Women’s History Month: Justine Siegal, An Advocate for Women in Baseball
Added by Matt Kardos on March 10, 2013.
Everyday this month, Double G Sports will be featuring interviews from prominent women in the sports industry as our way of celebrating Women’s History Month. This project is in its 2nd year. Today we feature someone who has made history in the sport of baseball. Justin Siegal, an advocate for women in baseball…
Justine Siegal throwing batting practice to the Cleveland Indians.
Every child has had a dream of one day growing up and dawning the uniform of their favorite professional sports franchise and taking the field in front of thousands of cheering fans and attaining ultimate success. Baseball is regarded as our nation’s pastime; a game founded on principles of respect, hustle and passion. It’s a game that makes possibilities seem endless and no dream too far out of reach, regardless of who you may be or what walk of life you may stem from; baseball in every sense of the word is a sport for all.
For 38 year-old Justine Siegal, an Ohio native who was raised in the suburbs of Cleveland and grew up as a die-hard Indians fan; her dream has always been to pitch for her hometown team. Just as many kids who have gone in their backyard and pretended they were on the mound with two outs in the pressure-packed moments in game seven of the World Series; Siegal has always envisioned herself toeing the rubber for the Tribe despite her gender.
“My dad raised me as a Cleveland Indians fan,” said Siegal. “I grew up playing the game. Like so many other kids, I dreamed of one day playing for the Indians.”
“I wanted to be Orel Hershiser,” added Siegal. “I loved how he was known as a mental pitcher and an overall good guy. Plus, he was a competitor.”
Parents typically guide their children to a specific sport according to gender. By now, it is generally accepted that boys gravitate to baseball while girls are relegated to playing softball. Growing up, Siegal was one of the rare females who wanted to lace up her cleats and go toe-to-toe with the boys on the baseball field. Not only did Siegal play baseball growing up, but she was better than some of her male competition.
“I just loved baseball so that’s what I played,” Siegal explained. “When I was told to play softball because I was a girl, I just ignored them. I didn’t think being a girl was a reason to give up on the game I loved.”
Siegal added, “I am just glad my dad didn’t tell me to go play softball. He always supported my baseball dreams.”
As a strong-willed woman who has spent much of her adult life fighting tirelessly for women to have an equal standing in sports right alongside men, Siegal has shattered many barriers that were never thought to be in the realm of possibility, just as recently as a few years ago. While most women are afraid to rise up and take action for equal opportunity, Siegal lives to fight for that very cause.
In 2007, Siegal began a four-year stint as an assistant coach with Springfield College in Massachusetts, which made her the only female collegiate coach for a men’s program. Then, in 2009 she became the first woman in history to coach on a professional baseball staff when she served as the first base coach for the Brockton Rox of the Can-Am league.
“It was an honor and I am thankful for that opportunity,” admitted Siegal. “But, it is much more important to me that we create a better future.”
Justine with her daugher prior to throwing BP to the Tampa Bay Rays.
She has earned national fame and acclaim for the things that she has done in an historic sense, but her reasoning for stepping up and shattering the barriers that she has broken is not for her own self fulfillment but rather the future generations of women who are yet to come.
“This is not about me,” said Siegal. “It’s about building opportunities for the next generation of girls.”
In the winter of 2010, Siegal made a trip to the annual General Manager’s Meetings which were held in Florida to personally explain her story and lay out her mission to any and all baseball executives who were willing to listen.
“When I was about 16 years old, I realized I wasn’t good enough to play for the Indians,” said Siegal. “So, instead I thought, maybe I could throw batting practice instead.”
While presenting that notion to many GM’s at the meetings, a majority of them while very nice and personable were not open to the notion of having a woman come into their facility to toss batting practice. While most of her words fell on deaf ears, a few executives were intrigued by Siegal and very open to what she was setting out to accomplish.
“Billy Beane of the Athletics was the first to say yes,” said Siegal. “But, I also went to the Indians and told them I wanted to make history with them. My dream came from watching Indians’ games.”
After hearing her idea, Indians General Manager Chris Antonetti was warmed by her story and agreed that Siegal should be able to grace the field with the team she had grown to love so dearly
For at least one afternoon, a little bit over two years ago on February 21, 2011, Siegal had the day she had dreamt about since she was first able to grip a baseball. Teaming up with the franchise that she had rooted so heavily for her entire life, Siegal and the Indians made history when the Tribe invited her to their spring training complex in Goodyear, Arizona to toss the team batting practice.
Siegal recalls the emotion that ran through her body when she received the phone call inviting her to fulfill her lifelong dream. “It was just an amazing feeling,” admitted Siegal. “I yelled to my daughter and together we danced a bit around the room, giving the occasional fist pump.”
After making the long trek to Goodyear with her daughter Jasmine; Justine found herself dawning the full Indians uniform, complete with her own personalized jersey as she took to the mound on field two at the Indians training facility.
With a lifetime of emotions running through her mind and reflections of all the “No’s” she has had to hear and overcome to reach that point, Justine gracefully reached into that fresh bucket of Rawlings practice baseballs and fired away at a slew of Indians farmhands. As a woman who used to clock out at 70 mph on the radar gun in her mid-20’s, Justine tossed fastballs to Lou Marson, Paul Phillips and Juan Apodaca among other players.
“She did great,” the backup catcher Phillips told the media that morning. “She would have fit right in if you had not seen her ponytails.”
Despite her nerves, Siegal says that she felt nothing but welcomed and comforted by the Indians and their staff throughout the entire process.
“The players were amazing,” Siegal admitted. “After I threw to them, one asked me when I could come back.”
In capturing her goal in that moment, Siegal also added another footnote to history by becoming the only woman to throw batting practice to a major league ball club. Siegal believes that moment stands for something much bigger, almost as a symbol of hope to demonstrate that anything a person deems worth fighting for can be attained with hard work and advocacy.
“The more I was told to quit, the more determined I was to keep going,” admitted Siegal. “Now, I am driven to show that girls and women can be a part of baseball. Not just as fans but as players, umpires, coaches, and however else they want to participate.”
Siegal added, “I think it shows that dreams are possible. I do feel that women are getting more opportunities than ever before in sports. We have Title IX to thank for that.”
In addition to the history that Siegal has made in her baseball endeavors on the field and in the dugout, she also created and run an international non-profit organization for the past 15 years called “Baseball for All” which grants opportunities and provides baseball instruction, specifically for women, around the globe.
Much like the mission of her organizations existence is to change the baseball landscape; her vision for women in baseball in ten years from now can essentially be summarized by the title it bears.
“I see a world where baseball really becomes a game for all,” said Siegal.