Paving Her Path

How Annabel Previdi is breaking barriers by channeling her love for the game
Paving Her Path
Credit: Annabel Previdi

There’s a certain joy that comes with sports. A euphoric feeling that can rush over oneself when immersed. It could come from a big play on the field or a small vulnerable one off the field, but either way, sports can spread competition and passion far and wide. Sports aren’t the most inviting atmosphere, however, with restrictions in place for which genders and ages can play certain sports. Junior Annabel Previdi dares to dream and change the exclusive narrative that hovers over athletics. 

For the longest time, sports were separated by identity characteristics that only allowed certain people to play that sport. The sport that comes to many people’s minds when they think of exclusion has historically been baseball, a sport framed as “America’s Pastime.” Jackie Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers debut in 1947 broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball (MLB). Still, no women or people identifying with other genders have been able to play alongside their male counterparts. 

As thousands of men were drafted to fight in World War II, the MLB lost many of its players. To keep baseball in the minds of fans while male players were fighting overseas, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) was created. The AAGPBL was a major hit and garnered publicity from all over the country. In 1948, the 10 teams collectively had 910,000 paid fans watch and cheer on their favorite all-girls baseball teams. From 1943-1954, these women lived out their lifelong dreams of playing professional baseball and captivated the nation as they did. 

More recently Mon’oe Davis made headlines as the first girl to get a shutout in the Little League World Series. Davis excelled and was put on the cover of Sports Illustrated and given many other honors for her efforts. Her jersey hangs in the Baseball Hall of Fame but many believe her impact has lasting impacts on women in baseball today.    

Closer to the Hilltop, Niki Eckert ‘21 dominated the mound and the Ivy League Prep division over her four years at Hackley but has mixed feelings about how she was treated. Niki grew up playing baseball since she was eight years old. Her love for baseball brought her to tryouts freshman year. 

Credit: Niki Eckert
Niki poses in her Team USA uniform during a photoshoot. A change from her number 2 she wore for Hackley, Niki’s now rocks number 3. Time and time again, Niki explores an outlet that seems nerve-racking and then quickly becomes one of the best on the team.

“I tried out and they [the baseball team] kind of teased me a little bit. Already being the only girl on the team was pretty daunting and challenging and then I felt I had to prove myself even more.” 

Once Niki showed her talents as a pitcher, the team began to accept her more. Niki led the team with an ERA of 3.0 and continued to become a leader from her sophomore to senior year. During her years as an upperclassman, Niki began to attend recruiting showcases to play in college. Niki committed to play at the University of Rochester where she met Beth Greenwood, a catcher for the team and the first girl in Rochester baseball history. Beth introduced Niki to the United States Women’s National Baseball Team(USWNBT). 

“I tried out the summer after my freshman year of college,” she said, “I made the 20-woman roster and it was my first time ever playing with other girls and that was amazing. It is such an empowering space to play with other women against other countries. It showed me that there really needs to be more promotion and outreach for Women’s Baseball.” 

Niki, now a seasoned player for USWNBT and Rochester, is striving to bring home the gold medal in the Women’s Baseball World Cup next August in Canada. As she continues along her journey, she continues to advocate for support in women’s baseball. 

“There were so many times when I was younger when I wanted to give up because it didn’t seem possible to go farther in baseball but with the rising opportunities surrounding women’s baseball it’s really empowering to embrace those circles and opportunities and find those pathways in baseball. Playing with the guys, you can always show up the guys whenever you want but women’s baseball has really been life-changing for me.”

Credit: Niki Eckert
Niki and her USWNBT celebrate punching their ticket to the World Cup finals this summer in Canada. Niki is recovering from a torn labrum but hopes to be able to play by the tournament. To take home the gold, the American squad will have to take down tough teams in Japan, Chinese Taipei, and Canada.

