Six Innings with Malaika Underwood, USA Baseball Women’s National Team Assistant Coach

It was never a question of if Malaika Underwood would play baseball, but where. The California native was introduced to the sport at an early age, playing for Chollas Lake Little League in San Diego, and once she fell in love with it, she never let it go. Ms. Underwood played baseball up until college but found herself back on the diamond after graduating as a part of the USA Baseball Women’s National Team. The speedy right-side infielder would go on to make the national team roster a record 11 times from 2006 to 2022 while winning four gold medals at different international competitions and being named USA Baseball Sportswoman of the Year in 2015.

Ms. Underwood grew up idolizing the likes of Ila Borders and Tamara Holmes, pioneers for girls in baseball. Now, years later, she has become someone for a new generation to look up to. From earning a spot on her high school team to winning the World Cup in 2006, her debut season, Ms. Underwood’s playing career is filled with moments of proving that not only does she belong on the baseball field, but any female who wants to be on the diamond does, too. Since she’s hung up her cleats, Ms. Underwood has transitioned to breaking down barriers through her work with organizations dedicated advocating for females in sports and through her work as an author, so younger athletes won’t have to worry about worrying if they have a place on the field, but instead just go out and play.

Ms. Underwood representing Team USA.

To learn more about her baseball experience, Little League® sat down for a special Girls with Game 50 (#GWG50) Six Innings Conversation with Ms. Underwood while she was in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, for the Maria Pepe Little League Baseball® Legacy Series:

First Inning: What’s your favorite memory from playing Little League? 

That’s a hard one to answer because, one, it was so long ago, and two, there isn’t necessarily one moment that stands out, but rather I think of the full experience and what it led to for me. I started playing baseball at a very young age for Chollas Lake Little League. Their slogan was, “where the stars of tomorrow play today,” and I aspired at the time to become the first woman Major League Baseball player. I fell in love with the game and played in the Little League program up until high school, and then I had to make a decision – switch to softball or stick with baseball. I had never played softball, so, I decided to stick with baseball and wrote a letter to a number of high school coaches in the San Diego area where I could attend, just asking for a fair shot. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do something like that, to seek out an opportunity at the high school level, had I not had just a wonderful experience with Little League.

Ms. Underwood and her father following a Little League event.

Second Inning: You’ve said before in other interviews that your advice to young female athletes is to learn how to hit the curveball in life. Is there a specific experience that taught you that lesson?

It’s an accumulation of experiences, not just one. I think that there’s certain value in getting older and having perspective and being able to look back and say, “that failure, though, disappointing in the moment actually led me to something else. And that something else turned out to be wonderful and great.” Being in the fortunate position to have had so many wonderful experiences has given me that perspective. The hope in giving that advice, of course, is to instill in others that understanding earlier in life. You can appreciate that sometimes you will have a goal, and you may not accomplish it, but it might be for a reason because there might be something even bigger and better out there for you.

Ms. Underwood at the plate playing for Team USA.

Third Inning: After hanging up your cleats, you’ve continued to work with organizations that are advocating and pushing the growth of females in baseball. What is it like to work for these organizations?

I like to be involved in as much as possible as it relates to girls in baseball. I try to say yes to as many things as I possibly can. For example, being here at the Maria Pepe Legacy Series allows me to be a representative of USA Baseball and Baseball For All, but also in support of other organizations like Little League. I’m just generally an advocate for girls in baseball and want to see us make progress. We still have a long way to go in breaking that social mold that makes people think girls play softball and boys play baseball. I want people to understand and to not even question when a little girl tells them “I play baseball.”

Ms. Underwood fielding a ground ball at first base.

Fourth Inning: Where do you think Little League and the sport of baseball itself have grown the most since your days on the field?

I think broadly, there’s more acceptance to the idea of girls playing baseball. The Maria Pepe Legacy Series is a great example of the role that Little League Baseball can play in breaking down those barriers and helping communities embrace that idea. If you’re a young girl and you excel at baseball, you can play Little League, then on the travel ball team, then on your high school team, and those barriers are being broken down. It is once we hit the collegiate level that the opportunities begin to shrink. I think that’s where we’re filling in that gap between the pinnacle and the grassroots youth section. If we can do that, it will unlock some opportunities for girls. Whether that’s club baseball at the collegiate level, or eventually a professional women’s league, so that women can aspire to make a career out of playing baseball, instead of it being sort of a side gig, which is what it was for me for so long.

Ms. Underwood (bottom left) with her district championship winning team from 1995.

Fifth Inning: What has your experience been like at the Maria Pepe Legacy Series and what was it like meeting Maria Pepe, the original Girl with Game?

It was amazing. Even sitting here just talking about it, I am getting goosebumps. There’s so much emotion in meeting her and meeting her in this moment is hard to put into words. She is the reason my name could be on a Little League roster. She is such an authentic person, and her willingness to share her story, and to engage in such a deep way, even if only for small moments with these girls, has just been mind-blowing. Being able to see her see these girls run out onto the field at Lamade Stadium, sitting right next to her, hearing her story, and having her be so open about how challenging it was for her 50 years ago, to have to give up the game that she loved, it’s just amazing.

From left to right: Jenny Dalton-Hill, Maria Pepe, Stephen Keener, and Ms. Underwood at the 2024 Maria Pepe Little League Baseball® Legacy Series.

Sixth Inning: Little League is celebrating 50 years of female involvement in the program this year. While we celebrate the past, what do you think is the future for females in the sport, either on the field or behind the scenes?

I think the Maria Pepe Legacy Series has been great and has been a celebration in many ways. The first being specific to Maria’s struggle 50 years ago, and the impact that she had to allow girls to play Little League. But I think even bigger picture, is that it feels a bit like a celebration of a lot of other things, too, because all of us have had challenges being a girl in baseball. So, I hope that this is a seminal moment in one that we all look back on and say, “When Little League fully embraced this idea of girls in baseball, it started with the Maria Pepe Legacy Series in 2024.” Softball is a great sport; I have nothing bad to say about it, but both girls and boys should have the option to play whatever sport they want. We need to create a structure to allow for that within our existing infrastructure, at the Little League level, the high school level, the collegiate level, and professionally, as well. Fortunately, there are people who are interested and capable of helping us continue to push forward and advance the sport, even if it feels like it has taken a long time.

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NOTE: The Little League Six Innings Features are a piece of the #GWG50 Celebration in 2024, with interviews of Girls with Game who graduated from Little League programs and continued to make an impact on female sports throughout their careers. To learn more about this initiative, visit The #GWG50 celebration is proudly supported by DICK’S Sporting Goods, a long-time Little League partner that is committed to creating opportunities for girls and women in sports and will be activating around key events and milestones this year.