Franklin Park girl a standout player in boys baseball division

| Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Capturing the attention and winning the hearts of baseball players, coaches and fans throughout the state is one athlete who plays in the Ingomar Franklin Park Athletic Association's 11- and 12-year-old Major League boys baseball division.

Standing 5 feet, 6 inches tall and weighing 122 pounds, this right-hander can fire a fastball 48 feet from the pitching rubber to home plate at speeds up to 63 mph and recorded 30 strikeouts and an earned-run average of 2.46 through 29 cumulative innings pitched during 21 games of the summer tournament season.

Offensively, this young powerhouse can smack the ball 200 feet over the center field fence — plus another 40 feet into the tall grass beyond — and batted .417 with an on-base percentage of .562 for 64 plate appearances.

This standout player in the boys baseball league is a girl.

Rachel Martindale, 12, of Franklin Park, has been playing baseball alongside the boys since she was 4. She has helped lead her in-house teams to championships three times and has been selected for the tournament all-star team every year since she was 8.

According to the Ingomar-Franklin Park Athletic Association, or IFPAA, there were approximately 30 girls playing baseball for the organization this year. The vast majority played in the Little Tykes program for 4-year-olds and T-ball for 5- and 6-year-olds.

“It is very rare to have girls playing baseball beyond age 7,” said IFPAA Major League Commissioner Dave Hunker of Franklin Park. Most migrate to softball.

Martindale considered playing softball but chose to stick with boys baseball.

“To me, it's more challenging and more competitive,” she explained.

She has grown accustomed to the gawks and glares she gets from opposing teams when she walks onto the field with her long hair spilling from her baseball cap. “The hardest part of baseball for me is earning respect from opponents. A lot of times, they start laughing when they see me,” she said. “But that only gets me more pumped up. It makes me want to beat them even more.”

And she usually does.

Her favorite pitch is the fast ball. “I like to blow it past the batters,” she said.

“And if those batters look like they're getting used to my fast ball, I sneak in the knuckle ball. The curve in that pitch gets ahead of the batter and knocks their timing off.”

By the end of the game, everybody on the field and in the stands has respect for her, according to Dan Hattrup 46, of McCandless. Hattrup has been the head coach of Martindale's in-house and tournament teams since the beginning.

“It doesn't take long to realize who Rachel Martindale is,” he said.

Martindale rotates with ease between the pitching mound, first base, second base and shortstop. “Girl or boy, she's one of the best players I've ever seen on the field,” Hattrup said.

She earned plenty of cheers in July when her IFPAA team qualified to represent western Pennsylvania in vying for the state championship at the Cal Ripken 12U PA State Tournament in Philadelphia. Although the team was eliminated after pool play when it lost 2-1 to last year's state champions from Chester County, Martindale attracted a strong following during the skills competition. In the home-run derby, she went up against 20 of the state's top male sluggers in her age group.

With 18 swings, she hit four home runs, three near-home runs off the top of the outfield fence, nine line drives into the grass and two in-field grounders to accumulate 36 points — one home run short of winning, but enough to capture third place.

This year, Martindale played for the IFPAA and the North Allegheny Little League, or NALL. This was her first year playing for NALL.

Bernie Caputo, 48, of Franklin Park, was Martindale's Little League coach.

“As a coach, I love smart players, and she's a smart player. As a batter, she reached base at least 75 percent of the time. Her pitching was outstanding. In the field, she had quick hands and attacked the ball rather than waited. She has a great baseball IQ and knows what's going on and what needs to be done.”

Still, she's all girl, Caputo said. “When we put our hands in for the cheer, her fingernails are painted.”

Martindale, the daughter of Bruce and Jackie Martindale, both 48, said she realizes her baseball days likely will come to an end as the boys begin to surpass her in size and strength.

“I'd love to be a major league baseball player, but realistically, I don't think that's in my future,” she said. “So, I want to be a math teacher when I grow up. I love being around kids. I also want to coach baseball — for boys and girls. My message to these kids would be to never stop believing, to never give up. I'd tell them, ‘Attitude is everything.'”

Hattrup said Martindale makes him proud.

“Rachel's not just a great baseball player, she's a great person,” he said. “I'm so happy to brag that I have a girl on my team.”

Laurie Rees is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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