By Megan Wood and Laura Pappano
Justine Siegal, founder of BaseBall for All, made news this week when she became the first woman to throw batting practice to a major league baseball team at spring training. She threw for the Cleveland Indians on Monday and the Oakland A’s on Wednesday. Siegal, who became the first woman to coach a men’s professional baseball team, the Brockton Rox, in 2009 (see FGN Q&A with Siegal here), wanted to throw at spring training to increase acceptance for girls playing baseball. FGN spoke with Siegal from spring training in Arizona as she headed to watch a Giants vs. Diamonbacks game at Scottsdale Stadium.
FGN: Was it suprising to people that you could throw batting practice for major league teams?
JS: I think it was, based on their reactions. And yet, I wondered, ‘How can you feel like it should be so difficult?’ I mean it is 45 feet [from the mound to the plate]. To some degree, it is not such a big deal. You are just supposed to throw firm strikes. This is not a power issue or a situation where you need to be 6’2. But female athletes have always had to deal with that stigma – that they are weaker [and therefore not able to do ‘male’ sport activities]. That said, I was treated with much respect and treated as a professional.
FGN: You are a 36-year-old woman who has played baseball. Who usually throws batting practice?
JS: Batting practice is thrown by coaches who are often and usually between the ages of 35 and 60 – the age is not a factor. And it is not a power issue. When you throw batting practice you can’t flinch when they hit back. There is a lot of bravado when you throw. You don’t look to see how far they hit. And remember, it is about throwing strikes – it is not about the pitcher; it is about the hitter.
FGN: One of your goals was to increase the awareness of and acceptance for girls playing baseball. What reaction have you received?
JS: Actually, I’ve been getting a lot of e-mails. I’ve gotten a lot of fan mail and words of encouragement – from men! Some of them have said, ‘You are living my dream. My daughter plays…’ This is not just a story for girls and women. We underestimate men and how they understand what’s going on and the power of the dream [of playing baseball], of going for something.
FGN: You have done a lot to raise the profile of baseball as a sport for girls. Are girls who play still pressured to switch to softball?
JS: There is definitely the pressure to switch. That is without a doubt. I am sure there will always be tension between softball and baseball, but I don’t care. This is about creating equal opportunities [to play either sport].
FGN: You grew up as a Cleveland Indians fan. What was it like walking into the clubhouse and putting on that uniform?
JS: When I walked in and I saw my Indians jersey hanging for me and it was number 15 – the number I asked for