At four years old, Abby Hay took her first steps onto a ballfield when she was asked to fill in as a replacement player for a recreational softball team. Ten years later, she is competing against teams across the country as the only female baseball player in Columbia’s upper levels.

“You know, we joke all of the time about, ‘Oh, when is Abby going to switch to softball?’ But that game was the first and last time she played softball,” Amy Hay, Abby’s mom, said. “After that, she got the bug and decided instead that, ‘I want to do what my brother does.’”

With a dad who played in college and a brother a few years ahead of her in the sport, it’s perhaps no surprise that Abby’s passion became baseball. At five, she began to play in the local Daniel Boone Recreational League before moving to her first competitive team, the Columbia Sky Sox, at the age of eight. After a few years there, Abby joined the Columbia Bruins and played with them up until this most recent season.

She will be a freshman at Rock Bridge High School in the fall and is a member of the school’s “feeder team” called Southside, a group of eighth-grade athletes who play baseball together and will try out for the high school team once tryouts roll around in February.

But first, she’s taking her talents to the national level. This weekend through next Tuesday, Abby is attending a Major League Baseball and USA Baseball developmental camp called the Girls Baseball Breakthrough Series at the Jackie Robinson Baseball Complex in Daytona Beach, Florida. Following an extensive application process featuring coaches’ letters and videos of her in action on the diamond, Abby was selected to be one of 64 female high school baseball players to attend the camp from across the country, Puerto Rico, Canada and Europe (Belgium). The group will receive elite instruction from some of the nation’s top female baseball coaches and players, including current and former members of the USA Baseball Women’s National Team, as well as former Major Leaguers such as Dmitri Young, Fernando Arroyo and Lou Collier.

Initially, Abby and her family had some concerns regarding whether she would be able to continue in the sport once she reached high school age. However, due to federal court rulings under Title IX, girls must have access to baseball even if a school also has a softball team. Between that and a supportive community, Abby is all set and ready to try out for Rock Bridge’s baseball team next year.

“Thank goodness for Title IX, because Title IX enables the girls to play any sport they want,” said Amy Hay, “which is awesome because baseball isn’t necessarily a boy’s sport. Anyone can play baseball.”

Rock Bridge baseball coach Justin Towe, whose varsity team set a school record for wins this spring and made it to the state quarterfinals, knows what to expect when Abby tries out for the Bruins next season. He’s known the Hay family for years; in fact, Towe and John Hay (Abby’s father) played together at Missouri, and John Hay is an assistant coach at Rock Bridge.

“Her baseball IQ is so far advanced for both males and females that it makes her a really good ballplayer,” Towe said. “Baseball is just something she’s passionate about. And you know, if you’re passionate about something, then you just need to go out and do it … Being a female playing baseball, you have to be good. You have to break down barriers and be even better than the boys, and I think Abby has done extremely well and is very skilled.”

Abby’s teammates, family and friends are supportive of her both on and off the field. One of her Southside teammates, Mason Larkin, has played with her for nearly eight years and praised her skill and athletic ability.

“It’s really cool she can come out here and play with us because I don’t think it matters your gender,” said Larkin. “I think of her like any other teammate. Like one of us.”

While Abby’s teammates have no issues with her presence on the team, not everyone has been so supportive and welcoming.

“The first time I ever heard ‘crap’ about Abby being a girl was in St. Louis at this one little-bitty tournament,” said Amy Hay. “There were some boys behind us saying like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to play a girl,’ and were pretty upset about it.”

Though she has faced an instance or two of taunting by players on other teams, most people are simply caught off-guard when they see Abby and her talent.

“The first tournament this season, we were in Illinois and — this happens almost every summer, at least once — an umpire doesn’t realize she’s a girl,” said Amy Hay. “The umpire came down the line and I was standing over by first base taking pictures. He goes, ‘You a big fan of baseball?’ And I said, ‘Oh, I love baseball, but I really love to watch my girl play.’ And he kind of looks at me, and then looks over at her at first, and says, ‘You’re kidding.’ And I’m like, ‘No way.’”

Abby thrives under the pressure of the attention on the diamond. A catcher, first baseman and pitcher, she bats in the cleanup role for Southside. Through the seasons and her rise through the ranks, she has made a name for herself among baseball locals, and continues to surprise teams that aren’t yet familiar with her skills.

“It’s fun because they’re not expecting it, and they’re all of the sudden shocked and they act like they don’t know what to do about it,” Abby said. “But I just play regularly and try to get a win.”

It is clear that Abby isn’t planning on stopping anytime soon.

“If it’s even remotely nice out, I’ll get home and she’ll be out in the yard with a net out, with her tee and a bucket of balls,” said her mother. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come home, and she doesn’t know I’m coming home, and that’s what she’ll be doing. And I love that.”

Said Abby: “My dad did it, my brother did it, and every day is basically just doing something baseball-related. It’s just always been there. I’ve never loved anything else but baseball.”

Supervising editor is Michael Knisley.

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