The girl of summer

The girl of summer

Smithfield’s Kayla Baptista throws batting practice before one of the Wareham Gatemen’s games in the Cape Cod League. The 2020 R.I. Gatorade Player of the Year Award winner, who is a sophomore infielder on the University of North Carolina softball team, spent the summer as a coaching intern for the Gatemen.
Fresh off solid freshman season with University of North Carolina softball team, Smithfield's Baptista serves as coaching intern for Cape Cod League’s Wareham Gatemen

SMITHFIELD – Kayla Baptista spent most of her summer on sunny Cape Cod, but she didn’t go there to hit the beaches or enjoy any tourist attractions.

As a matter of fact, the only sand that the Smithfield resident saw this summer was the infield dirt of the baseball fields in the Cape Cod League, which is regarded as one of the country’s best collegiate summer leagues.

A few weeks after wrapping up her freshman season as a middle infielder for the University of North Carolina softball team, Baptista returned to New England to begin an internship an hour away from home as an assistant coach for the Wareham Gatemen.

And judging by her daily reports on her social media accounts, it was obvious that the time she spent with the ballclub was memorable – and well worth the $1,055 she ended up spending on gas driving from her house to Wareham and back. After her last day on the job, she posted, “I walked into this job with no idea that these past 52 days would be the best days of my life.”

“The experience that I had and the relationships that I built with the players, coaching staff, interns and everybody were just unbelievable,” Baptista said on Sunday afternoon after moving into her new apartment in North Carolina. “I want to become a baseball coach, and the summer I spent in Wareham really helped me a lot.”

What made Baptista, who was a two-time First-Team All-Stater at La Salle Academy and the R.I. Gatorade Player of the Year in 2020, decide that she wanted to become a coach in baseball, not softball, a sport that she has excelled at since she began playing it at the age of seven?

“I’ve had a passion for baseball my entire life,” noted Baptista, who batted .267 in 29 games (23 starts) this past spring with UNC. “I’m a huge Boston Red Sox fan, my father (Joseph) is a season ticket holder, and I’ve gone to a ton of games with my family since I was probably five (years old). We also went to go see the PawSox a lot because my father’s office was near McCoy Stadium.”

Two summers ago, Baptista joined the newly-formed 297 Baseball Academy on a trip to Aruba and helped out with some of its camps and clinics, “and we were there every single day from 8 a.m. to 10 at night,” she added. “They were crazy hours, but it didn’t even feel like work. It was just so much fun.”

“But that’s basically when I realized that I wanted to coach,” she added. “‘Wow, I could do this for a job for the rest of my life. This is what I want to do, and this is what I’m passionate about.’ I realized how important it was to be a coach that you can work with and rely on, and I wanted to help players succeed and reach their goals and dreams.”

While that experience helped set the wheels into motion in Baptista’s pursuit for a career in baseball, and possibly as a coach for a Major League Baseball organization, she needed to find a way to take that important first step toward her goal.

“That’s when I thought to myself, ‘What better way to get involved than in the Cape Cod League,’ which is right in my backyard?’” she recalled. “I decided to email a few teams that were the closest (to Smithfield), and Wareham was the only team that got back to me.”

Turns out the Gatemen were no strangers to welcoming female interns to their organization. They have employed at least one since 2017, but until Baptista stepped onto Wareham High’s Spillane Field, they had never had a female coaching intern.

When Baptista arrived in Wareham to begin her internship, one of her first tasks was to throw batting practice to the players. The sight of a 5-foot-3 girl, standing 50 feet away behind a pitching screen, may have drawn a chuckle or two from the players, but once she started firing bullets for strikes, everyone’s smiles were quickly wiped away.

“I would say there was a little bit of an adjustment period,” Baptista noted. “But I don’t think I could have been any luckier to have been with the group of guys that I was able to work with. They trusted me pretty much from the start, and I think it took me maybe one round of batting practice for them to be like, ‘Okay, she’s serious about this. She can do it.’”

"We were extremely fortunate to have Kayla as a coach this summer," said Gatemen left fielder and University of Alabama standout Owen Diodati. "Her dedication to the game and our development as players were noticed by everyone."

"It was amazing having her as a coach," added Gateman and University of Oklahoma standout Jimmy Crooks. "She helped us with everything that we asked for and didn't hesitate to help us when we asked for extra work and looking as scouting reports on the other team's pitchers and hitters."

Pitching BP was the start of a laundry list of chores that was on Baptista’s to-do list. She drew the chalk baselines before games, worked on pre-game scouting reports with the other interns, rolled up her sleeves for some post-game field work, dragged the infield dirt, hit fungo grounders to the infielders, and at times, even coached first base near the end of the season.

“I’m just paying my dues,” said Baptista, who spent five days away from the Gatemen last month to fly to Aruba and rejoin the 297 Baseball Academy to help with some of its clinics. “Do whatever you have to do. I’m a lot like my dad; he’s the hardest worker I know, and whatever I’m told to do, I’ll just put my head down and do it – the right way and the best that I can.”

Baptista knows very well how paying one’s dues with hard work and doing things “the right way” are important, especially for women who are looking to land significant roles in Major League Baseball. Last November, she was thrilled to see the Miami Marlins’ general manager, Kim Ng, make history by becoming MLB’s first female GM, and before then, she took note of the women who had earned full-time MLB jobs over the years.

“When I found out about Kim, it was very exciting,” said Baptista. “She definitely deserved it. And I’m good friends with Rachel Balkovec. She’s the first full-time female to be hired by the Yankees. She is a (minor league) hitting coach and she’s helped me out a ton. I tagged her in pretty much all my (social media) posts.”

Her rookie season as a coaching intern in the books, Baptista plans to prepare for her sophomore year at UNC and the fall ball softball season with the Tar Heels. As for next summer? Baptista would love to return to the Cape or coach baseball near the UNC campus, and if she returns to Wareham, “that would be incredible,” she added. “I really enjoyed the summer I spent with them.”

Baptista, shown coaching first base during one of the Gatemen’s games, served as a coaching intern with the baseball team after concluding her freshman season with the University of North Carolina softball team.
Kayla Baptista reviews scouting reports before one of the Wareham Gatemen’s Cape Cod League games at Wareham High’s Spillane Field. That was one of the many jobs that the Smithfield resident did as a first-year coaching intern for the baseball team.