Heidi Northcott was one of the first in Central Alberta to draw attention to women’s baseball.
The Rocky Mountain House native not only played with the boys’ but made the Canadian National women’s team.
Red Deer’s two-time Advocate female athlete of the year, Kelsey Lalor, followed suit and is one of the premier players in the world, making the all-star team at last year’s World Cup.
The likes of Hayley Lalor, Meghan Cameron of Rimbey, Christine Suominen of Lacombe and Heather Northcott of Clive have also made their marks with the provincial team.
A group of Red Deer baseball enthusiasts are making sure there will be others following in their footsteps.
Last year Kristen Gulbransen took it upon herself to get a mosquito all-girls team — the Red Deer Pink Braves — started and it proved to be a major success.
“My son (Luke) and all his buddies always wanted to play baseball and the majority of them had older sisters who asked why they couldn’t play as well,” said Braves coach Davin Gulbransen. “So my wife decided to talk with other parents and started the team to play in the Central Alberta Baseball League 11U Division.”
It proved to be a big learning curve. A few girls played some rookie baseball, but the majority had no experience in baseball or fastball.
“The biggest hurdle was to get the girls to believe they belonged,” said Gulbransen. “For years boys played baseball and girls fastball. Look at girls like Heidi Northcott and Kelsey and Hayley Lalor they came up playing with the boys.
“Now if the girls want to play there’s a team for them.”
Davin has been one of the top pitchers in the city for several years and still, at age 46, plays with the Red Deer Riggers. So it came as no surprise to see his daughter, Olivia, wanting to pitch.
“I couldn’t understand why,” said Davin with a laugh.“But we figured if she wants to why not give her a chance.”
Last year the Pink Braves had “12 or 13” players. This year there are two teams.
“Last year’s group got the ball rolling and Red Deer Minor Baseball was extremely supportive and got the word around and we doubled those numbers,” said Gulbransen. “We have a team in the CABL and a team in the city rec program.”
Last year’s team didn’t win until the final game of the season.
“We had to introduce the girls to the game … to the rules and just how to play the game. This year we hit the ground running because they had that year of experience.”
Gulbransen said it was a long first year, but the success on the field was secondary.
“First it’s to have fun and we had a riot. We wanted to make it so the girls enjoyed themselves and wanted to come back. And of course we wanted to win.
“Winning is more fun,” he said with a smile.
This season they’re having fun, winning their first two games of the season before losing to one of the two Red Deer boys teams.
“It shows how far the girls have come in a short time,” said Gulbransen. “They’re like sponges. Tell them something and they listen and learn.”
Gulbransen coaches the team along with Cam Martz, Jason Ellis and Danielle Greenberg with Kristen Gulbransen team manager.
The management group is excited about the future.
“I’m on the Red Deer Minor Baseball board this year and we all want to continue to develop the girls game … we feel it’s an untapped sport,” said Davin.
“We want Red Deer to be a pioneer, to not only develop players, but teams.”
Davin wants to make sure the girls look up at the likes of Heidi Northcott and the Lalor sisters.
“We want our girls to know who they are and appreciate the players who came before them. They were, and are, an inspiration. Without them we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing.”
Davin indicated Baseball Alberta has thrown their support behind the program as well.,
“They’re running girls baseball days throughout the province and are supportive of what we want to do,” he said.
The Braves hope to run a mosquito girls (11U) provincial championship in early July, just before attending a tournament in Toronto.
“That will be our finish to the year … something to look forward to,” added Gulbransen, who hopes to run the provincials with four to five teams.
Davin also hopes this is just the start.
“We hope this is the feeder program for a pee wee team and eventually bantam … just keep it going.”
“We still have a long way to go, but if you don’t give it a shot, you never will. And it’s been great and more the word gets out the more it will grow.”
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org