The Times, They are a Changin’-Female Umpires in Professional Baseball

I’m going to give away my age here, but the story is one that is more important than my vanity.  When I was just a little girl, my family wasn’t a baseball family, we were a hockey family. We watched the Philadelphia Flyers religiously. My older brother had the classic poster of Bobby Clarke with this toothless grin on the wall. (We will NOT talk about the time I tried to knock my own front teeth out so I could look like Bobby Clarke.)

My father, was one of those “Jack of ALL Trades” kind of guys. He decided that the flat portion of our back yard would be perfect for an outdoor rink and he made it happen. We had nets and everything, the snow we shoveled off the ice surface would be our “boards”. When my dad taught me to skate the winter of 1973, he couldn’t find skates small enough-so being the guy he was, he took a piece of sheet metal, cut it to fit my baby shoes and bent it into a U-shape, effectively making me little double runner skates. We would put the metal dining room chair on the ice for me to hold onto like a walker and off I’d go. I’d throw fits every time it was time to go in. I never wanted to stop.

Betsy Skating about 1975

With my love of the Broad Street Bullies, I even remember them getting the Stanley Cup in 74 though I was just about 2 years old. I decided then and there that I was going to be a hockey player.

In next year or two I spent my winters playing “hockey” with my older brother on the rink in our back yard. I remember watching the captivating Dorothy Hamill in the 1976 Olympics and thought while it was pretty, I still wanted to be a hockey player, not a figure skater.

Finally, when I entered first grade a new indoor rink opened near us. My dad enrolled me in “Learn to Skate” classes. I told him it would be good to learn, because hockey players really need to know how to skate…but then he dropped the surprise on me…

GIRLS DON’T PLAY HOCKEY, THEY FIGURE SKATE.”

Thus ended my dreams (at least temporarily) of being the next Bobby Clarke.

Still had the Jersey though

Though Title 9 was passed in 1972 giving girls the right to play on boys teams…my dream of playing hockey would have to wait. I took off in figure skating. I did rather well. As I got older, I was a very fast skater, by 6th grade I could out-skate the high school girls–mostly because when I skated fast I still skated like a hockey player.

Betsy, about age 9
Betsy in a skating show about 4th grade
Betsy as a white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t until after I graduated high school that dad’s mind began to change. Hockey teams with names like “Chicks with Sticks” started. In 1992, the Tampa Bay Lightning signed Manon Rhéaume to a contract. While she only played preseason…it was a turning point…then that summer A League of Their Own was released…and my life changed. I argued that if women could play PROFESSIONAL baseball, why couldn’t I play hockey?

I became obsessed with A League of Their Own and if you’ve read my blog for any length of time you’ll know how special the All American Girls Professional Baseball League has been to me. In more recent years, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting the Queen of Baseball Town, Reading’s own Ruth Kramer Hartman and the excitement of meeting SIX of the AAGPBL players at one time (HERE). I was also devastated when Ruth passed away almost two years ago. (HERE)

All of this leads up to Saturday of this week. I was watching the GCL Phillies take on the GCL Blue Jays at the Carpenter Complex. The umpire was a woman…it wasn’t the first time a woman had umpired a GCL game, last season Jen Pawol had done it, but this was another woman…that meant it is for real, it wasn’t just a “one-off”.

Emma Charlesworth-Sellers
Emma Charlesworth-Sellers

 

I had the lucky instance to be able to talk to Darren Spagnardi, who is one of the Field Evaluator/Instructor, Umpire Development personnel for MiLB. As we talked, he said that Jen Pawol has been moved up to the New York-Penn league and that Emma Charlesworth-Sellers had graduated umpire school this year. He was also proud to say that there is already another woman signed up for next year’s schoo! They are actively recruiting woman for umpiring from both softball and baseball as it can be a continuation of their sports careers.

The thing that stuck with me the most was that he had said that there is none of the “macho” baloney, none of that “you’re a woman, what are you doing here” kind of attitudes, that female umpires have been actively, fully and completely integrated without any sort of backlash. He said they are fully accepted as any other umpire.

This does my heart good. I am impressed that these women are blazing a trail. I’m envious, it makes me wish I was younger so that I could join them.  I’m happy that these women are doing something that just a few years ago would have been almost unthinkable. That somewhere, some little girl will say to her dad, “Daddy, when I grow up, I want to be an umpire,” and he will say, “Of course you can.”

The times are changing and I love it.

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