AUSTIN (KXAN) - As child, Brianna Fleet loved baseball. To play the game, however, she had to wiggle onto a team roster populated exclusively with the names of boys.
"I think my dad may have secretly wanted a boy. And until my little brother came along, I was as good as it got," Fleet, now 26, recalled.
Father Brad Fleet, his daughter added, instilled a competitive spirit in the girl and she wallowed in the fun.
"Softball's not really competitive when you're younger," she said. "Once we got older it was and it was a lot of fun. But I've even coached softball and girls aren't as into it at a younger age. So baseball is definitely more competitive and I enjoyed that."
There was, however, a definite need for glitter.
"They would always think I was a boy," Fleet laughed, "so I would always wear glitter whenever I would go to the games so that everyone would know that I was a girl."
Girl or not, though, the child held her own on the diamond.
"I like to think (I was pretty good)," she said.
Pressed for details, she added with a laugh: I mean there's no record saying I wasn't."
After Little League
Later, a teenage Brianna Fleet did make the transition to competitive girls' softball, playing for Westlake High School.
She went on to be the only woman to coach boys at the University of Texas during summer baseball camps.
But along the way, something was happening to Fleet's body: It was getting long.
"I always wanted to be a model," she offered. "I've been 5-11 since I was 15, so that was always kind of something that people would say to me. And I always just was like, 'Oh, I wish.' But one day I just went after it."
Challenged by the pressure of professional fashion modeling and thrilled by the camaraderie in the Austin fashion scene, Fleet excelled. She won two "Golden Boot" awards at the 2011 Austin Fashion Week, one for "Industry Choice Best Model" and another for "Best Female Runway Model."
"It was really exciting," she said. "I don't remember anything that I said onstage except that I cried and I didn't mean to. But it was really exciting.
Since then, she has been nominated for two more prestigious awards: "Trailblazer" and "Rising Star."
"It's a great honor, I think, to be a model, said Fleet, "because you're getting to represent all these other people's creative visions. And that's a lot of responsibility.
"I mean, hair stylists, makeup artists, designers, wardrobe stylists, photographers: All these people are putting their work behind you and it's your job to represent them in that 15 seconds that you have on the runway."
Beyond her modeling career, Fleet also owns ButterFly Entertainment, her own event production company. She specializes in fashion shows but she also does some model management work.
Return to Little League
The hours are long and you might think there would be no time for stuff like baseball anymore. And yet, there she was this spring, sitting on a West Austin Little League field, shouting at a player who was failing to live up to her expectations during practice.
"Cole!" she roared, "Five pushups! Guys, it's almost game time!"
You see, Brianna Fleet is the only female coach in the Western Hills Little League program. She's been doing the job long enough that two of her early players are now serving as her assistant coaches.
"She's probably the one that really just sparked my baseball playing," said assistant coach Phil Smith. "After I had her as a coach, I got a lot better. She can really yell, you know."
Still, the notion of a "girl coach" in Little League took some getting used to.
"As a kid," recalled twin brother and fellow assistant coach Tim Smith, "when you're in baseball, you know, there's softball for women. So it was very awkward at first, thinking that you're going to have a girl as a coach for your baseball team. We were a little skeptical at first."
But Fleet quickly laid down the law: She was the sheriff in this here town.
"We didn't get off easy," said Phil Smith. "She made us run. She was tough."
Her current crop of chargers agreed.
"For some people it might be weird or odd," said one, "but I think it's kind of cool just to learn about how a woman can also coach baseball teams."
"Her coaching strategy," added another, "doesn't really seem any different than if she were a man."
"All my other coaches," said a teammate, "they weren't that good. She's the one who knew what she is doing more than anyone else."
Finally, there was this: "Girls actually focus more so she probably knows a lot more about stuff."
But while the boys appear to be getting a strong lesson in gender equality, they are also learning a lot about baseball.
"I always tell my kids you have to be smart to play baseball," said their coach. "There's a whole lot of things that are going on at once. You've got to learn totally different skill sets to accomplish different things throughout the game. And I like that it's challenging.
‘It's different because you have to excel individually and still be able to rely on your team members and everybody has
to know what everybody else is doing."
Perhaps at the top of the coach's list of goals for her players, though, is an appreciation for the idea of getting up when you're knocked down.
"You know, baseball is a game of errors," she said "and if you make an error in the field, you have to get over it. I mean, the ball is still in play.
"You have to be able to move on to the next step and make sure that you're goal is accomplished and, you know, cry about it later.
"So I think that's a really important thing to learn and it's a really tough thing to learn. I know I had a really hard time learning that lesson when I was younger.
"I was a crybaby sometimes. The pressure's on and you want to do really well and when you make an error and it costs you something important: a run or the game or whatever, it sucks. I'm sorry; it's not good. So it took a long time to get over that."
"As the Blue Jays game began, the big boss, League Commissioner Jeff Lucado watched from the grandstands.
"Brianna is an integral part of the league," he said. "She's coached a number of years, knows the game, great rapport with the kids, just a real asset to our league. So we're very fortunate to have her."
And for the record, Lucado wants everyone to know females are more than welcome in the league, as players and coaches.
But for Fleet, what matters most is not gender but growth.
"I really like being able to work with the kids," she said, and see them kind of grasp the concepts and see it register and, you know, see them progress.
"I want them to keep playing. It's a really challenging sport and I think it will help them in other areas of their life and I hate to see kids burn out too young and have bad experiences and then not want to go back."
Back on the field, a Blue Jay cracked a hard hit ball down the third base line. His teammates roared into run mode. At the third base coach position, Fleet waved them home.
The base paths began to look for all the world like fashion show runways and the boys' athletic shoes took on the glow of "Golden Boots."
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