PARIS — As a two-time All-Star, Steve Finley knows more than most what it takes to shine in Major League Baseball. So having run his expert eyes over the sport’s pioneering 16-year-old girl at a training camp this week, can he hazard a guess at whether she’ll go on to become MLB’s first female player?
Short answer: Too early to tell.
Not because Melissa Mayeux is a girl. But because "I couldn’t say that about any 16-year-old in the United States, anywhere in the world," Finley said Friday, speaking by phone to The Associated Press at the end of the pitching and hitting camp in Germany.
"It’s an unfair label to even try to put on a 16-year-old kid — boy or girl — that’s in this position: Are they the ‘real deal?"’ he said. "She just wants to play baseball and be good at it."
Still, it is fair to say that Finley certainly doesn’t seem displeased by what he saw, having worked with the shortstop on her swing.
"She’s very coachable, which I like," he said. "She’s got good baseball I.Q."
As of Thursday, Mayeux became eligible to be signed by pro teams, having been added to MLB’s international registration list, in a first for women.
In an AP interview earlier this week, Mayeux said she wants to "reach the highest level I can" in baseball and dreams of becoming MLB’s first woman, but also realizes that goal is still a long way off. She has already proven that she’s a fighter: she successfully got a "no-girls-allowed" rule abolished in her native France so she could keep playing baseball with French boys beyond the age of 15.
"Where it will take me and when, I don’t know," she said. "Having my name on that list blazes a trail for girls, and I hope girls will come forward to accomplish big things, too, because I don’t think I’m alone at this level."
Yet all the other 28 kids at the MLB clinic were boys. Finley, who won the World Series with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001, insisted Mayeux was there on merit.
"I don’t really try to rank them," he said. "They’re 16, they’re 15, they’re 17. I think back when I was in high school, where would I have been ranked? Probably not very high.
"She wouldn’t be here if she was a bad player. She’s not going to be here just because she’s a girl. She’s a baseball player and she’s a good baseball player."
Mike McClellan, MLB’s International Game Development director, told the AP: "She’s got great baseball action. She can really play the position. She knows what she’s doing. She knows to be always in the right position. … She makes her plays defensively. She’s a good base runner."
"There’s no pandering involved," he said. "This is not a gimmick we’re trying to pull."
Mayeux plays for the French junior national team in baseball and the national softball team — with other women — at a senior level. In all her youth teams, Mayeux was always the only girl who stuck with baseball.
She hopes to catch team scouts’ eyes at another MLB European camp in August where she’ll work with Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin.
"It’s going to be fun to see how she develops," said McClellan.