On college squads and the national team, two NJ athletes are expanding the presence of women in baseball

"Baseball is something I love to do, and it’s not big for me that I made history. It’s awesome that I did it, but it’s not what matters right now. Right now I want to get better at baseball, and do everything I can to get better. There are bigger things that I want to accomplish.”

Alexia Jorge has big dreams; or should we say big-league dreams. The Bergen County native wants to play professional baseball as a catcher, and then become a baseball coach. She believes that her experience as a catcher—seeing batters up close, working with the pitcher, and having the best view of the field on the team—would translate well to coaching. 

But the goal for now is to “hit some bombs” both with the U.S. Women’s National Baseball Team (USWNBT) and with her collegiate baseball team at St. Elizabeth University in Morristown. But Jorge, and fellow Bergen County native Niki Eckert, got a taste of big-league life last week. 

As USWNBT members, Jorge and Eckert got to travel to Minneapolis for scrimmages at Target Field, the home of the Minnesota Twins. The USNWBT also traveled to Thunder Bay, Ontario, to play a series against the Canadian Women’s Baseball Team.  It was an experience that the two will never forget.

“It’s been really fun and getting to play at the Twins stadium was an experience like no other,” says Jorge. “I have played at MLB stadiums before, but this was the first time I got to play during the season. It was amazing getting to play at Target Field, and I can’t really put words to it.”

The USWNBT has been around since 2004; though that in itself was a big step for women baseball players, there has been even more growth for women in baseball since. In 2021, Kim Ng became the first female general manager in the MLB when she was hired by the Miami Marlins. In April, Alyssa Nakken became the first woman to coach on the field for the San Francisco Giants. 

Also in April, Kelsie Whitmore, a USWNBT teammate of Jorge’s and Eckert’s, became the first woman to play professionally in a league affiliated with Major League Baseball. She currently plays for the Staten Island Ferryhawks in the Atlantic League, an independent league in which the Somerset Patriots used to play.

Playing with Whitmore has been a boon for Jorge, who wants to travel a similar path one day.

“Just having her here proves that anything is possible,” says Jorge. “If she can do it, so can I and she’s my role model right now.’’

While the road ahead is filled with possibility, the journey to this point started in Bergen County. Jorge grew up in Lyndhurst, a North Jersey town located in Bergen County. There wasn’t “a lot to do” in Lyndhurst, according to Jorge, but she didn’t mind as she was heavily involved in baseball.

“My little league field was my second home,” says Jorge. “I was there almost every night, and baseball was what we did. My dad and I would go to the field and play.’’

Her affinity for America’s pastime started at a young age, and at 5 years old she faced an important choice: baseball or softball. 

“My dad asked me at a very young age if I wanted to stick with baseball or go play softball,” remembers Jorge. “I told him I wanted to play baseball. I knew a long time ago that I really liked this sport and I was really passionate about it. There’s a lot of amazing feelings that come from this game.”

Courtesy USA Baseball

Jorge decided to play catcher, and was influenced by former Yankees catcher Brian McCann. Jorge never really had a catching coach growing up, and learned about catching from watching McCann play. 

“When I was seven, I started really paying attention to Brian McCann,” says Jorge. “I really loved the way he played, and I copied the way he played. I still to this day watch film of him. I learned blocking from watching his videos. I never had a catching coach growing up, so I taught myself how to block and be a good defensive catcher. A lot of that goes towards Brian McCann and my coaches for giving me the reps.”

Catching coach or not, Jorge has made it pretty far in her baseball career, and was the starting catcher in high school at Lyndhurst. She was then recruited to play at Saint Elizabeth’s University in Morristown, and she was sold by attending a baseball camp.

“I went to a camp that one of my coaches had and I really liked that they had the players there,” says Jorge. “I wanted to know what the players were like and how they were going to treat me and how they would make me feel because college baseball is a new environment. I got a good feeling from SEU. The players asked me if I was trying out for softball and I was like, ‘No, I want to play baseball.’ And they were like, ‘Oh, that’s sick!’ They were all for it and hyped. That sold the deal for me.”

Jorge became the first woman to play baseball at SEU, and she appreciates the honor. She’s more focused on her impact on the field, though. 

“It’s great and it hasn’t really hit me yet,” says Jorge. “Baseball is something I love to do, and it’s not big for me that I made history. It’s awesome that I did it, but it’s not what matters right now. Right now I want to get better at baseball, and do everything I can to get better. There are bigger things that I want to accomplish.”

One of those goals that Jorge accomplished was making the USWNBT for the second time; making the team was a goal she had since she was a kid.

“When I was 11, I had a goal of making the USWNBT,” says Jorge. “It was then when I decided to set my sights on that. I would try out for these different baseball teams, and it was at a try-out in North Carolina where someone told me about the women’s national team. I was like, ‘Woah, Women’s National Team? I want to be on that and wear the USA across my chest. That’s amazing.’ I always had USA catchers’ gear growing up or neon of course.

“The National Team was always something that I looked forward to and I wanted to be a part of it. Back then I was the only girl I knew who would play baseball, and it was [great] to be with other girls who played baseball as well.”

Jorge encouraged her now teammate and fellow Bergen County native Niki Eckert to try out for the national team. Eckert is a pitcher, and a baseball player at the University of Rochester. One of her teammates told her to try out as well.

“There was another girl on the team at the University of Rochester who told me about the opportunities of women’s baseball”, says Eckert. “She mentioned playing in the breakthrough series and the national team. She told me I should try out. I have been playing baseball for a long time, and I had no idea there was this huge outlet for women’s baseball.’’

Eckert went to the try out in Minnesota this past summer, and over 100 girls tried out for the 20-spot roster.

“I was nervous and didn’t know what to expect because I have never been a part of an all girls baseball team,” Eckert explains. “But overall, I was excited to be a part of something big and amazing. It was cool to see girls come together and compete for the love of the sport.’’

Eckert’s love for baseball started in Englewood, and she loved playing catch with her father.

“My dad and I would throw around these velcro tennis balls that we would get at Target,” remembers Eckert. “That’s what we would do when we would go to LBI every summer. I loved throwing it around and one day I got a little kid’s baseball glove and my love grew from there. I never really knew softball existed until I got older. We just upgraded my baseball equipment every year. My friend would go to a baseball clinic and I went with him, and it’s where I got to pitch for the first time. I really loved it and kept going with it.”

Her instructors realized that she had good pitching mechanics, and it was at the clinics that she developed her love for pitching.

“With pitching I like that I’m able to control the game,” says Eckert. “I was really drawn to it.”

Growing up, Eckert loved watching Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw pitch and modeled her game after him.

“I really loved Clayton Kershaw,” explains Eckert. “He has great composure and I like his pitch sequences.” 

In July, Eckert got to pitch on a big league mound in Minnesota and it’s an experience that she’ll never forget. 

“The fact that we were able to play in Target Field, and how they supported the USWNBT was really great to see,” says Eckert. “Just knowing that there were people there who support women’s baseball is amazing. This sport is really going to grow in the future, and it’s really heartwarming to see.”