I am very honored to have the opportunity today to interview Justine Siegal. When I was doing research on girls who play baseball, Justine’s name came up again and again, not just for her own accomplishments in the sport, but also for the work she does helping and inspiring girls who play ball.
Here is a little about Justine: A true pioneer, Justine is the first woman to coach men’s professional baseball and to throw batting practice to a Major League Baseball team. She is the Founder of Baseball For All, a nonprofit that provides opportunities for girls in baseball. She has been featured in thousands of media outlets including: The New York Times, Oprah Magazine, NPR’s All Things Considered, and ESPN. Justine received her PhD in Sport Psychology from Springfield College.
You recently wrote an article about the differences between playing baseball and playing softball. Why was it important for you to play baseball?
J:I have always loved baseball. I never considered softball the same sport. I wanted to play the game I loved. And that was, and is baseball.
In my local little league there were two or three girls on each team, but when I look at the roster of the 12U teams there are none. Why do you think girls give up on baseball?
J: Girls are told to give up on baseball. There is so much pressure from other parents, coaches, and sometimes even their own parents to quit. Too many people think that softball is the equivalent of baseball so when they suggest the girl drop baseball for softball they often think they are helping. When in fact they are teaching her that her dreams are not as important as boys' dreams and that girls do certain things and boys do other things - and to not cross that line.
Was there ever a point that you thought of giving up?
J: Yes, once I gave up in high school. It felt like I could do no right. The softball coach was harassing me to play softball and the assistant baseball coach was giving me some grief, and I just walked off the field. I'm not proud of that but I didn't know what to do anymore. That night, I got myself together and the next day I apologized to my baseball coach and was back on the team. So I really only quit for a day. What I really needed was someone to talk to about the conflicted feelings and messages I was receiving daily just because I wanted to play baseball. I really felt alone in my pursuit.
What do you think the future is for women in baseball? Will we ever see a woman in the major league?
J: My board and I are working hard through Baseball For All to build baseball leagues for girls across the country. That is what I hope is the future for women in baseball. I don't know if a woman will play in MLB. As cool as that would be I would really like to see a professional women's baseball league.
Tell us a little bit about the Sparks and Baseball for All. Why do you think it's important for girls to play on girl's teams?
J: Baseball for All is a nonprofit that provides opportunities for girls to be in baseball as players, coaches, umpires, and leaders. The Sparks were our first girls' program and it's a team of 12u that play at Cooperstown Dreams Park. We are the only girls' team out of 104 boys teams. 2014 will mark our 11th year attending the Cooperstown tournament.
I think girls playing with other girls is important because it brings a sense of camaraderie. I am a big believer in co-ed baseball teams, I just also think we need to provide opportunities for girls to play baseball with other girls.
Were there any books that inspired you to continue to pursue your dream?
J: I have been an avid reader since kindergarten. I love books! For me growing up there were not a lot of female role models in baseball. I mostly read non baseball books, particularly fiction. But when reading baseball I read everything I could about the Cleveland Indians, my home team. One book that I love that girls can buy now is Sliding into Home by Dori Hillstead Butler. It is a book about a girl who plays baseball and it has a great ending but you will have to read it to find out!
Thank you so much for doing this interview, Justine. You’re a sporty girl inspiration!
Make sure to check out Justine's TEDx talk about girls in baseball linked on the sidebar.