Jeff Jacobs: Lewis Mills’ Lillian Martineau is a rarity: a girl on the baseball team

Photo of Jeff Jacobs

Lewis Mills sophomore Lillian Martineau has become a bit of a social media sensation — who else gets online tips from Wade Boggs? — and that may indicate to some she is a Lilli-come-lately to baseball.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Thanks to her dad, Chad, she has been a Mets fan since birth. She played T-ball. She played Little League. She has never stopped playing the game.

“My dad’s side of the family is a big baseball family,” Martineau said. “His older brother played. He played. I grew up watching it, going to Mets games.

“I definitely wanted to play from watching it, but when I started playing I loved it — a lot.”

When you ask about her favorite Mets player growing up, Martineau gives a well-considered “Hmm, that’s hard.” You can imagine the names whirling though her brain.

As far as a pitcher, she decides, it’s Noah Syndergaard, whose blond locks flow nearly as long as Martineau’s. After another “Hmm” …

“I would say Curtis Granderson,” Martineau said. “I really enjoyed watching him. I went one time and saw him hit a home run, which was awesome. I just feel like he is a great role model. Even though he isn’t in the MLB anymore, he still does a lot for his community, which is great.”

The game means plenty to Martineau, more than plenty. She has been a starter for a couple of years with the girls basketball team at Lewis Mills, the regional high school for Burlington and Harwinton. Basketball is great fun. Baseball is her passion. Her dream is to play baseball in college.

Football has some girls playing on state high school teams. Girls wrestling numbers are proliferating in the CIAC. I will not pretend to have gone through every name on nearly 200 rosters in the state, especially since some have yet to be posted for 2022 by the CIAC. It is safe to say the number of girls playing baseball is few. Maybe as few as Martineau and Lily Woodworth, a sophomore on Glastonbury’s junior varsity. Woodworth’s dad, Mark, is head baseball coach at Wesleyan. The two met last summer while attending the Girls Baseball Breakthrough Series for youth development.

Evidently, lilies grow on diamonds in Connecticut.

While girls of a certain age typically switch to softball, Martineau was decidedly uninterested.

“Softball and baseball are different games,” Martineau said. “Different rules. Different sport. I was used to playing baseball. I was used to playing with the boys. Switching, the atmosphere would be completely different. I didn’t want it to be that way. I wanted that same competitive atmosphere that baseball is providing for me.”

In 2018 in Connecticut, most would have assumed a seventh-grade girl signing up for tryouts for the baseball team at Har-Bur Middle School wouldn’t have been a problem. That, unfortunately, would be an incorrect assumption.

She was called into the nurse’s office. Martineau thought she was going for a Blue Card to clear her for the season. Instead, the nurse told her she could not play baseball.

“I never had that happen to me,” Martineau said. “It was more of a shock than anything. You don’t think you’re going to be told you can’t do something you want to do. You don’t expect it. Really shocking.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be perfect, a seamless transition, but I didn’t expect immediately there was no possibility to be able to play, to even try out.”

Hey, Lilli was welcome to play softball.

Who knows how much pressure was applied by a few parents worried that a 12-year-old would take a roster spot from their own little Johnny? Or by a general lack of enlightenment? What was sure was that Lilli’s parents, Chad and Katie, paid a visit to the (former) superintendent. Lawyers were called. The district was welcome to a Title IX investigation.

“This may have all happened in a week,” Martineau said. “It wasn’t a super long time. Tryouts were right around the corner. They had to come up with a quick resolution.”

Quickly enough, the district changed course. Martineau tried out. She made the team.

“My parents are the reason the school decided to change their original thought on this,” Lilli said. “They are so supportive.

“I’ve never had a major issue with anyone I’ve ever played with. I’ve played with these guys since I was younger.”

Her younger sister, Brooke, decided on softball.

Martineau played junior varsity as a freshman last year and will again this season. New coach Ron Cyr said he is stacked with 11 seniors and 11 juniors. Lilli will wait her turn.

At 5-foot-8, 135 pounds, first base is her primary position. As a pitcher, Martineau says she’s starting second in the rotation for junior varsity. She works on her off-speed stuff. She has worked several months with a personal trainer with weight training to gain strength to best compete. The girls on the softball team only joke with her now about joining them. They know her mind is set.

“She is a baseball player,” Cyr said. “She’s a good teammate. We are excited to have her and watch her development.”

Tireless worker? Check.

Resilient? Check.

Outgoing to form bonds with her teammates? Check. The LM on her cap stands for Lewis Mills, not Lilli Martineau.

She goes to a couple of hitting coaches. Same for throwing. She’ll have one-on-one lessons. And then there are team practices. She goes to Glenn Katz for hitting at the Integrated Sports Training facility and stays there for pitching. Her travel team works out at D-Bat in Cheshire. Since he is out of state, Ken Cherryhomes gives her on-line instruction.

In the winter, this is a kid who goes from basketball practice to baseball workouts to the books. There is one number at the top of her Twitter account: 4.436. That’s her GPA. Lilli loves to be busy. In the summer, with all the baseball, she’ll still play in a basketball league.

Martineau has played for the L7s travel baseball team and will continue this summer and in the fall. She is the only girl on the team.

“A lot of girls tend to play just in all-girl baseball leagues in the summer, softball in the spring,” Martineau said. “Or even a boys baseball travel team in the summer, but not high school baseball.”

After the COVID quarantine in 2020, Martineau went on a Zoom call about recruiting. How to get in contact with college coaches. How to get yourself out there.

“One of the recommendations was Twitter,” Martineau said. “I’m like, ‘This is fairly easy. Just post videos on Twitter.’ I really wasn’t expecting much. I started posting that spring. My dad and I and one or two friends. There was no season. We were just shooting video by ourselves in a field.”

She was surprised by the growing views and by the feedback. Jeff Frye, player agent and former major leaguer; Missy Coombes, former Silver Bullets baseball pitcher and softball All-American; Wade Boggs … yes, Chicken Man, Hall of Famer.

“Lillian,” Boggs tweeted, “make sure you don’t lean too much on your left foot on your follow through.”

She is diligent. She is focused. She is determined. She is looking to major in communications in college. Broadcasting would be cool. Kelly Nash of MLB Network has given her encouragement.

“My big goal is to be able to play college baseball,” Martineau said. “There are maybe five women in college baseball. I think I can do it. I believe if someone puts in enough work over time, and if I keep going on the trajectory I’m on, there is a school out there I will be able to play for.

“I’ve seen progress. I’m hitting the ball harder off the tee. My exit velo has gone up. I can throw farther. The more strength and muscle, the more it will help me playing baseball at a more competitive level.”

And with that, Lillian Martineau, one of two lilies of the Connecticut diamond, went back to work.

“I’m working on shortening my bat path and extending through the ball,” she said. “More consistent contact, but not just singles. More doubles is a goal.”; @jeffjacobs123