First published in the Aug. 13 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.
Glendale native Jenny Dalton-Hill will be the seventh woman enshrined in the Little League Hall of Excellence later this month.
A mother of three and a broadcaster for ESPN, Dalton-Hill has enjoyed a tremendous softball and baseball career from her time at Glendale High School to her stint at the University of Arizona to playing for Team USA in 2010. Now, Little League has chosen her and former MLB Home Run Derby winner Todd Frazier to be inducted into this year’s Hall of Excellence, the highest honor Little League can bestow upon an individual.
“It’s not about how I played the game. Obviously, you have to play the game with respect and at a very high level to be considered, but it’s all about what you’ve done since you played. It’s about the life that you’ve lived and the way that you’ve pushed forward,” Dalton-Hill said. “The way that I’ve lived my life is to always push others forward to give them the recognition and I want to make sure that I bring attention to the fact that there are these amazing players that are going unnoticed and don’t have an avenue to continue to play. I also want to push the fact that females play baseball and they don’t have opportunities to play like the guys do.
“The guys’ names are very recognizable because they’ve been Hall of Famers, pro players, All-Stars and home run derby winners. I mean, I’m being inducted with Todd Frazier,” Dalton-Hill continued. “These men have been able to create careers and lives and support their families with a game. I want to make sure that females have a chance to play the sport that they love.”
Opening doors that had been previously closed to women in sports is something Dalton-Hill strives for every day. It is especially fitting with the 50th anniversary of Title IX on June 23, an amendment passed in 1972 that protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs that receive federal financial assistance, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s website.
For softball specifically, a game that has already grown exponentially over the past few years, Dalton-Hill hopes it becomes as popular as the male-dominated sports industry but notes that it will require the proper funding to achieve.
“More often than not, dollars need to be spent on females playing,” Dalton-Hill said. “It comes down to if females can find a way on TV, the TVs need to be turned on to it. If there’s a way to support by going to the games, spend your dollars by going to the games. Right now, it’s just a matter of filling the stadiums and showing that female sports are something people want to watch and something people want to participate in.
“The thing that’s really cool is at the Little League World Series, announcers were given these questionnaires that the teams have filled out,” Dalton-Hill continued. “One of the questions is, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ A lot of them say doctors or lawyers, one of them wants to be an astronaut and one of them wants to be a NASCAR driver, but the one that stood off the page to me was just the fact that you had so many little girls who are now saying they want to be a pro softball player when they grow up.”
Dalton-Hill is also a Nitro for life, attending the high school from 1989 to 1992 where she played five sports, including softball, volleyball, basketball, track and field, and badminton. It was in 1989 as a high school freshman that the Glendale-based Centennial Little League program competed in the Senior League Softball World Series but was defeated by Naples, Florida, in the championship game.
Dalton-Hill was a standout second baseman at the University of Arizona between 1993 and 1996 where she helped lead the Wildcats to three NCAA Women’s College World Series championships while receiving three first-team All-Pac 10 selections, All-American honors twice and an All-Pac-10 Conference selection once. Most notably, Dalton-Hill was the Pac-10 Player of the Year and the first ever Triple Crown winner her senior year when she batted .469 with 25 home runs and 109 RBIs. During her four-year stint, the Wildcats owned an outstanding 232-26 record, while Dalton-Hill still holds University of Arizona career records for runs scored, RBIs and games played.
“I didn’t realize how good we were in the moment because coach [Mike] Candrea never let us rest on our laurels,” Dalton-Hill said. “We’d win a National Championship, we’d celebrate it in the moment, we’d fly home and we’d all go our separate ways for the summer. Once we got back in the fall to start practicing again, we didn’t really talk about it again; we just got back to work.”
After her University of Arizona career, Dalton-Hill played professional baseball with the Colorado Silver Bullets managed by former MLB All-Star Phil Niekro. The Silver Bullets were an all-women’s team that played all-men’s teams but unfortunately was disbanded in 1997 when the program ran out of funding.
Dalton-Hill taught 5th grade in Arizona for a few years after her stint with the Silver Bullets before taking up a coaching job at the University of Kentucky until her second child was born in 2000. At that point, it would take 10 years for Dalton-Hill to re-lace her cleats when she tried out for Team USA.
“I wanted to see if I was still good enough to be able to play. That year in 2010 I tried out for the women’s national team for USA Baseball, made that team, went to Venezuela and won a Bronze Medal, then joined the coaching staff in 2011 for the baseball USA National Team,” Dalton-Hill said.
“The tryout was in Orlando, Florida, and I was going to have to pay my way to get there. I got to a point where I didn’t want to spend the money on the plane ticket, so I told my husband [Mark] that I’m not going to go to the tryout; it’s OK, it’s not a big deal. And he came to me the next day and said, ‘I bought your ticket, you’re going to the tryout and you’re going to be fine.’ I needed someone to push me to that point and I was grateful for a husband who believed in me enough, who wanted to make sure that he let me have that moment back to be able to feel complete.”
Dalton-Hill, who still serves on the USA Baseball Board of Directors, has traveled an incredible journey, from having the softball field at Glendale High School named after her to receiving Little League’s highest individual honor. Now her name will be remembered with the likes of Heather Tarr, Sydney Leroux, Champ Pederson, Cat Osterman, Krissy Wendell, Torii Hunter, Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina, President Joe Biden, Dusty Baker, Kevin Costner, Cal Ripken Jr., Dale Murphy, Jim Palmer, Nolan Ryan, Mike Schmidt and Tom Seaver, among others, who have received the honor before her.
“It’s not a journey you can script,” Dalton-Hill said. “It’s one of those things that you don’t even think about because I played so long ago. Back then, I was just playing for the love of the game. I was 15 years old and playing in a Little League World Series. Honestly, I didn’t think that was something I that I would be able to ever be inducted into simply because there was no pro softball, there was no way for me to continue playing my craft. But I’ve been able to have an impact within the bat and ball sports continue 30 years after I even wore my cleats playing Little League.”