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Natalie Evans is first girl to play in Ridgefield’s baseball program and is certain she won’t be the last

Junior has big goals in mind and will likely get there

By Will Denner, Columbian staff writer
Published: April 13, 2024, 6:30am
5 Photos
Ridgefield junior Natalie Evans catches behind the plate to warm up a pitcher between innings of a baseball game between the Spudders and Battle Ground on Friday, March, 8, 2024, at Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex.
Ridgefield junior Natalie Evans catches behind the plate to warm up a pitcher between innings of a baseball game between the Spudders and Battle Ground on Friday, March, 8, 2024, at Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex. (Will Denner/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

RIDGEFIELD — Without hesitation, Natalie Evans can point to the exact moment when baseball became a major part of her life.

She and her mom, Christine Evans, visited the New York Mets’ home ballpark, Citi Field, when it opened in 2009 and got the chance to stand on the field in the presence of big-league players. Instantly, she was hooked.

“It really took off from there, like, baseball never really left my life since it started,” Natalie Evans said.

It wasn’t just her fandom that took off, but also her passion for playing baseball and poring over the details of the sport. Now a junior at Ridgefield High School, Evans is the first girl to play in the Spudders’ baseball program and is certain she won’t be the last.

She plays catcher on Ridgefield’s JV team, suits up for the varsity team as a bullpen catcher and warms up pitchers between innings behind the plate. And, beginning this spring, she’s taken on a managerial role from the dugout during varsity games, often sitting next to head coach Nick Allen helping call pitches, run charts and monitor analytics the team can use to its advantage.

In a traditionally male-dominated sport, she’s also had the opportunity to play baseball internationally with other girls through Baseball For All, a nonprofit focused on creating equity for girls in baseball, whether it’s playing, coaching or working in another area of the sport. Those experiences have further inspired Evans to pursue her baseball dreams.

“There’s definitely going to be more and more women coming out,” Evans said. “I might be the first here (in Ridgefield), but there will be another. Women playing baseball is not going away anytime soon, and it’s definitely here to stay.”

Challenges

Evans forged her own path as a female baseball player beginning in T-ball as a 5-year-old before advancing to coach pitch, kid pitch and Little League. The idea of playing softball, the primary diamond sport for girls, was never a serious consideration for her.

“I held a softball one time, and I absolutely threw it away as far as I could and never touched it again,” Evans said. “I never had a passion for softball as I did for baseball. That was never an option for me in my mind. Once I picked up a baseball, I stuck it through — and now I’m here.”

Playing baseball hasn’t been easy for Evans at every turn. When she moved with her family from New York to Clark County as a 10-year-old, Evans was twice denied joining a team, first with Salmon Creek Little League and then Ridgefield Little League.

She continued to push for a spot with the latter, even showing up to practices at the Ridgefield Fieldhouse, and eventually earned a place on a team.

“I’d find out what time and I’d be there. Even if sometimes, yes, they weren’t expecting me, I still showed and I proved that I deserved a spot,” Evans said.

Upon reaching Ridgefield High School, she tried out for the Spudders’ baseball team, went through the same cut process as everyone else and made the program’s C team, where she played as a freshman and sophomore.

“Since she was a freshman, her attitude, her effort, her knowledge of the game exceeds some of our other players in the program,” said Allen, Ridgefield’s head coach since 2013. “That’s why she’s willing to do this, because that passion is there. Why take the game away from a kid when you don’t have to?”

From then to now, as a junior, Evans and Allen agree she’s improved significantly as a hitter, raising her barrel speed from 48-49 miles per hour up to the low 60s this year. Behind the plate, she’s also put a lot of time into working on her blocking, receiving and framing as a catcher.

She’s been challenged in those areas on the field. However, Evans has also dealt with challenging moments outside the confines of the game.

In multiple instances, opponents have avoided shaking her hand at the end of games. She said she’s heard opposition from some parents in the community who disagree with the idea of a girl playing on a boys baseball team. Certain Ridgefield teammates have been reluctant to embrace her.

Evans said she tries to mentally block out those things in order to focus on the game, but, if anything, they’ve only given her added motivation.

“I’m fueled by, you can’t do something. Well, I just proved you wrong,” Evans said. “People will say, ‘Oh, she can’t play high school baseball.’ Well, I’m standing on the field where your kid is also. That kind of energy just fuels me more and more to continue, because those people can’t stop me from the passion that I have for the game. That’s the most important thing to me is, I’m so passionate about baseball, more than anything in life.”

Opportunities

Girls being told they can’t play baseball on the basis of their gender is one of the reasons why an organization like Baseball For All exists. Since joining in 2022, Evans has had multiple opportunities to travel and play the sport she loves with other girls from around the world.

Last summer, she went to Tochigi, Japan, to play in the Girls Baseball World Series representing the 23-and-under U.S. team, which played games against several countries including Australia and Japan. In February, shortly before Ridgefield’s 2024 season began, Evans was part of a group that traveled to Hawai’i to coach 10-and-under girls baseball players.

Those experiences were eye-opening for Evans and further proof of how the game continues to evolve with more girls finding their place. BFA reported in March there’s an estimated 35 percent increase in participation among girls in high school baseball programs nationwide this season.

“Since I’ve been progressing in the game,” Evans said, “the game has continued to progress.”

Evans’ final goal in her high school career is to make Ridgefield’s full-time varsity roster next year as a senior. Long term, she wants to study sports management in college and someday work for a Major League Baseball team in analytics or as an equipment manager.

This season, she’s been able to see a new side of the game by working alongside Allen in the dugout during varsity games. According to Allen, every assignment coaches have thrown Evans’ way, she’s immersed herself in and pushed for more.

Prior to Ridgefield’s March 15 game against Lynden, Allen wanted to figure out each player’s run rate by converting their 60-yard dash time to find out how long it takes them to run from first to second base on a steal attempt. Within an hour, Evans sent Allen a file with each player’s time, and the coach now has a card he keeps in his pocket during games with that data.

“She has the mind, she’s a really bright kid and she has an amazing work ethic. She has a future in baseball,” Allen said.

“She was the student of the month for Ridgefield High School last month. She’s a 3.9 (GPA) student and stuff like that. So, she’s going to write her own ticket if we can keep her connected to the game of baseball.”

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As both a player and her recently-added role, Evans continues to expand her knowledge in baseball and be around the game she loves.

The last part, she said, is the most important thing.

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