of Canada’s hottest bats, swatting over .600 during that tour in Washington, D.C. It whetted her appetite for more international experience.

Last summer’s journey began as a member of the national under-21 prospects team, where she batted .423 against some of Canada’s best pitchers at the senior national championships. The u21 squad advanced to the final, with her error-free performance at second base drawing the interest of national team coaches.

Continuing that trajectory, March took last summer’s invitation to the women’s national team selection camp in Montreal as an opportunity to absorb a special experience, not expecting to make the final cut as one of the few teenagers in attendance. It was such a rich experience, receiving instruction from the coaching staff that included former Major Leaguer Aaron Myette, the end result was March pushed her way onto the final national team roster.

“(Myette) really believed in me and pushed me to be my best,” March said. “I got an opportunity to prove myself and everyone was so great.”

With the women's team, the group hit the Florida diamond in 17 days of preparation, under 40-degree heat. No one complained, she said.

A Boston Red Sox fan, March is benefiting from the opportunities available through a boom in the sport. She played last spring and summer, preparing for that national team exposure, with the B.C. Badgers, which play in the local Lower Mainland Baseball League’s over-45 division. This year, she will return to the Badgers as well as Coquitlam-Moody’s Tri-City midget program with her brother, although other commitments are calling.

The St. Thomas More Grade 11 student is embracing the start of a new season. However, she also maintains a balance of interests, from getting her lifeguard ticket to working with her mom’s charitable organization, Third World Eye Care Society. An optometrist, Dr. Marina Roma-March has organized various tours to Third World countries to offer eye care and medical support.

Baseball season will be shorter this year, because the teenage March is heading to Peru with her family on one of their humanitarian missions.

“Baseball is such a part of my life, so I’m disappointed that I can’t go (to the nationals). They changed the (tournament) date, but I’ve always wanted to do this (mission) and it’s real important to me,” she said.

It means a respite for opposing pitchers, but they will need to be ready. When she comes back it will be with a hunger for hits.

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