What started out as a penchant for a bat and a ball has taken a fourth-grader to play in a national baseball tournament in Mesa, Ariz.
Ten-year-old Amaris Candelaria of Magdalena was chosen to play in the seventh annual Baseball For All national baseball tournament for girls July 20-24.
According to her mom, Consuela Candelaria, her baseball skills were honed over the last year as a member of the Valencia County Outlaws, a baseball club of the United States Specialty Sports Association.
“Amaris played baseball and basketball from such a young age. It just all came so naturally to her,” Consuela said. “When our son, Josiah, joined the Valencia County Outlaws, it got Amaris interested, because, like all younger siblings, you want to follow in the footsteps of your older sibling.”
The Candelarias’ involvement with the VC Outlaws came almost by chance.
“My kids were just randomly playing baseball out in our yard, and Angel Garcia from Socorro saw them playing out there,” Consuela said. “He said he knew a guy in Valencia County who has a club baseball team. It started from there.”
Amaris started playing for the VC Outlaws as a 9-year-old, and the only girl on the team last fall.
“She plays second, third base and pitches. She became the team’s closing pitcher and is always put in to pitch in tough situations,” Consuela said. “For example, in a recent tournament in Ruidoso, bases were loaded by another pitcher with no outs. Amaris came in as pitcher and struck out the last three batters to end the game. In that tournament alone, she was named MVP of two consecutive games, an honor given by the umpires.”
After playing the spring season as starting pitcher with the VC Outlaws, she was picked up by the Arizona Peaches for the all-girls baseball tournament.
“The manager of her VC Outlaws team, Clifford DeGraf, was the one who told us about this Baseball For All League,” Consuela said.
According to its website, the Baseball For All League started in 2015 with a single all-girls team playing against boys in Cooperstown, N.Y. The not-for-profit organization has players in over 40 states and five countries.
“Almost 500 girls showed up to this tournament in Arizona,” Consuela said.
From an early age, her mom says, Amaris showed a knack for baseball.
“She’s played baseball since she was old enough to hold a bat,” Consuela said. “She started as a 9-year-old in a club baseball team for only boys. She was the only girl on the 12-year-old boys’ baseball team.”
Her dad, Kyl Candelaria, is the varsity baseball coach for Magdalena.
“When I was little, my dad had always been the high school baseball coach,” Amaris said. “I would go to his games, and little by little, I started playing and liking it more and more. Then, me and my brother would play baseball outside every afternoon.
“If my dad sees something wrong with my swing or the way I’m pitching or something, he’d tell me, ‘You need to work on it,’” she said. “And we’d just keep working on it over and over until I get it rig
For example, “I was having trouble hitting because I was standing too far from home plate, so my bat wasn’t reaching far enough across home plate. So, my dad said I needed to get closer, and that helped my swing,” she said. “My dad and my brother both pitch to me sometimes.”
Through practicing and working with her dad, as a hitter, Amaris became more adept at spotting a pitch.
“You just have to adjust. A fastball is going to come in faster than a curve ball,” Amaris said. “With a curve ball, you have to sit back and wait for it because it’s going to curve, but if you’re expecting a fastball, then you’re most likely not going to hit it.”
Amaris said she’s learned a few tricks while playing against a team with older kids.
“Sometimes playing against the older kids when they’re pitching faster, you have to adjust to the speed, and sometimes when they hit harder, you have to scoot back,” she said. “It’s kind of hard when you’re stealing against a left-handed pitcher and you’re on first base because their pick-off move is easier. You kind of have to know what to do, so it makes it kind of hard.”
As for being a member of the Arizona Peaches, her team at the tournament, she said, “I think it’s really cool we have this because us girls can have opportunities to play baseball. Girls aren’t usually known to play baseball, but I think it’s pretty cool.”
Consuela said her skills also impressed other players at the tournament.
“Many fans from other teams came up to talk to Amaris and us every day because they heard about this young 10-year-old from New Mexico playing,” Consuela said. “Amaris played amazing and represented Magdalena, Valencia County Outlaws and New Mexico very well. She was invited to play again in December in Phoenix with the same team, once again playing up to 14U.
“Most of the girls that played in this Baseball For All national tournament are girls who were the only girl on a boys team, a girl who is always fighting to prove that she can play, too,” she said. “That’s exactly what Amaris did in this tournament. She proved that she could hang with the 14U girls and play some amazing baseball.”
Amaris makes the trip to practice with her club multiple times a week in Los Lunas, as well as working out with her dad and brother daily at home.
“She has also been seen practicing with some of the Magdalena varsity boys occasionally,” Consuela said.