'Girls can do anything': 8-year-old responds to critics who say she shouldn't play baseball

At eight years old, Ashlynn Jolicoeur is already a superstar on the Canadian baseball circuit, and she has big plans for the future.

Ashlynn Jolicoeur dreams of one day playing baseball for Team Canada

Ashlynn Jolicoeur is headed to Rockford, Ill., for an all-girls baseball tournament and she thinks 'it's cool.' (Supplied by Steven Crawford)

She's only eight years old, but Ashlynn Jolicoeur is already a superstar on the Canadian baseball circuit, and is taking a swing at critics who say girls should stick to softball.

In 2018, Ashlynn won the most valuable player trophy for her performance during rep league semifinals in Whitby, Ont.

But before she started playing in the finals, her father Dan Therien said another parent on the team told him that girls shouldn't be playing baseball and that they should stick to softball.

It didn't stop there. Therien said the coach cut his daughter from the team at tryouts.

But the eight-year-old said there is no difference between girls and boys when it comes to baseball.

"Girls can do anything," she said in an interview with CBC Radio's Metro Morning Wednesday.

"I want to be on Team Canada," was her response when asked about her dreams for the future.

Ashlynn shows off skills in Instagram video

Ashlynn — whose favourite players are Robbie Alomar, Kevin Pillar and Freddy Galvis — has not gone unnoticed.

In what could be described as a perfect response to the critics, Baseball for All posted a video on Instagram that shows her making spectacular catches as she runs fly-ball drills. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to levelling the baseball playing field for girls across North America.

Baseball For All has invited Ashlynn to its fifth annual BFA Nationals, the largest and longest-running all-girls baseball tournament in North America.

"She can play," said founder Justine Siegal, who was Major League Baseball's first female coach. "She works really hard and you can see the passion and love for the game." 

Discrimination 'on a regular basis'

Siegal has been in Ashlynn's shoes. At 13 years old, her new baseball coach said he didn't want Siegal on the team — she should play softball instead.

"That was the day I decided I would play forever," said Siegal.

It wasn't easy, playing with a coach who didn't want her. But Siegal stuck at it — and went on to become Major League Baseball's first female coach. Her jersey hangs in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

But Siegal still sees gender discrimination in baseball "on a regular basis."

"I have a long list of girls who have been told they shouldn't play baseball, or they're not allowed ... or they're just treated really poorly while they are playing," she said.

'All I want to do is play baseball'

When the other parent said Ashlynn shouldn't be playing, Therien said he told them that he would not limit his daughter's dreams.
Dan Therien, Ashlynn Jolicoeur's dad, says 'it was upsetting' when another parent told him that girls shouldn’t be playing baseball and that they should stick to softball. (Salma Ibrahim/CBC)

"It was upsetting. I was upset, but I did not let that bother me too much because I think some people sometimes are a little outdated in their thoughts," Therien said.

He said Ashlynn told him: "All I want to do is play baseball."

"She didn't let it impact her. She works hard. She's dedicated and it's all on her. She wants to practice all the time and wants to play the game," he said.

More than 350 girls are participating in the Baseball for All Nationals next week in Rockford, Illinois, from age seven to 18. Ashlynn will get to play with other girls who usually just play with the boys, said Siegal, including four teams from Toronto.

She said she's excited to be chosen to participate.

"It's cool."

A need for more girls baseball programs

Siegal said things are definitely getting better and many coaches and leagues are supportive of female players.

But there needs to be more baseball programs specifically for girls throughout North America, she said, as well as more welcoming co-ed programs. Just like what happened in soccer or hockey, she said, more girls will play when you provide them an avenue.

There's a societal myth that "girls play softball and boys play baseball," Siegal said.

"We're at a tipping point where there's enough people saying, 'Hey, I want a to play and I'm not going to take no for an answer.'"

And on Wednesday, another one of Ashlynn's dreams came true when she had a chance to get some one-on-one time with her favourite player, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.:

With files from CBC's Metro Morning and Laura Howells