As women’s baseball shall be contested for the first time in the history of the Pan American Games, the sense of making history adds to the excitement for all players involved. For Autumn Mills, a former hockey player who competed for head coach Dan Church at Toronto’s York University, the chance to compete in such a world-class event only adds to a sparkling athletic legacy.
Having first qualified for Canada’s baseball roster at the tender age of 16, Mills juggled both hockey and baseball throughout her teens and into young adulthood. Primarily a pitcher for Team Canada, she has also displayed versatility at third base and in the outfield, making herself a utility player. As she established herself as an ambassador for women’s baseball in Canada, Mills carved an empowering legacy with the York Lions women’s ice hockey program.
Raised in London, Ontario, Mills was an integral part of the Lion’s offense. Consistently one of the team’s leading scorers, she would help the Lions reach the 2008 OUA playoffs for the first time in five seasons. For her efforts, she was recognized as York’s Female Athlete of the Year. During her final season (2010-11), she contributed 17 points on the strength of nine assists. Complemented by four multi-point performances, her finest was a five-point output against Western on January 29, 2011, which resulted in a hat trick along with the game winning tally.
Of note, her contributions off the ice were equally impressive. Embodying the true meaning of a student-athlete, Mills was an Academic All-Canadian, while displaying strong leadership with charitable work and dedication to the betterment of the community. Remarkable character was also evident in the fact that she juggled two part-time jobs at the University’s Sport & Recreation services in the middle of such a busy schedule. In 2009, she was selected to represent York at the OUA’s Sixth Annual Women of Influence Luncheon, which honored the top female scholar-athletes from across the province.
Upon graduation with degrees in kinesiology & health science and education, the fifth-year right winger was presented with the University’s prestigious Bryce M. Taylor Award, along with the Patricia Murray Bursary for Sport Excellence. Such honors complemented the OUA’s version of the Marion Hilliard Award being bestowed upon Mills. Recognizing excellence in athletics, academic and community service, Mills’ volunteer work revolved around sport. From coaching a men’s baseball team to donating her time as a skill coach with youth, she also provided instructional work at Frozen Ropes Canada. Of all her charitable endeavors, the most notable may have been the girls baseball camp she co-ran with national team member Melanie Harwood.
Known as All Girls Baseball Day in Nova Scotia, the two shared their world-class skills on the diamond with over 80 girls between the ages of five and 13. Also umpiring for some intra-squad games, the efforts of Mills and Harwood helped provide confidence and self-esteem to a generation of girls, teaching them that gender should never be an obstacle in sport.
Since competing on the diamond with Canada’s national baseball team, she has earned one silver medal (2008) and two bronze medals (2006, 2012) in IBAF Women’s Baseball World Cup play. In addition, she can boast of a Women’s National Championship with Team Ontario. Mills and fellow York alum Samantha Magalas are also joined by former CWHL player (and Pan Am competitor) Ashley Stephenson as instructors at the Toronto Blue Jays Baseball Academy, testament to the potential of the sports growth among women.
One of the most unique aspects of her baseball career occurred in 2012, when she was part of the Victorian Women’s Summer League in Australia. Along with former national team MVP Megean Cornellsen, the two were members of the Geelong Baycats. Fellow Canadians Kate Psota (a former Laurier women’s ice hockey player) and Vanessa Riopel competed with the Springvale Lions. Held from October to April, it allowed them an opportunity to sharpen their skills during North America’s “off-season”, akin to Winter League Baseball for men in the Caribbean.
During the season, Mills had the chance to play alongside Cornellsen and Psota at the Sydney Women’s Invitational at Blacktown International Sportspark. Suiting up for the Big Cat Braves, Mills earned the start in the championship game. Pitching a complete game, she struck out four batters in a 10-1 win against the Doncaster Dragons. As a side note, Psota was named the Tournament MVP.
Considering that this year’s Games are being contested in Toronto, Mills and her teammates certainly feel the benefit of home field advantage. It is only fitting that such a historic event takes place in Canada, as it was the city of Edmonton that hosted the inaugural Women’s World Cup of Baseball in 2004. Although Mills is aiming towards a gold medal, the greater victory is the opportunity to be part of a riveting addition to sporting equality. One in which seven days of women’s baseball at the Pan American Games may mirror the magic of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup (also hosted in Canada) which became a national obsession.
Images obtained from: www.baseball.ca and York University Athletics