Luisa Gauci has a philosophy that guides her life: “Baseball before anything.”
Her overwhelming love for the game, and her almost fanatical dedication to pursuing it on the field, has led her around the world, and now brings her far, far away from her native Australia.
It led her to a stint playing summer ball in North Carolina when she was still in high school, a venture she admits was “dodgy” and can’t quite believe her parents allowed.
It led her on a longshot quest to find an American college that would let a 5-foot-2 woman from Brisbane play on their baseball team. At one point, the only school that expressed remote interest was in North Dakota, described by Gauci as “literally the worst school in the country statistically, baseball-wise.” But she was headed there anyway (“I always make the joke, beggars can’t be choosers,’’ she laughed) until the coach was fired, and his replacement “didn’t want a girl on the team.”
It eventually led Gauci to Driveline Baseball in Kent, the cutting-edge training facility that has become the go-to spot for players who want to use technology and data to improve their game. Starting as an intern at Driveline in September and quickly promoted into her current position as Baseball Technologies Coordinator, Gauci is in her personal heaven. She’s finally surrounded by people who are as immersed as she is in the craft and science of baseball.
And now, this abiding passion has led Gauci to Green River College in Auburn, a four-minute drive from Driveline. On Thursday, Gauci — who turned 20 two weeks ago — accepted a baseball scholarship to play for Green River during the 2021-22 season. She’ll become the first woman to play baseball in the Northwest Athletic Conference, and one of a handful to play college baseball anywhere.
This is no token gesture, either. By all accounts — including the videos I’ve watched — Gauci can really play. A second baseman, she’s using her time at Driveline to fully avail herself of their training facilities.
According to Tanner Stokey, Driveline’s lead hitting trainer, “she’s gotten exponentially better in her time training here. She’s not going to let anything get in her way. I’m pretty confident she has a chance to get where she wants to be. Her big goal from the first time I talked to her, she wants to play DI baseball.’’
Talking to Gauci, it doesn’t take long to realize that she is driven to make it happen — which she conveys in an upbeat, engaging, but forceful manner.
“I have gone through far too much to be second guessing myself anymore,’’ she said. “Honestly, I’m not scared of anything.”
After a disappointing stint last year at West Los Angeles College, where she was redshirted before COVID-19 wiped out the season, she says her attitude has changed. Instead of being merely grateful for an opportunity, her mindset is that she deserves to be there, and she intends to seize it.
The story of how Gauci got from Australia to Green River could be a movie some day. It starts at age 13 when her mom signed her up for baseball instead of softball, thinking they were the same thing — and the baseball field was closer to home.
Gauci was quickly obsessed, and became accustomed to playing with boys. At a tournament in Hong Kong, she met Oz Sailors, who had played collegiate baseball at University of Maine-Presque Isle, one of the first women to do so.
Sailors invited Gauci, then 16, to play summer ball in North Carolina, which she chose over a women’s tournament in Japan with Team Australia for which she was already training.
“I wrote Team Australia an apology letter, but I still think they hate me to this day,’’ she said.
At the time, Gauci was using a recruiting service to try to find a college softball gig in the U.S. But after that summer, which she called “the funnest time of my life” she knew that it was baseball, not softball, for her.
“I met some amazing women that played baseball,’’ said Gauci. “I would not replace that summer for anything.”
When the North Dakota school fell through, Gauci took up Olympic weightlifting with the goal of getting stronger. She now deadlifts 325 pounds and benches 145. Menlo College in Atherton, California, recruited her to its weight-lifting program, and she extracted a promise that she could play baseball, too.
At a baseball tournament in Australia, she met the coach of a traveling U.S. team who also happened to be the coach at West L.A. He invited Gauci to Southern California to train with his team, and eventually offered her a chance to play for them. Gauci, who had discovered the opportunity at Menlo was actually for their club team, jumped at it.
Gauci ended up a bit disillusioned by her stint at West LA, feeling that she was being used primarily for publicity.
