HOUSTON – Delaney Dunham loves playing baseball.
The past three summers, Dunham has played for the Houston Athletics – a select team baseball organization – and this spring she will suit up for the first time with the Barbers Hill High School sophomore baseball team.
“I just like how it’s so dynamic,” Delaney said about baseball. “I don’t have to be good at one thing. I can be good at first base, pitcher and hit the ball. It’s multiple things.”
For Barbers Hill coach David Denny, the 15-year-old freshman is the first girl to make a roster in his coaching tenure.
“I’ve had [girls] try out before but have never made it,” Denny said. “She will make it. Without a doubt she will be around as long as she chooses to be around.”
Denny first saw Delaney during the summer as an eighth grader playing long toss in a field at Baytown Lee.
He knew then that she was good just from watching her throw from a distance. She looked like “a natural”.
Once he saw her take the mound there was no doubt in his mind she’d fit in on the roster.
“Watching her this summer she mixes right in,” Denny said. “The guys respect her, they know that she can play. She’s not just here because she’s a female; she’s here because she’s a good baseball player and a good athlete.
“She’s got a good curveball, she throws strikes and she competes. For any freshman, that’s really all you can ask for.”
Delaney hopes that more girls will start trying to play baseball just like she did because there isn’t much of a drawback doing it.
“I hope that they take the chance of playing,” Delaney said. “It’s not going to hurt you to do it. It’s great. It’ll better them as an athlete.”
Until the age of 12, Delaney had always played softball.
Her older brother Connor – who is a starting outfielder for Barbers Hill’s varsity team – played for the Houston Athletics and during a spring break camp, Delaney participated in it.
“I remember her being the best player at the camp,” Houston Athletics Director Ricky Watkins said.
After the camp, Watkins asked Delaney’s parents if she could play on their team made up of 12-year-olds that upcoming summer.
They said OK and with her select softball team breaking up, the Houston Athletics was the next team for her.
“The minute she hit that group she really hasn’t looked back,” Watkins said. “It’s been a fun process for her so far.”
On the softball diamond, Delaney was a left-handed pitcher and also played first base. When she moved over to the baseball diamond nothing changed.
“It went from trying to beat them high in the zone to trying to beat them lower in the zone,” Delaney said about transitioning to the baseball mound. “I had to make sure to keep my pitches down.”
Pitching the baseball overhanded wasn’t the hard part of the move.
Transitioning from the traditional softball underhand, swinging your arm and dragging your back foot pitching style to the leg-kick, overhanded, driving down the mound baseball approach was the part that took some time.
“Pitching in baseball is natural because it’s the way you throw the ball,” Delaney said. “Getting the steps down, the windup and the pickoff move, that took forever. But to pitch the ball it didn’t take very long.”
As Delaney made the move from softball to baseball, she analyzed the games of some of the best current and former players in the majors.
On the mound her favorite southpaw to watch is 2015 Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel.
“He’s kind of an off-speed pitcher and I mainly throw off-speeds,” Delaney said. “He spots up on the plate because he doesn’t throw as hard as everybody else. But he still spots up and gets players out like that and that’s what I want to do.”
For her if she needs that knockout pitch for a strikeout, the freshman has a pair of options in her arsenal.
“For a really aggressive batter, I’ll throw a changeup in the dirt,” she said. “But if I can spot up a curveball on the outside, that’s what I’ll do.”
At the plate, Delaney emulates Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr.
“He has the best left-handed swing I’ve ever seen,” Delaney said.
Once she got the fundamentals down, Delaney has excelled and even got noticed by Major League Baseball last summer and recently earned an invite to the 2019 High School Girls Baseball Invitational.
“It’s so amazing, it’s such a big opportunity,” Delaney said. “As soon as I started baseball, it was in my head that I wanted to play for USA Baseball. It’s amazing to be a part of it at all.”
Delaney was one of 64 young women from across the country selected for the four-day camp, which will be held at the Rangers Youth Academy and Globe Life Park in Arlington on March 7-10.
“I’ve never played with any other female players in baseball,” Delaney said. “It’ll just be great to be split up on teams with them and to have that opportunity to understand what they go through as a female athlete too.”
According to a letter from the Office of the Commission of Major League Baseball, the camp aims to provide elite training, individualized instruction, games and college-career guidance led by former MLB players and current and former USA Baseball Women’s National Team players.
“I’m very proud of her,” Connor said. “I hope she takes advantage of that opportunity. She’s put in a lot of work. She’s working every day just with me and my other brothers.
“She’s around a competitive family and that makes her competitive.”
With older brother Connor playing for the varsity team this season as a junior that leaves the chance that they could play together as high.
“I’d love to see them both on the field at the same time in a varsity jersey,” Denny said.
Playing on the same team isn’t something new as they have done it before.
“I played with him over the summer,” Delaney said. “It was fun but he’s always going to be my older brother. I’d love to play with him. He’s been the person I’ve looked up to playing baseball. He’s the person I want to get to.”
“I’d be pretty proud,” Connor said. “That’d be amazing.”
Delaney is in the midst of her freshman year at Barbers Hill, which by the end will include her playing volleyball, basketball, baseball and running track for the Eagles.
“I wanted to play as many sports I could my freshman year,” Delaney said.
If she participates in all four sports all four years, the freshman didn’t know if that’ll happen but baseball is a favorite.
When asked what sport she would enjoy playing in college – baseball was at top of the list.
“I’ve always thought about college baseball,” Delaney said. “I love playing a bunch of sports. But I think baseball I would love to go to college.”
Watching her for the past three seasons play for the Houston Athletics, Watkins believes she has the ability to achieve that dream.
“I think she has every intangible and skill set she needs to play baseball at the college level,” Watkins said. “I definitely see her playing this game as long as she wants to.”
Delaney’s next goal past playing in college is just like anyone else who plays baseball – one day playing in the majors.
Playing for her hometown Houston Astros would be a dream come true, Delaney said and believes one day we will see a woman professional baseball player.
“I definitely think that’ll happen because I feel like females are being put into this sport more and more,” she said.