Kristen Moldovan became an instant celebrity at the Junior Little League Baseball East regionals in Freehold, N.J., last week and is likely to draw even more attention Monday as her Massapequa team plays in the World Series in Michigan.
As a female starting player on a boys team, Moldovan, 15, was frequently asked for photographs and autographs by younger girls looking to follow in her footsteps.
Moldovan, a third baseman and pitcher from Massapequa Park, was the first female member of a team that advanced to the East regional, according to Greg Bzura, the director of the Junior League World Series. Before this year, only four girls have ever played in the Junior League World Series since 1981, its first year of existence, he said.
This is the first year that two girls will be playing, Bzura said, as Moldovan is joined by Samantha Day, who is playing for the Canada team.
Her team opens World Series play in Taylor, Mich., against a team from Lafayette, La.
Although third base is her main position, she said she gets a kick out of pitching.
"It's actually kind of fun when the guys strike out while I'm on the mound and get mad," said Moldovan, an incoming sophomore at Massapequa High School. "Sometimes I'm underestimated and guys just want to kill the ball."
That attitude has worked in the Massapequa team's favor.
"She's pretty good, too," said catcher Matt Pinto, whose father, Joe Pinto, coaches the Massapequa team. "All the other teams try not to strike out against her because she's a girl, and that's good for us."
Moldovan is basically just "one of the guys," Matt Pinto said.
"It's not really a big deal because we've known her for a long time and have played with her," he said. "I've played with girls on my team since T-ball, so it's not a big deal."
Junior Little League is for 13- to 14-year-olds, one age group older than the Little Leaguers who play their World Series in Williamsport, Pa. Although she turned 15 on Aug. 1, Moldovan remains eligible for the division.
Moldovan played T-ball when she was 5 and tried softball around 8. But baseball was her favorite sport and she didn't want to switch to softball, according to her mother, Terri Moldovan. Her daughter plays golf, not softball, during the school year, she said.
"As long as she can compete with the boys, which isn't a problem, and hold her own, I think she'll be fine," Terri Moldovan said. "I am often amazed at the confidence and poise she displays on the mound despite circumstances and high-pressure games."
Kristen Moldovan pitched a complete-game victory over Syracuse-Seneca Falls in a state championship game last month. In another outing Aug. 5, a relief appearance in a regional game against Quincy, Mass., Moldovan struck out three of the four batters she faced.
The next night, she started against DuBois, Pa., and threw 62/3 innings, allowing just two earned runs in a 9-4 win. Moldovan also drove in four runs.
Moldovan said she encounters ridicule from the opposition at times, but it doesn't bother her.
"I don't mind that because I know that I can prove them wrong," she said. "But for the most part, everyone pretty much accepts me, anyway."