For Bella Bowler, Oz Sailors is as big of a role model as they come.
Bowler, 12, a bat girl for the San Rafael Pacifics independent minor-league baseball team, has been the only girl on her baseball team since she was 5 years old.
“My brother’s been a big inspiration for me, and my mom and my dad,” Bowler said between innings Wednesday. “Softball is not my thing. I love baseball.”
Wednesday night’s game between the Pacifics and the Sonoma Stompers was historic, and a bit surreal for Bowler. San Rafael signed Sailors, the team’s first woman, to a one-day contract. She started on the mound and was taken out before a thunderous ovation from the capacity crowd in the third inning with the Pacifics trailing 3-1.
The theme of the game was “Throw Like a Girl Night,” with T-shirts given to the first 250 fans.
Prior to the game, Bowler, who’s looking forward to her first season in the Little League majors this spring, was introduced to Sailors.
“She’s really nice,” Bowler said. “She told me to keep working on my dream of becoming a baseball player and keep pushing.”
Bowler was recognized — much to her surprise — after the second inning for consistently being the only girl on her team.
“It’s so much fun being the only girl,” she said, smiling. “They’re nicer to me, but the coaches say that I’m better than them sometimes, that I throw harder, or they’ll say, ‘Be more like Bella.'”
San Rafael resident Mark Everett enjoyed watching Sailors pitch Wednesday, especially after she capped the top of the first inning with a strikeout and was greeted by a swarm of high-fivers in the dugout.
“I thought it was great. I thought it was awesome. I think everyone loved it,” Everett said. “I thought she pitched well. The only difference that made her more hittable was the lack of speed. It wasn’t lack of accuracy.”
Sailors, a Santa Barbara native, wrapped up her season with the independent Virginia Marlins last week. She played four years at the University of Maine at Presque Isle (Division III) — leading the team in earned-run average and appearances as a junior — where she was the only woman playing NCAA baseball.
After a rocky experience playing baseball in high school — “I wasn’t treated well by my teammates,” she said — Sailors called her collegiate playing days the best of her life.
“There were a few guys that were apprehensive about it (originally). The biggest thing for me is that I earned their respect,” said Sailors, who was voted a team captain in her final season. “They were very, very respectful, and the coaches always had my back in college.
“Those people had my back from the second I stepped on campus — even as a high-school recruit. There was just something special about it. They’re really the ones who helped me live my dream.”
The Pacifics reached out to Justine Siegal, the founder of Baseball for All, in search of a woman to play Wednesday. Siegal, who has coached men’s pro and college baseball and was the first woman to throw batting practice to a Major League Baseball team, recommended Sailors.
Sailors, a board member on Baseball for All, heads to Korea in a few weeks to play, then will travel to Australia to play for a women’s baseball team.
Sailors said she’d love to see more women playing baseball, though it’s already more common than most people realize.
“They’re already making a statement,” she said. “The world is just a little slow to opening their eyes to it. But they’re coming.” —— (c)2015 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) Visit The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) at www.marinij.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC. AMX-2015-08-13T08:20:00-04:00