Umpire Jen Pawol is working her strategy to MLB

Jen Pawol, a baseball umpire within the minors, is schooled within the recreation and people who got here earlier than her.

Jen Pawol is part of a three-person Class AA umpiring crew.
Jen Pawol is a part of a three-person Class AA umpiring crew. (Sam Mallon for The Washington Put up)


PORTLAND, Maine — The very first thing to find out about Jen Pawol — and pay attention intently, as a result of that is vital — is that she would relatively nobody know a lot about her in any respect. Skilled umpires are professionally inconspicuous, and ladies in baseball have all the time recognized the important thing to a life in baseball is the power to mix.

The second factor to find out about Jen Pawol — and that is vital, too — is that she might sometime develop into the primary girl to umpire a Main League Baseball recreation. Pawol, 45, would by no means say that herself. From her perspective, she and the opposite members of her three-person Class AA umpiring crew are all in the identical place, two steps from the majors, on the cusp of dwelling their thankless desires.

However folks like her crewmates Tanner Moore and Kellen Martin have made the journey to the majors earlier than. No girl ever has. So she shouldn’t be in the identical place as they’re, despite the fact that she says everyone seems to be doing a exceptional job of treating her like she is.

Fifty years after the passage of Title IX, many ladies are discovering their method into baseball roles nobody like them has had earlier than. Kim Ng is the overall supervisor of the Miami Marlins. Eve Rosenbaum was simply named assistant common supervisor of the rising Baltimore Orioles. Kelsie Whitmore is enjoying within the Atlantic League. Alyssa Nakken is a coach for the San Francisco Giants. Rachel Balkovec is managing a New York Yankees minor league affiliate. That listing is hardly all-inclusive.

However solely 9 girls have ever umpired within the minor leagues, in line with MLB. Two, Pawol and Isabella Robb, are at the moment umpiring within the minor leagues. Numerically, she is an outlier. On the sector, she is way much less so.

As she umpired video games between the Portland Sea Canine and Hartford Yard Goats final week — one at first base, one behind the plate — the one factor that distinguished her from her colleagues was the ponytail that spilled out from beneath her black hat. Her punchout movement was by the ebook, neither demonstrative nor tentative.

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Catchers thanked her by identify when she handed them clear baseballs so typically that she nearly uninterested in it. When she lined up at first base as an alternative of behind the plate, coaches fist-bumped her to say howdy, and newly promoted first basemen launched themselves — similar to they do for the male umpires they hope will give them the advantage of the doubt. However gamers nonetheless winced and shook their heads when she referred to as a detailed pitch strike three. A couple of expressed their displeasure with a pointed query or two, similar to they often would.

“Everyone is so professional,” stated Pawol, who admitted she heard the heckler telling her to “go back to Little League school” after one name. She often will get “go back to softball.” She stated she doesn’t care one bit.

“They do it to everyone,” she stated with a smile, and certainly, that heckler was significantly indiscriminate in his proclamations. However even for a former trainer who by no means precisely lacked a spine, different elements of being a feminine umpire within the minor leagues do require some further adjustment.

“I’ve had to shed tremendous amounts of preconditioned responses,” Pawol stated. “I listen to the Harvard women’s business podcast all the time. I’ve done a tremendous amount of reading on all these potholes women tend to fall into: Apologizing. Not taking the lead with male counterparts. Letting them do it first. The great thing about sports is once you know the ground rules, you just play the game.”

And the whole lot in regards to the skilled umpiring expertise is topic to well-honed guidelines. Even on-field conflicts, Pawol stated, are extra calculated than they might appear from the skin. Managers and gamers know the place the traces are and what is going to occur once they cross them. And over seven years of navigating disagreements in that method, Pawol went from pretty certain she may very well be the on-field authority determine she wanted to be to downright sure.

“I want to be ready to take care of my business. If someone else is handling my ejections, I don’t belong out there. I don’t have the backbone to do the job,” Pawol stated. “I can stand up for myself. I can be out there as the authority figure. I can umpire the game and run the ship.

“One of our supervisors always says, ‘Rough seas make great sea captains.’ I always think that. If everything is always easy, if you don’t go over waves or through storms, you won’t be ready for whatever happens at the big league level.”

‘You can be comfortable in your own skin’

Final weekend, throughout an in any other case baseball-heavy dialog in regards to the realities of her place, Pawol requested a query few umpires had most likely ever requested of reporters earlier than: “Are you familiar with the waves of feminism?”

Pawol is, however she wasn’t asking for the sake of historic evaluation. Her level was that her capability to pursue her purpose of umpiring within the majors is feasible as a result of girls earlier than her did what she calls the “heavy lifting to push for equality.” And Pawol would know.