“I was honestly really annoyed,’’ she said. “I came to America to play baseball, and I sat on the bench.”
When COVID hit hard last spring, she returned to Australia to plan her next step. She decided to re-dedicate herself to baseball — and find a place where she could actually play.
“I was, like, I’m not doing that again,’’ she said. “I’m not going to be just a girl on the team. I genuinely want to play baseball.”
Meanwhile, Driveline was making inroads in Australia, and Gauci soaked up their technology. She enrolled for online training and was assigned to Stokey. He didn’t know what he was getting into.
“Straightaway, I was just like an absolute nuisance,’’ Gauci recalled. “I would call him, message him, upwards of 17, 18 times a day, to fix my swing, because I was totally obsessed that I was coming back to the U.S. to compete and actually play. … I drove him insane for five months.’’
Says Stokey affectionately, “Man, she was the absolute worst — and I mean that in the best way possible. I’ve never met someone, let alone a 19-year-old girl at the time, who’s so completely bought in on what they’re doing, on what they wanted to do, and where they wanted to get in their lives.”
In July, Gauci returned to Los Angeles and continued training remotely with Driveline. When they advertised for interns, she applied and got the job. She moved to the Seattle area in September for what she thought was a temporary stay — but quickly realized that Driveline was nirvana for her baseball pursuits. Gauci decided she wasn’t going back to Los Angeles.
“That one-way ticket (from L.A. to Seattle) changed my life,’’ she said. “I love this place. It’s fantastic. The training, development and mentorship I get here is irreplaceable.”
Once again, Gauci sent out inquiries to find a team in a 40-mile radius of Driveline where she could play. Her only response came from the closest one: Ben Reindel, the new coach at Green River, who is trying to revive a program that went 1-24 in 2018-19.
It was a perfect match. Reindel plans to use the training and development techniques favored by Driveline to strengthen his team. He is friends with Kyle Boddy, the founder of Driveline. And the more he researched Gauci, talked to her coaches at Driveline, and watched her tape, the more sense it made.
“When we spoke on the phone, all that knowledge came through, which in year one is exactly what we’re trying to get — players who know what we’re trying to do,’’ he said.
He asked Gauci for her metrics — exit velocity and the like — and they fit the benchmarks the program was seeking.
“After we did research on her and talked to her and talked to her coaches, it was kind of a no-brainer,’’ Reindel said. “Especially a program like us that is in year one and trying to build a foundation.”
Reindel says he didn’t give Gauci any preferential treatment in the recruiting process.
“I treated her the same as I would anyone, because I respect her, and the work she’s put in and her training,’’ he said.
Along those lines, Reindel really hasn’t broached the topic with his players, because, he says, “we haven’t addressed every recruit we’ve signed with the team, and I’m trying to keep it as normal as possible every day.
“But yesterday at practice several guys came up to me at practice and said how cool it was. They know who she is. They can put the tape on and know she can play the game.’’
She got a vote of confidence from Josh Parks, a Green River player who trains at Driveline and has been hitting with Gauci.
“Josh is the one who advocated for her from the beginning,’’ Reindel said. “He had all great things to say.”
Gauci made it clear to Reindel that she didn’t want to be merely a token woman, brought on for show. She wants a fair chance and became convinced she is going to get it. Reindel says he sees a player who can help them win — one who routinely stands in against 90-mph-plus velocity in training and holds her own.
Gauci will begin with Green River in the fall, after she graduates from West LA, where she’s taking online courses. She’s looking, so far in vain, for a summer team in Washington.
Until then, it’s going to be long — and joyous — days at Driveline, working and training.
Baseball before anything.
“If I wanted it easy, I would still be in Australia right now, and I’d still be living with my parents, I’d be with my friends and I’d be playing social baseball, and I wouldn’t care as much,’’ she said. “Instead, I gave up everything. I’m living on an air mattress in an attic. I’m here at work training 12, 13 hours a day. That’s what I want. That’s what I love.”