ATLANTA (AP) — Katie Goldberg may never make it to the major leagues. But she hit enough balls out of the park this summer to rival her favorite Atlanta Braves player, Brian McCann.
In five weeks of summer tournament play, Katie hit 11 home runs — three in one game. One of those three homers was a grand slam. Earlier this month, in the team’s final tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Katie hit a home run in the championship game, which her team lost.
“She’s the real deal,” her coach, Randy Rhino, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “She’s made the all-star team every year, and she’s earned everything.”
If you want to hear how good Katie is at baseball, don’t ask her. She’s just a 12-year-old girl who loves playing a sport, she said. She’s a seventh-grader, with a mouth full of metal braces, a ponytail and a face free of even a touch of makeup.
“I’m just a normal baseball player,” Katie said.
Normal? Only if “normal” is being one of the best players on your all-star baseball team, and all of your teammates are boys. Katie’s not a girl trying to make a statement, and she’ll quietly let you know. She’s played baseball most of her life, and she’s good.
When she wasn’t scoring runs this summer, Katie played third base or pitched. But her coaches say she could have played any spot on the field. The league doesn’t check the speed of 12-year-olds’ throwing arms, but her coaches have their own assessment.
“She’s got a cannon,” Rhino said.
As a former college football star, Rhino speaks on authority on Katie’s athletic ability. The former Georgia Tech standout was a three-time All-American playing defensive back and punt returner.
Katie’s athletic skills earned her national attention after a YouTube video caught the attention of Katie Couric’s television show. Rhino posted a video of Katie Goldberg’s three home runs in a game.
Gail Goldberg, Katie’s mom, got a phone call from New York, and a week later, the baseball star was on the set of Couric’s “Katie!” show.
During a “One to Watch” segment that aired recently, the younger Katie showed the TV show host her batting technique, as her mom, dad Craig and her brother watched from the audience. During the show, Katie Goldberg was surprised with a videotaped message from McCann. Katie Couric presented her guest with a jersey and gift basket from the Braves.
“Good Morning America” was also planning a story on the young ball player, her mom says.
When the younger Katie starts at the Marist School this fall, she plans to try out for the middle school baseball team. If she can still compete with the boys, she wants to play for the varsity team in high school, she says.
Katie wouldn’t be the first girl in the state to play on a boys’ high school baseball team, said Steve Figueroa with the Georgia High School Association. But it’s not common.
During the 2011-2012 school year, 16 girls played baseball for nine different teams, according to the latest participation numbers available from the GHSA. That’s 16 girls compared to the 12,588 boys that played baseball, Figueroa said. Traditionally, many of the girls playing have attended smaller schools, he said.
In the 1991-1992 school year, 66 girls played on boys high school teams in Georgia, Figueroa said. But at the time, only slow-pitch softball was offered for girls, he said. When fast-pitch softball began competition, girls that previously played baseball switched sports. Rules allow any girl to play a boys’ sport, even if there is a similar girls’ team, such as softball.
“A girl can play any sport we offer, so she certainly would be eligible to play,” Figueroa said.
Katie says she’s never tried softball. As a toddler, she tagged along when her older brother Will went to baseball practices and games, asking if she could play, too. Little Katie would even put on her brother’s old uniforms and equipment to prove she was ready. Before she was old enough to start school, she was playing.
“At 4 years old, she could catch really good,” Gail Goldberg said. “She could hit it off the tee, and she would want to do it for hours. She would do it 500 times.”
Katie tried gymnastics, but didn’t love it. She also plays basketball and soccer, but baseball is her love.
Katie played on her first boys’ tee-ball team when she was 5, and it didn’t take long before she started getting attention. It had nothing to do with her being a girl.
“We could tell at 7 that she had all the fundamentals down already,” said Jeff Woolverton, an assistant all-star coach this summer. “She was born into the park.”
To her teammates, she’s just another player. To Katie, it’s like having a whole team of brothers. The boys don’t mind her, especially when she’s hitting homers, her coaches said. Even Katie’s older brother, who is 15, admits she’s better than he was at 12.
“I’m not trying to stand out,” Katie said. “I gotta see how good I can get.”
At some point, the boys may over-power her and she’ll have to re-think her plans, Katie says.
For now, Katie says, playing on the boys’ teams is what she’s always done.