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Like so many ladies ascending in baseball nowadays, she has talked to those who discovered the boulders blocking their method too heavy to dislodge fully, those who shoved them far sufficient off the trail that future generations might end the job. She will rattle off the dates through which girls earlier than her served and at what stage. If there is a bonus to being a lady in a job like hers, it’s that the listing of those that got here earlier than is brief.

So she is aware of that just one different girl has made it additional than she has now, to Class AAA. She is aware of that girl, Pam Postema, ended up out of baseball working as a welder only a few years after being thought-about for a job within the Nationwide League.

Heck, she even learn Postema’s memoir, the one through which Postema detailed the sexism and verbal abuse she acquired throughout these years, the one which rued newspaper articles (like this one) as a result of they ruined her plan to maintain a low profile lengthy sufficient that she might attain the majors earlier than small-minded males tried to intervene. Postema was the final girl that headlines posited as the primary feminine main league umpire. These headlines ran within the Nineteen Eighties.

Pawol would relatively not be within the headlines, both. However apart from that, her expertise couldn’t be extra totally different than the ladies who got here earlier than her, those who shortened names from Christine to Chris on umpire faculty purposes, those that have been excluded from these faculties as a result of they didn’t have separate services to accommodate girls.

“There’s clearly still work to do, but I receive equal pay. I have the same contract. There’s no gender gap. I get equal union representation. I get equal health benefits. I got equal training. I wasn’t given more test questions or easier or harder test questions at umpire school. I get the same supervision. The same number of looks,” Pawol stated. “To be in that framework, it’s very relaxing. You can be comfortable in your own skin.”

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Pawol had been umpiring for years earlier than she realized affiliated baseball was even an choice for ladies. She grew sick of umpiring native baseball video games in Upstate New York and dealing with Division I softball video games in New York and New England. She needed one thing larger.

“Amateur and high school baseball, you pay your $70 to join the umpires, and you get to work those leagues,” Pawol stated. “I was really sick of doing that. I wanted a salary. I wanted a contract. I wanted to be in a union. I wanted a career.”

Every year, the New York highschool baseball affiliation held an annual clinic with main league umpires. The pinnacle of certainly one of her native umpiring associations referred to as her one Friday afternoon in 2015 and requested her if she was enrolled within the clinic, which was scheduled to start the following day. She wasn’t. By Saturday morning, she was.

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At that clinic, she met longtime MLB umpire Ted Barrett and purchased a ticket to his clinic in Georgia the following yr. At that camp, Barrett requested her if she needed to be knowledgeable. He advised her in regards to the umpire camps. She enrolled.

Pawol paid for her personal ticket to a type of minor league umpire feeder clinics, then earned a scholarship to umpiring faculty. For years, the street to skilled umpiring ran via non-public umpiring faculties just like the one based by Harry Wendelstedt (father of present large league umpire Hunter) in 1977 or the one run by Jim Evans till Minor League Baseball stopped accepting its college students in mild of a racist incident in 2012. Below the previous system, umpires must pay hundreds to attend these non-public faculties.

However now, as a part of MLB’s push to diversify its umpiring ranks, it’s overhauling the system. The league hosted 5 open clinics this yr, together with one in Brooklyn’s Maimonides Park in August. This yr, MLB introduced that prime performers will earn the possibility to take part in an umpire improvement camp in January for free of charge to them.

“If he had never said anything, I would have never known,” Pawol stated. “Now, today, if you go to the website, you can see it. I wouldn’t have had to wait 10 years to get into professional baseball.”

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Pawol made it, however she might need made it sooner, which is why a lady who has devoted her profession to mixing in was keen to speak about all this. When she left Hofstra College as a adorned softball star in 1998, she didn’t know there have been paths to the majors in umpiring, and even within the teaching ranks, the place she watches girls breaking via now. She desires others to see them.

“I could be a hitting coach now,” Pawol speculates, questioning what might need been if the identical paths had been open and apparent then. She has coached catching for Milliken College’s baseball crew close to her residence in Illinois. She coaches hitting for baseball and softball gamers alike. She desires others to know simply how a lot issues have modified since Postema discovered herself a step from the large leagues however light-years away from feeling welcome there.

“When Pam came through, you could still smoke on airplanes. The culture, it was just a different mind-set,” she stated. In these days, the thought of a lady ejecting a person from knowledgeable baseball recreation was a wierd one, an uncomfortable recasting of long-standing gender dynamics that also held agency to the skilled baseball consciousness. Now, her crew spends street journeys splitting up the driving evenly, rotating who pays for gasoline as an alternative of penalizing the youngest, debating whether or not they need to even seek advice from themselves as “a three-man crew” anymore or in the event that they actually needs to be saying “three-umpire crew” as an alternative.

Pawol by no means requested them to vary something on her behalf. She says she didn’t should. She is certainly one of them, as purposely inconspicuous as a trailblazer might be.

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