Beneath the lights of ‘Jane Wilkins’ field, Carmen Overdyke joins about 20 players practicing their double plays, her brown pony tail flowing from her cap as she spins and whips a throw to first base.

Overdyke makes the play look routine at this recent offseason baseball workout at Buckhead’s Northside Youth Organization, one of the country’s largest youth sports programs. But, in the big picture, what Overdyke is attempting is uncommon.

Carmen Overdyke, 9, at an offseason baseball workout at Buckhead’s Northside Youth Organization. (Chesny Young)

At 9-years-old, she wants to play in the Bronco League, home to the NYO Titans, a premier all-star team that plays against some of the most talented 12-year-old baseball players in metro Atlanta. Bronco is filled with boys learning how to make the transition from recreation to high-school baseball.

Overdyke could become just the sixth girl in the last decade to play in the league.

Plenty of inspiration

Playing baseball against boys feels, “different,” Overdyke said. Then, after thinking about it for a second, she laughed and said different “but in a good way.”

For most girls her age, continuing to turn double plays on the infield means switching to softball, but she has plenty of inspiration if she wants to keep playing on the baseball diamond. Since 2011, girls such as Olivia Bailey, Katie Harpring, Lelia Langston, Emma Simon and Katie Goldberg have played baseball through Bronco (NYO leagues are named after horses: Shetland, Bronco, Pony).

Currently though, no girls are expected to play in the league next year.

Last year across the state, 43 girls made their high school baseball team. Only six girls across the entire country made college baseball rosters. None went on to play in the minor leagues.

For now, Overdyke is having too much fun improving to think about giving up the sport she loves.

“You practice more so that you are better at the game,” she said. “Then it becomes even more fun for you.”

‘The best times’

Many girls at NYO, with the guidance of their parents, continue to play baseball as long as they can. One reason: Goldberg, among the best in her age group when she played in Bronco and a familiar name to many boys and girls still playing NYO baseball today.

Goldberg broke into Bronco in 2011, selected by the Cardinals in the first round of the coach’s draft. During her two seasons, she made the all-star team, leading it in home runs both summers.

“It was some of the best times of my life,” Goldberg said. “Baseball made me more athletic and just a better player.”

Goldberg applied those lessons at Marist High School, where she became a star on the softball team and earned a college scholarship. Today, she is attending the University of Virginia, where she still plays softball and studies economics. 

Goldberg said playing in the Bronco league helped her learn how to compete. She later leaned on those experiences when pursuing her goal of attending a college as academically revered as UVA, “a school that I most likely wouldn’t have gotten myself into otherwise,” she said.

When the time is right

Most girls who play NYO baseball do not stick with it long enough to play on Bronco’s ‘Jane Wilkins’ Field, named after the organization’s longtime executive director who retired just a few years ago.

But NYO parents see the pursuit of playing in Bronco as a useful balance between getting comfortable and staying competitive. The ­­­­challenge can also prepare them to confront and overcome future adversity.

 “I hope she can look back on this the rest of her life and remember that hard work helped her accomplish something,” said Eddie Overdyke, Carmen’s father. He said it’s also just as important to let Carmen know it’s OK whenever she decides to move on.

“Baseball for Carmen is a one-year contract,” her father said. “When the time is right for her to leave baseball, we will know.”

Chesny Young is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.