Olivia Roberto, a 13-year-old from Merrick, is trying to break the mold.
Olivia pitches and plays rightfield for the Merrick Avenue Middle School baseball team. A girl has never played high school varsity baseball on Long Island, according to Nassau and Suffolk County sports officials, but Olivia’s next stop could be the varsity team at Calhoun High School.
There are no rules prohibiting a girl from playing baseball, but most girls choose to play softball, starting in Little League. Olivia said softball was never a consideration.
“I love baseball and I’ve been playing since I was 5 years old,” said Olivia, an eighth-grader who said she caught the bug watching her older brother Peter play Little League. “As long as I feel comfortable that I can compete, I will continue to play baseball.”
Calhoun’s varsity baseball coach, Art Canestro, has seen Olivia play and is more than happy to give her a chance.
“I would love to have her,” Canestro said. “She’s instinctive and knows the game better than anyone on the middle school field. I hope she doesn’t change her mind and play softball.”
In the team’s opening home game on May 2, Olivia, who pitches and bats lefthanded, struck out five batters in two innings. At the plate, she collected two hits, two runs and two stolen bases. Tuesday, she went 2-for-2 in the designated hitter role.
“Olivia is one of the best all-around players on our team this year,” said Brian Resnick, the Merrick Avenue coach.
For the most part, teammates see her as just another player.
“I’ve been catching her for five years,” said Tim Mack, “and she keeps getting better. . . . She’s fun to be around and always positive.”
This is Olivia’s second season on the Merrick Avenue team. Resnick said she was welcomed by players and parents alike last year as a seventh-grader.
“It’s my first opportunity to coach a female athlete in baseball and she’s changed my opinion on girls in baseball,” he said. “She’s fundamentally sound. She’s very coachable and she fits right in.”
Olivia’s ability caught the eye of Pat Shortt, a former major league scout who saw her play during a weeklong camp in Oceanside in February. Shortt of Hempstead recommended her for last month’s Trailblazer Series, an elite all-girls program sponsored by Major League Baseball and USA Baseball in Los Angeles.
There, she picked up tips from Robin Wallace, who was the first woman to play college baseball after becoming the first to play high school baseball in Alabama.
“Olivia made the most outstanding catch in the entire tournament in centerfield and robbed our hitter of an extra-base hit,” said Wallace, who played briefly at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, and has been with MLB’s scouting bureau since 2012.
This summer, Olivia will play for the Oil City Bandits travel team out of Oceanside as she prepares to go out for Calhoun’s junior varsity team — and beyond.
Olivia is sparked by a competitive drive that her mom, Dawn Roberto, said reaches all aspects of her life.
“It’s who she is, part of her makeup,” Dawn said. “Olivia has this aggressive drive and won’t let anything stand in her way. She speaks her mind, never gives up and finds a way to be successful. If her brother [now 18 and graduating from Calhoun in June] came home with a high grade, she wanted a higher grade.”
But at heart, Dawn said, Olivia is just a normal kid.
“She’s a typical girl when she’s with her girlfriends,” Dawn said. “We had 20-something girls here the other night, all athletes, and they were all on their phones with chips and dips and music playing — you know, girl things.”
Middle school baseball games have gone smoothly, but not every experience on Olivia’s travel teams has been a home run, her father said.
“We’ve had a couple of instances where the opposing team tried to rattle her,” Peter Roberto said. “The boys were saying, ‘I like her, she’s pretty, don’t you think she’s cute?’ ” Other hecklers have shouted “Go back to softball,” according to her dad.
Olivia shrugs off the harsh words and tries to let her play do the talking. Olivia has showed she can handle the physical side of the game without backing down.
Last fall, Olivia was hit just above her right eye by a pitch that left her with a concussion, she said. “I had no time to duck,” she said. “I came back but had to wear a mask.”
She also barreled into the opposing catcher in a home plate collision.
“The catcher landed on me and cracked my helmet,” she said. “But I was safe; I took him out.”
It’s that kind of toughness that could help Olivia realize her dream of playing varsity baseball.
“I will take her in a heartbeat,” Canestro said.