The first thing you notice about Mia Valcke is her swing — it’s all power and speed.
The 17-year-old’s hips and hands rotate violently toward the pitcher before she makes contact. And the swing is more impressive when you realize the St. Mary’s, Ont., native uses it for two different sports: baseball and softball.
“Baseball came first,” Valcke said with a smile. “My dad coaches and he used to play. My brother plays, too. We’ve always been really close and I did everything he did. Softball, I just recently started playing. I started three years ago and this upcoming summer will be my fourth year playing softball.”
Even with that short learning curve, Valcke has quickly become a standout on the softball field.
In September, she will attend the University of British Columbia on a softball scholarship. She will be the second Valcke to attend UBC. Her brother, Jaxon, is a currently a member of the UBC men’s baseball team.
While Valcke will be playing softball at school, baseball is still top of mind. In fact, she wants to be the answer to the following question: How many women have played on the Canadian national teams in both baseball and softball?
The answer is currently zero, but Valcke is hoping to become the first. And she’s already reached half of her goal. Valcke won a silver medal with the women’s national baseball team at the 2016 World Cup in South Korea.
“It was amazing. The captain of our team, Ashley Stephenson, she’s been one of my biggest role models forever,” Valcke said. “And I got the chance to play with her and a lot of other great role models for female baseball players. Making the team as a 16-year-old, experiencing a new country and playing against teams like Japan and India, it was a great experience.”
Each summer, Valcke typically bounces between baseball and softball. It can be difficult to juggle both sports, especially at the plate.
“Hitting is the biggest difference. In softball, the pitcher is a lot closer (only 45-feet away), and it’s coming from underneath, so adjusting to rise-balls, drop-balls, it’s a lot. We use a lighter bat, too.
“Timing is really important.”
Of course, in baseball, the pitcher stands 60 feet, six inches away and throws with an overhand delivery. That creates a much steeper angle batters must navigate as the ball approaches the plate. While Valcke uses an aluminum bat in softball, she is forced to hit with a wood bat in baseball.
“We use a drop three bat in baseball (a bat that weighs three ounces less than its length), which is a huge difference from softball. It’s a lot heavier,” she said. “The pitchers are a lot further back, and the ball’s coming down as opposed to up, so adjusting to curveballs and sliders is difficult. It’s a different angle.”
Another difference in Valcke’s summer baseball experience? She plays with 16- to 18-year-old males in Stratford. A lot of girls play baseball with boys when they’re younger, but not many keep playing when they’re teenagers. Yet, Valcke is able to counteract the size and strength differences she faces on the baseball field.
“Playing with boys pushes me and gives me extra motivation,” she said. “It pushes me to want to workout, to go the extra mile to keep up with them and to keep playing with them. I’m very competitive and I want to get the hit off that fast pitcher and show them that girls can play with boys.”
The head coach of the Stratford Midget Nationals, Ben Ehgoetz, echoed her sentiment.
“Athletically, she’s gifted,” he said. “But she’s at the age now where strength and biology and everything else is starting to come into effect. But Mia doesn’t let it affect her. She plays the game the right way.
“Her work ethic is second to none. She’s always got a dirty uniform, diving for balls, sliding all over the place.”
Girls or boys, softball or baseball, it’s clear that Valcke shines on whatever field she steps.