For the second day in a row, female sporting history was made at the Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games.
Newfoundland and Labrador’s Jaida Lee became the first female to pitch in the men’s baseball competition at the Games on Monday at Welland Stadium. On Sunday, women’s box lacrosse was played for the first time at the Games.
With Alberta on the way to a six-run inning and building an 11-1 lead in the top of the third inning, coach David Coates told her to start warming up.
“I kind of just try to get in the mindset to play, so I go down, warm up, and I’m just trying to get pumped to go in,” Lee said.
The 16-year-old St. John’s resident made her way to the mound to start the fourth inning.
“Now entering the game at pitcher for Newfoundland and Labrador and making Canada Games is history is Jaida Lee,” the public address announcer said as she warmed up.
“Here we go, Jaida. Let’s go!” a women yelled as she began to pitch.
Lee admitted to having a few goosebumps before throwing her first pitch.
“It’s a bit nerve-wracking when you’re out there before pitching, and then (there’s) all that.”
Her first pitch was a strike and the ball was taken out of the game. It is destined for a spot in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. It was moment that made her extremely proud.
“It’s pretty cool and having the younger girls look up to you is pretty nice.”
At the same time, she was glad the moment was over and she could just focus on being a baseball player.
“Sometimes it’s a lot,” the Grade 11 student at Gonzaga High School said. “You just want to be in the game a bit, but it’s pretty cool.”
The 5-foot-10 player looks forward to the day when the Canada Games includes women’s baseball.
Lee’s first inning of work couldn’t have gone better. The first Alberta batter grounded out to the second baseman, the next flew out to medium right field and the third grounded out to Lee, who calmly played the ball on to first to record a perfect inning. Loud applause and whistling serenaded her to the bench.
The next inning didn’t go as well. She allowed four runs to score before being pulled for another pitcher with one out. Alberta won the game 17-7.
“The first inning was pretty good. Second inning, I mean they hit the ball, they’re going to hit the ball,” Lee said.
Coates agreed with that assessment.
“She did well to start but credit to Alberta in the second go around,” he said. “They had good bats going today and they made some contact where our outfielders weren’t. That is any given day whether you are pitching at the mosquito level or at the major league level. Pitchers are going to have those moments. We are very proud of her.”
Coates was glad to get the moment out of the way for Lee.
“This has not been a typical tournament for her. The most-asked question since I arrived is when is Jaida going to pitch,” he said. “This wasn’t necessarily going to be the day or the moment but it just felt right. We got that out of the way for Jaida and we’re looking potentially at her pitching again later in the tournament.”
Coates has a lot of trust in Lee.
“Jaida is a good all-around player and for the Canada Games, her best positional asset for us is going to be as a pitcher but she is an accomplished all-around player as well.”
Her team is deep at middle infielder where Lee would normally play.
Lee’s goal is to play college baseball and suit up one day with Team Canada. She was on the national prospects team last year but couldn’t participate this year while recovering from an April knee injury.
“I didn’t play at all this summer and I only started playing again a month ago, not even. Before I came up, I threw a bullpen and I then pitched in two games for an inning.”
She hoped she would get a chance to compete at the Games.
“I knew my velo (velocity) was good, I just wasn’t sure about my placement.”
The next step in her pitching development will be working on her off-speed pitches and increasing her velocity. She is trying to improve her curveball and changeup and hopes to add a slider to her arsenal.
Her goal for increased velocity is aggressive.
“Right now I guess I just hit 80, so 85.”
Finding that extra speed will come from a variety of sources.
“A lot of pitching, mainly, a lot of weights, changing different mechanics,” she said. “Everyone throws differently, so different things are going to work better for different people. It’s just finding what works best for me.”