April 7, 2021
Updated Apr 6,
Freshly cut grass. Bases set, baselines chalked. Cleats on. Blue and white jerseys buttoned. The majestic red P cap worn, ponytails out. A new team is donning the colors of the flag, and they’re out to make their mark on the world stage. The Filipinas are ready to play ball.
Currently ranked 15th in the WBSC (World Baseball Softball Confederation) World Rankings, the Filipinas Baseball Team are set to join the Women’s Baseball World Cup later this year, but only if restrictions ease in the host city — Tijuana, Mexico. They will be up against top-ranked Japan, Canada, Chinese Taipei, Venezuela, USA, Australia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Netherlands, Mexico, and France.
Their journey has been filled with plenty of curveballs. In 2018, a year before the Philippines hosted the SEA Games, women’s baseball was one of the new events that was planned to be introduced. The country’s National Sports Association, the Philippine Amateur Baseball Association (PABA) conducted tryouts for this team. But the process of forming a team can take a year at the very least, especially with no active team or player for it, as was the case in the country.
At the time, the Philippines had a National Softball Team called “Blu Girls,” and up until then, had none for women’s baseball. Baseball has remained a traditionally male sport, with softball as the female counterpart, from Little League to the UAAP, even in the Olympics.
Mid-2019, PABA learned about the Women’s Baseball Asian Cup, a qualifying tournament for the World Cup. The games would start in November that year, and they had half a year to come up with a competitive lineup.
With no competition from within the country and the region, the team played tune-up games against high school and college men’s teams coached by the team’s assistant coaches, Jeffrey Santiago and Roel Empacis. They were constantly reminded of the main goal, which was to participate and gain experience in their first tournament.
Not long after, it was November 9, 2019, and they were in Zhongshan City, Guangdong Province, China. The ladies and their coaches are in the visitors dugout of the Panda Memorial Baseball Stadium.
It is the second game of the young tournament, and Hong Kong has a 3-0 lead after three innings. Pitcher Clariz Palma is on the mound. Behind her in the busiest part of the infield, team captain Esmeralda Tayag at shortstop, Whell Ghene Camral at third base. “The girls were all excited to get into action but you can see some nervousness during the first day of competition,” says Coach Edgar Delos Reyes, the Filipinas Manager (or what they call the Head Coach in baseball).
In the first three innings, Palma did not have command, both of her pitches and the game. And then she hit another gear. “There were a lot of mixed emotions at first. But when they started hitting, that’s when my pitches started working,” she recalls.
The defense picked her up, turning a double play and having the answers when Hong Kong put balls into play. Their offense turned the game around and they never looked back. The Filipinas scored four runs each for the final three innings to turn the deficit in their favor.
12-3. A complete game by Palma, and while she gave up four runs on four hits and two walks, her 104-pitch effort struck out five and won the game.
It didn’t take long for their next test. Top of the seventh, with three outs remaining against regional powerhouse South Korea. Just months into their new sport, most of the players struggled with how pitches arrived at the plate.
In softball, pitches are done underhand. The movement of the ball is normally upwards. The ball itself is two to three inches larger in circumference. The distance between the pitcher and the batter is smaller.
In baseball, pitches are done overhand. This alone allows more balls to “break,” and not just go straight or downwards. Pitches like the curveball, change-up, and slider (as they are appropriately named) are deceiving to the eye — it would appear that it is coming toward you, until it changes direction and the bats miss it completely.
For six innings, it was the curveball that the Filipinas struggled with. They managed to get six hits and score four runs to keep the game close, which tired out the Korean starting pitcher after throwing 103 pitches. The ladies knew this was their shot. The South Korean team threw in a total of four relievers who would then combine to give up ten runs, turning the close game into a blowout. Palma, now pitching in relief, closed out the game and got credited for the win. Philippines 14, South Korea 7.
The team bowed to Japan and Chinese Taipei (who finished first and second, respectively), but beat hosts China twice.
“The biggest disadvantage was that our girls didn’t have experience playing baseball at that level — or any experience playing baseball at all,” says PABA Secretary General Jose Antonio Muñoz. “So we expected a long period of adjustment. But they won bronze!”