Hancock girl to compete in Cooperstown
Hancock Little Leaguer Sophia Mathewson probably will hear the calls for her to play high school softball because she would have a better chance to become a star and earn a scholarship.
That is not likely to be an option of choice for the 13-year-old baseball player who has dominated on the mound and with the bat while playing with the boys, an activity she plans to continue as long as she can.
Her skills have earned her an opportunity to team with the best female ballplayers in the country.
Starting this weekend, Mathewson is playing with an all-girl All-Star team in a national tournament in Cooperstown, N.Y., against more than 100 all-boys’ teams.
With the success last year of Mo’ne Davis in the Little League World Series and of nearby pitching phenom Chelsea Baker, girls are more empowered than ever to continue playing what is seen as a male game.
Mathewson has never seen her gender as much of a factor.
“I just love going out there and doing my best,” Mathewson said. “I love the game and I hope I can make it far.”
Mathewson started in baseball at age 7 when her mom, Debbie, asked if she wanted to try it. Sophia agreed, and it became apparent she was a natural.
“I started hitting the ball into the outfield and throwing real hard and I realized it was the sport for me,” Mathewson said.
“The second time she came up she hit one out of the park at 7 years old. I knew right then that this was for her,” Debbie said.
This made things difficult for the boys, who learned the hard way that Sophia wasn’t the easy out they thought she was. Eventually, they learned to respect her.
“When the boys started playing me they thought it would be easy. But now the boys respect me for what I’ve done. They’re intimidated playing a girl because they don’t want to strike out against me,” Mathewson said.
This year, Mathewson caught the attention of Justine Siegal, founder of Baseball for All, a group devoted to empowering girls to play baseball, during a tryout at Kurt Donaldson Park in March.
She was chosen to play for a team in Orlando in a national tournament against other all-girls teams, playing two games a day for five days.
From there, Siegal selected the 12 best players from the tournament, including Mathewson, to go to Cooperstown.
Mathewson has received tremendous support from her parents, who have nurtured her dream, sometimes at great financial expense.
Mathewson said she either wants to play baseball for North Fort Myers or Island Coast high schools.
If asked to play softball in high school, Mathewson was clear on that.
“If I have the chance, I won’t take it because no matter what anybody says, I’m always going to play this sport and fight for it as hard as I can,” Mathewson said.
Mathewson’s ultimate goal is to get a scholarship to play baseball and be drafted by major league baseball.
“The coaches are telling her to keep playing. As long as she keeps progressing, she’ll make a high school team. Now, we know there are girls who played college ball and got scholarships,” Debbie said. “There’s no reason she can’t play in high school and progress to college and beyond.”
Of course, she’ll be told by some she may have better college prospects or become an All-State performer by playing softball. Again, Sophia won’t hear of it.
“In her words, ‘Why should I have trained all this hard work for all these years to switch to another sport that I don’t want to play?'” Debbie said. “When a 12-year-old puts it like that, how can you ask her to switch?”