Columnist Jim Murray wrote for the Sports Section of the Los Angeles Times and was the writer I wanted to be when I grew up. Murray is considered by many as the greatest sportswriter ever to have a byline because of his word wizardry when describing the Dodgers, Angels, Raiders, and other teams in L.A. My Pop was a baseball fan who took his teenage daughters often to see the teams play in person. The day after any game, however, the first thing I read was Murray’s ability to magically weave what I had seen watching TV, heard listening to radio, or experienced watching in person into a masterful column. Today, I am composing something he never did and I never thought I’d be doing: writing about a woman out to break the gender profile of baseball.
Justine Siegal is the Founder and Executive Director of Baseball for All, a non-profit organization which provides meaningful instruction and opportunities in baseball, especially for girls. Siegal’s mission is “to show that baseball is a game for all” and she is determined to make that happen since “Her historical efforts have made her the first in several baseball accomplishments, including being the first woman to throw batting practice to MLB teams (Indians, A’s, Rays, Cardinals, Astros, and Mets).” Recently, she became the Director of Sport Partnerships at Sport in Society at Northeastern University; heard from the Cleveland Indians that they are sending her to Major League Baseball’s Scout school, and was interviewed for “Embrace Your Critics” in “What’s Holding You Back? 9 Ways to Spark a Breakthrough” published in the October issue of Oprah Magazine.
Siegal’s effort to break the gender barrier in baseball is more important than just having girls and women play that game. “For women, the road to the boardroom may well lead through the locker room,” according to a survey that was commissioned by Oppenheimer Funds and its parent organization, the MassMutual Financial Group in 2002. They found that 81% women executives business played organized team sports growing up and that playing contributed to their business success in areas such as leadership skills, greater discipline, and ability to function as part of a team. Siegal, as you will read below, is someone who can help inspire more females to go to the locker room and then move on to the boardroom.
LH: You are a model for many girls and young women, including your daughter Jasmine. Who was your model in sports when you were growing up?
JS: My models growing up were MLB pitcher Orel Hershiser and pitcher Nolan Ryan. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any female role models. Women’s sports were just not that big. I think it’s really important that girls have women to look up to. This is why Baseball for All (BFA) focuses on mentorship. We want girls to see women playing, coaching, and umpiring baseball.
LH: Were you a baseball fan—and/or player—growing up?
JS: I was a big baseball fan growing up. I loved watching the Cleveland Indians and went to many home games. I have been playing baseball for over 30 years; I started when I was just five.
LH: What role if any did Title IX play in your opportunity to play sports?
JS: Title IX was a huge significance in my life. I think just my opportunity to play sports in school is proof that Title IX works. It’s funny because I played soccer with the boys until my sophomore year in high school. There just wasn’t girls’ soccer. Now soccer is what all the girls are doing. It’s awesome! It’s that kind of generational growth that I dream of seeing for girls’ baseball. Based on soccer’s growth pattern, it’s realistic to say, that with work done now, the next generation of daughters could play in an all girls baseball league.
LH: What’s your favorite major league baseball team and why? What position would you play if you were on the team on a regular basis?
JS: The Cleveland Indians because I am from Cleveland and I grew up wanting to be a Cleveland Indian. A family get-together does not go by where we don’t talk about the Indians. I’d be a pitcher if I could play for the Indians.
LH: What was the spark of inspiration that led you to create the BFA website?
JS: My beautiful daughter, Jasmine, was my inspiration to start BFA. When she was born, I decided to put aside my own playing opportunities and invest in the future. My daughter symbolized all of the daughters around the world who may someday want to play baseball. I wanted to make sure that she and others have the chance to follow their dreams.
LH: Who uses your website? Schools? Individuals?
JS: My website is used by individuals mostly. But I am contacted by other baseball organizations who want to collaborate. The media also uses us for a resource on the state of girls’ and women’s baseball.
LH: Is there any pushback from parents who don’t want their children’s profiles on the web?
JS: I have not heard anything yet from parents not wanting their children on the web. We do get permission before we use any photos.
LH: There are many parents who are proactive and want to help their child have a career in baseball. How will being part of BFA help that child be seen by the right scouts?
JS: USA Baseball, who runs the women’s national baseball team, is very aware of our efforts and keeps tabs on some of our players. We have already had three girls play for Team USA at the age of 16 that have been through our program and we know that there are way more coming up.
LH: What’s your milestone for BFA to be called a success?
JS: When girls can just play baseball. I don’t think we have a specific milestone just a vision of inclusion into our national past time.
LH: What’s your long-term goal for BFA?
JS: My long term goal is for baseball to be available for any girl who wants to play–just like the boys.
LH: The number of women watching sports in person or on TV has been increasing steadily. And the number of women in ownership and management of professional sports have also risen dramatically in the past five years. When will women be on the field with men?
JS: That’s an interesting question. I am more focused on getting girls and women involved in the game. The more playing opportunities for both men and women the better off we all are.
LH: When the players on BFA reach the professional sports leagues, are the women going to receive similar salaries and benefits to the ones being given to male athletes?
JS: Probably not. Salaries are based on revenue generated and I’m not sure women’s baseball is at that level yet. I think first we just need to get women on the field. Then build up.
My connection to Siegal began when I included her name in a post on Women’s Month 2011: Shake the World. Thanks to the comment that Gabe Lozano left at that post, I was able to interview Siegal and Lozano LockerDome: The Facebook of Team Sports plus pretend for a few moments that I was Jim Murray!