For Annabel, it has always been about playing baseball whenever and wherever she could. More than playing, it was about consuming baseball. Binders of baseball cards organized alphabetically, catches with her dad in cramped New York City parks, and an unhealthy amount of Yankees games show how obsessed Annabel is with the game.  

Growing up in Manhattan, Annabel bounced around different baseball leagues in the city from the time she was five years old. Sometimes it was close to home, others it was in predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods with bigger guys who only spoke Spanish. No matter what Annabel followed her heart to the field time after time. 

Credit: Annabel Previdi
Annabel holds up a well-earned trophy from her Inwood Little League baseball season in 2021. To play in the league, Annabel had to travel to Uptown Manhattan. With the competition being bigger and stronger, Annabel was scared at first but the boys in the league were very welcoming to her and she spent two great seasons there.

At her entry to Hackley, the thought of playing baseball wasn’t available to her at her previous all-girls school where she played softball. Filled with excitement but also the normal uneasiness of a new Hackley student, Annabel decided to play softball her freshman year and meet more people before deciding to make the leap to baseball. 

Softball captain and former teammate of Annabel’s Andy Hegarty reflected on her time with Annabel on the team. 

“She was a really good teammate and a really good player. At the end of the day though, I am really happy for her because I think is what she always wanted. She would always talk about baseball and I think this was what she wanted from the beginning but we will definitely miss her on the field and in the dugout,” Andy said. 

The summer before this season, former Hackley captain and Bowdoin baseball player Aidan Aybar took the time to throw and talk to Annabel about the possibility of playing. 

Aidan was impressed with Annabel’s natural arm talent and determination. 

“It’s been great working with Annabel. It took a ton of courage for her to play this year and I’m really impressed by it. She hasn’t gotten much playing time this year, but has been a sponge and demonstrated a lot of potential, particularly as a pitcher. Annabel has a big opportunity to grow as a player this offseason and become a significant contributor next year. As is the case for most of the team, there’s work to be done in the weight room. However, specific keys for her will be developing a command of an effective off-speed pitch and building confidence. With a productive offseason, Annabel could definitely establish herself as a regular on the mound for her senior season,” Aidan said. 

Working with Aidan helped soothe Annabel’s nervousness about playing baseball and gave her the confidence to go for it. For Annabel, the hardest practices were the ones with the lowest stakes. The team’s unofficial practices in the winter were Annabel’s first practices with the team and she wanted to make her mark and show that she was ready for the challenge. 

Looking towards the future, Annabel doesn’t have her sights set on playing baseball in college (at least not for now). Her eyes lit up when talking about a future career that involves baseball like her favorite clubhouse reporter for the Yankees Meredith Marakovits, a commentator like John Sterling, or a baseball operations analyst like Hackley alumna Ellie Grueskin ‘18. What really has a grip on Annabel is an interlinking of her love for Psychology and baseball. 

“I am interested in Sports Psychology. When Aaron Judge was at 61 home runs, I wonder if he was talking to people about how to ease the pressure. Anything with baseball sounds like such a cool job.”

Regarding her feelings now, halfway through the season, and her advice for any girls wanting to follow in her footsteps, Annabel stands firm to her beliefs on positivity and following your passions. “In the grand scheme of things this is going to be a positive experience. The embarrassment I felt from being in my pathetic uniform or when I miss something that I should’ve caught; it really doesn’t matter. In 20 years, I’ll look back and remember all the positive things. Go for it and own it, the people who are making fun of you will grow up and realize that you were pretty cool for doing what you did. Just do it”

Now when Annabel takes the mound, she doesn’t get as many stares or confused looks. She still wears a uniform that doesn’t fit, holding a ball that’s smaller than a softball on a field much larger, but Annabel is finally at home.

Credit: Christina Schoonmaker
Senior Adam Gall, freshman Tyler Parrot, and Annabel take warmups before the Spring Sting. Annabel is smaller in stature than some of her teammates but not in heart. “I look pathetic in the uniform but I’ll own it,” she said.
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