Major League Baseball takes notice of 16-year-old French girl

By Steve Ginsburg

WASHINGTON, July 25 (Reuters) - When Melissa Mayeux first took the field, she wasn't looking to make baseball history. She was just following her older brother.

Now the 16-year-old shortstop from France is generating major league buzz in baseball circles as a prospect who could become the first female MLB player ever.

Mayeux plays on France's under-18 junior national baseball team and last month became the first female ever to be placed on Major League Baseball's international registration list, making her eligible to sign a contract with any of the 30 big league teams in the sport called "America's pastime."

"I've received a lot of messages from many girls who play baseball across the world and who told me that I had become their new idol," Mayeux told Reuters in a recent interview.

Prospects typically are placed on the international list at Major League Baseball-sanctioned events after verifying their dates of birth and citizenship. While anyone can be placed on the list, only those who have the potential to be signed are generally registered.

"Personally I still can't believe it," Mayeux said via telephone from the Czech Republic, where she was representing France in the Under-18 European championship.

"All that's happening is a result of my name being put on that list. For now, (my life) is a bit complicated," she added with a laugh.

Steve Finley, a two-time All-Star who played 19 years in the major leagues, has worked with Mayeux in MLB-sponsored camps in Europe. He said that while it's premature and unreasonable to predict Mayeux will be the first woman to suit up in the big leagues, the fact that she was even put on the list shows how much promise she holds.

"It's unfair for anyone to get that label," Finley said. "She's a girl, playing very well in a male-dominated sport. I tip my hat to her for doing what she's doing. I think it's fantastic. And let me add, she holds her own at the camp."

'INCREDIBLY COACHABLE'

Finley said Mayeux is "incredibly coachable," adding that "she's taken everything we've told her and applied it to her swing."

MLB Director of International Game Development Mike McClellan, who has watched Mayeux play for several years, calls her "a very composed player, someone we say has 'great action.'"

At a tournament near Barcelona in April, McClellan saw her rip a single off a 19-year-old pitcher who was throwing at 91 mph (146 kmh).

"The next at-bat he hits her in the ear-hole of her helmet," McClellan said. "She threw her bat on the ground and stared him down on her way to first. I love that. It was great."

Mayeux, also a member of France's senior national softball team, is following in the footsteps of her 18-year-old brother Dylan, who currently plays for France's under-19 national baseball squad.

She could make France's 25-player roster for the 2017 World Baseball Classic, an international baseball tournament featuring major league-level players. Or, if big-league clubs choose not to sign her, she could play for an American university.

Mayeux said she has been playing for so long with the same group that she is "thought of as a boy on the field," so there have been few problems with her male counterparts.

"I want to play at the highest level that will suit my skills," said Mayeux, who took to baseball at age 3. "I want to go as far as possible."

McClellan said he's impressed, regardless of where Mayeux ultimately takes the field.

"When you see her play, your eyes are drawn to her," he said. "She just does everything the right way." (Additional reporting by Sebastien Malo; Editing by Mary Milliken and Alan Crosby)