SCOREBOARD

Hoboken’s Bravo breaks gender barrier; plays baseball for state’s last undefeated team

Hoboken senior Tori Bravo has been an inspiration, becoming the first-ever girl to play on the boys’ varsity baseball team.
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Hoboken senior Tori Bravo has been an inspiration, becoming the first-ever girl to play on the boys’ varsity baseball team.

For as long as she can remember, Tori Bravo has been a baseball player.

“I’ve always loved playing baseball,” said the Hoboken High School senior. “I loved being around the ballparks. I loved going to CitiField [the home of her beloved New York Mets]. I live close to the Hoboken Little League field and I was one of the first people on the field. Baseball is such a challenging sport. What other sport can you make an out in seven of 10 at-bats and still be successful? It’s a mental game. It’s a smart person’s game. You have to always focus. That all definitely stuck with me. I liked the challenge.”

So sure enough, when the time came for Bravo to play organized sports, she elected to play Little League baseball with and against the boys, and not play softball with the rest of the girls.

After all, Hoboken is historic for girls playing Little League. The first-ever girl to play Little League baseball anywhere was Maria Pepe, who in 1972 went all the way to the New Jersey Supreme Court to receive the right to play Little League for the Young Dems.

Bravo played baseball through Little League into Babe Ruth for players ages 13-through-15.

When the time came to attend Hoboken High School, she was faced with a dilemma. Should Bravo continue to try to play baseball or give softball a try?

“I didn’t play baseball,” Bravo said. “I don’t know. I was a little intimidated. I didn’t know the coaching staff. I didn’t have confidence. I knew I was going to be the first to play baseball at Hoboken, but I just didn’t do it.”

So Bravo went to play softball.

“I thought it was too easy,” Bravo said. “I really didn’t like it.”

At the same time, Bravo was attending USA Baseball events around the country, events strictly for girls who play baseball.

“I found out that there are girls who play,” Bravo said. “I made a lot of friendships at those USA Baseball events. It instilled confidence in me. I knew that I never wanted to look back and regret the chance to play baseball. I’ve always been a baseball player. I played softball one year and I didn’t like it. I was happy to try out for baseball.”

In fact, there’s another girl from northern New Jersey, Alexia Jorge of Lyndhurst, who played varsity baseball with and against the boys.

“We became good friends,” Bravo said of Jorge.

So Bravo wanted to get the chance to try out for the baseball team.

“The one thing I learned at a young age was to respect coaching decisions,” Bravo said. “So whatever the coaches said, I listened to. I knew that I had a lot of catching up to do, because I’m not the biggest girl in the world.”

No, quite the contrary. Bravo stands about 5-foot-1 and weighs about 100 pounds. The boys who play baseball are all quite bigger and stronger. Bravo had to overcome that obstacle.

“But my favorite people in the world have been on a baseball field,” Bravo said. “Baseball has always been a lot of fun for me.”

Hoboken head coach Jack Baker had no qualms whatsoever in giving Bravo a shot to make the squad.

“I’ve always said that the best athletes play,” Baker said. “No matter if they’re a boy or a girl. I think it’s admirable that Tori wanted to play baseball. Tori’s work ethic is unbelievable. She’s the first one at practice and the last one to leave. She wants to make herself better every day. She makes everyone else on the team accountable and creates a competitive atmosphere.”

So sure enough, Baker gave Bravo a spot on the team. There was no guarantee of playing time, just a spot on the Redwings’ roster.

“Her competitiveness and her intestinal fortitude is an inspiration to everyone on the team,” Baker said. “She’s not afraid to get in the batter’s box and face pitching. What I admire the most about her is that she’s persistent. She’s always working.”

Lo and behold, Bravo, now a senior, has helped the Redwings to one of their best seasons in recent memory. They won their first 16 games of the season and were the last undefeated team in New Jersey before falling to Ferris in the Ed “Faa” Ford Memorial Hudson County Tournament quarterfinals recently.

“It’s crazy to think we’re having an undefeated season,” Bravo said before the setback to Ferris. “It’s going out with a bang. It’s really special. It’s the best thing that anyone could ask for. After the first win, then we had five wins, then 10, it was crazy. I think we have great chemistry. We all played Little League together. I think because of it, we’re one step ahead of everyone else.”

Bravo’s future is also set. She will eventually head to the United States Naval Academy, but will first go to the U.S. Naval Academy’s Preparatory School in Newport, Rhode Island, for the first 10 months of her collegiate life. Bravo arrives in Newport in July.

So how did Bravo arrive on the idea of a life in the Navy?

“My Mom [Barbara] is a big role model to me and she’s always been a big influence,” Bravo said. “When I was eight years old, my Mom went to help the people in Haiti after the earthquake and was there for two weeks. The idea of giving back and being of service always stuck with me and service to my country at the highest level.”

A family friend, Robin Erichsen, the mother of former Hoboken two-sport standout Jasmin Erichsen, who now plays soccer and basketball at Rutgers-Newark, has spent more than 20 years in the U.S. Navy.

“Robin and a friend came over to my house and talked to me about what the Naval Academy could do for me,” Bravo said. “They told me about what it had to offer. So after that, I watched a lot of Naval Academy videos and old Army-Navy football games. I became obsessed. I was hooked. I knew that it was something I wanted to do.”

Bravo attended a candidates’ weekend at Annapolis.

“I followed a plebe around for two days,” Bravo said. “I just loved the atmosphere. Everyone was so helpful. I knew that this place was meant for me.”

Bravo then attended another summer seminar last June at Annapolis and realized that she had to go.

“It’s where I wanted to be,” Bravo said.

She did her community service commitments with the Hoboken Hawks’ Special Olympics basketball program and worked the Hoboken Bike Camp to teach youngsters how to properly ride bicycles.

Bravo received her nomination to the Naval Academy from Congressman Albio Sires.

“When I received the letter, I broke down crying,” Bravo said. “It was a dream come true.”

So here’s a young lady who did what she wanted to do, play the sport that she loved, got accepted to the school of her choice and is on one of the best Hoboken teams in recent memory.

“I think it’s amazing,” Bravo said. “I think it’s great. I also played soccer and basketball, but baseball is my sport. This is the best season I’ve ever had. I’ve always believed that it’s not where you start, it’s how you finish. It’s fitting for me and my boys to represent Hoboken this way.”

Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com and follow Jim on Twitter @ogsmar.