SEATTLE — The Seattle Mariners are on the road this week, but while the players are away, the organization is hard at work at home on a project benefitting kids in the community.
The Hometown Nine is a group of eighth graders from all around the region chosen to be mentored through high school not only on their love for softball and baseball, but for academics as well.
Kaila Ignacio initially hated the idea of playing softball, until she stepped onto the field for the very first time.
“After that first practice, I was like, ‘no I love doing this,'" Ignacio said. "It just like clicked."
She now plays year-round on a traveling team.
Little did she know her favorite sport would lead her into a major league baseball stadium.
“It’s a very big eye opener," Ignacio said. "I didn’t think I’d ever be able to be where they are, be where like their players can go. But whenever I found out I was in the program I was like, wait no, I can do this. I can do whatever I really want."
According to a 2019 study done by the King County Play Equity Coalition, organized sports like baseball and softball are too expensive and culturally exclusive for many young people.
The Mariners are working to change that.
The Hometown Nine is a mentorship program promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in young athletes by encouraging athletic and academic development in young people of color.
“Time management, like being organized, that helps you with a lot like not only in eighth grade but also going into high school as well,” Ignacio said.
Ignacio is paired with two women who work for the Mariners franchise that help guide her.
Her biggest takeaway so far is finding confidence in who she is.
“It’s okay to be yourself," Ignacio said. "You can be whoever you want to be. You don’t have to please somebody you can just be yourself. You don’t need to be in this little cage or something."
Ignacio will start high school next year and the Hometown Nine goes all the way through graduation.
She hopes to play in college and maybe even the Olympics one day.