Ghazaleh (pronounced Oz-a-lay) Sailors, a female pitcher for the University of Maine-Presque Isle baseball team, has never had any interest in softball. Baseball is the game she loves. She started playing it at two years old when her five year old brother’s tee-ball team needed an extra player, and hasn’t stopped since.
When Sailors was just seven years old her dad, a baseball enthusiast, hired her a private pitching coach. From there, the California native began playing in the Santa Barbara Pony League before moving on to play for a travel club team in fifth grade. She played high school baseball at San Marcos and as a senior was one of 21 individuals selected to represent her country by pitching and playing for the U.S. Women’s Baseball Team in Venezuela.
That’s not to say it’s been an easy progression. Sailors transferred high schools because of bullying from teammates and onlookers who didn’t think a girl should be playing baseball.
“Baseball has been a very difficult road and I have had to face a lot of adversity on the way” says Sailors. “There’s always going to be a handful that don’t respect me or don’t like me, but I am just going to be respectful to them and be the best teammate I can be, and hopefully they come around.”
The fact is that girls do play baseball. In 2008 there were over 1,000 female baseball players in the United States, 400 of which came from Sailors home state of California. The adversity that she faced didn’t stop Sailors from pursuing her dream, playing college baseball. She had multiple opportunities to play NCAA Division I Softball, but she struggled to find open-minded baseball coaches. With the help of her Team USA pitching coach Tim O’Brien, she focused her attention on NCAA Division III team and eventually got in contact with University of Maine-Presque Isle coach Leo Saucier.
Two years later, Sailors is making more history than just being the Owls’ first ever female pitcher. In 2012-2013 she appeared in ten games, covering 19.2 innings. On April 30th, Sailors pitched a scoreless 8th inning against University of Maine, thought to be the first time a woman has pitched a scoreless frame against a Division I opponent. On May 5th she pitched five innings against Eastern Maine Community College, giving up only one run in the process and earning the first win for a female pitcher in USCAA baseball history.
At 5’4 and 130 pounds, Sailors doesn’t try to overpower people. She instead relies on her intelligence and control to keep hitters off balance.
“My high school coach called me a baby bulldog, because I threw each game like it was a battle and I don’t give in to hitters. I try to attack the strike zone and change speeds, locations, hit my spots and try to keep the hitter off balance. If I try to throw harder, it’s not going to go well for me and I’m not going to have control of where my pitches are. The big key for me is staying within myself and controlling what I can control.”
With two years of eligibility remaining, Sailors still has a lot that she wants to accomplish, some of which doesn’t involve her work on the mound.
“My mentality is to try to get 1% better each day. If you get 1% better each day, then in one year you are 365% better than you were the year before, and it makes you a whole new person. I would like to lock up a spot in the starting rotation and help lead my team to the playoffs. I would also like people to look at me as a figure of perseverance and character, and hopefully some little girls out there who are thinking of giving up on baseball hear about my story and decide to stick with the game that they love.”
Sailors’ journey from a two-year old playing tee-ball with her brother to the first female student-athlete to record a win in a USCAA baseball games has been one of adversity and perseverance. It’s a story that has been covered in articles from ESPN to the Los Angeles Times. For her, the next step is triumph in the game that she loves.
Quotes and information courtesy of Marc Heidorf, University of Maine-Presque Isle Sports Information Director.