Umpire Jen Pawol makes her way to MLB

Jane Powell, a minor baseball referee, was educated in the game and those who preceded her.

Jen Pawol is part of a three-man class AA referee staff.
Jen Pawol is part of a three-man class AA referee staff. (Sam Mallon for The Washington Post)

Portland, Maine – The first thing to know about Jane Powell – and listen closely because this is important – is that she prefers that no one knows much about her at all. Professional referees are not professionally straightforward, and women in baseball have always known that the key to life in baseball is the ability to blend in.

The second thing to know about Jen Pawol — and that’s also important — is that she might one day become the first woman to officiate a Major League Baseball game. Powell, 45, wouldn’t have said it herself. From her point of view, she and the other members of her Refereeing Class AA crew of three are all in the same position, two steps away from major corporations, on the cusp of living their unfulfilled dreams.

But people like her crewmates Tanner Moore and Kellyn Martin have made the trip to the big companies before. There is no woman at all. So she’s not in the same situation they are, although she says everyone does a great job treating her as she is.

Fifty years after the passage of Act Nine, many women are finding their way into baseball roles that no one like them has done before. Kim Ng He is the general manager of the Miami Marlins. Eve Rosenbaum has just been appointed Assistant General Manager for the rising Baltimore Orioles. Kelsey Whitmore He plays in the Atlantic League. Alyssa neck is San Francisco Giants coach. Rachel Balkovich runs a subsidiary of the New York Yankees Junior League. This list is hardly comprehensive.

But only nine women have refereed in the minor leagues, according to MLB. Two, Powell and Isabella Robb, currently referee the minor leagues. Numerically, she is an anomaly. In the field, it is much less.

As she judged matches between the Portland Sea Dogs and the Hartford Yard Goats last week — one at first base, one behind the board — the only thing that set her apart from her teammates was the ponytail that extended from under her black hat. Her punch movement according to the book was neither experimental nor temporary.

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Name catchers thanked her when she handed them clean baseballs so often that she almost got tired of them. When she lined up at first base instead of behind the board, coaches hit her with a fist to salute, and the newly promoted first baseman introduced themselves—just as they do with male referees hoping to give them the benefit of the doubt. But the players still grumbled and shook their heads when the third hit was called on the field. Some expressed their displeasure with a specific question or two as they usually do.

“Everyone is very professional,” Powell said, and admitted she heard the clips telling her to “go back to Little League” after one call. You usually get “back to softball”. She said she doesn’t care a bit.

“They do it with everyone,” she said with a smile, and in fact, those clips were especially random in his statements. But even for a former teacher who wasn’t completely lacking in a backbone, the other parts of being a female judge in the minor leagues require some extra tweaking.

“I had to throw in massive amounts of preconditional responses,” Powell said. “Listen to Harvard Women’s Business Podcasts all the time. I’ve read a huge amount of reading about all these pits women tend to fall into: apologies. Not taking the lead with their male counterparts. Let them do it first. The great thing about sports is that once you know the basic rules, you play the game.”

Everything about professional judgment experience is governed by well-crafted rules. Even the conflicts on the ground, Powell said, are more calculated than they might appear from the outside. Managers and players know where the lines are and what will happen when they cross them. And over the course of seven years of overcoming controversies in this way, Powell turned somewhat certain she could be the field authority figure to be absolutely certain.

“I want to be prepared to take care of my work. If someone else is handling my output, I don’t belong there. I don’t have the backbone to do the job,” Powell said. “I can stand up for myself. I can be there as an authority figure. I can judge the game and the operation of the ship.

“One of our supervisors always says, ‘Rough seas are a great sea captain.’ I always think so. If everything was always easy, if you didn’t get past the waves or through storms, you wouldn’t be prepared for anything that happens at the big league level.”

“You can feel comfortable with your own skin”

Last weekend, during a baseball-heavy chat about the reality of her position, Powell asked a question few referees might have asked reporters before: “Are you aware of waves of feminism?”

Powell, but she did not ask for historical analysis. Her view was that her ability to pursue her goal of governing in the disciplines was possible because women before her had done what she calls “the heavy lifting of pushing for equality”. And Powell will know.

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Like many women climbing up in baseball these days, I’ve spoken to those who have found the rocks blocking their path too heavy to completely dislodge, those who have pushed them far enough off the track that future generations can finish the job. She can get rid of the dates women served before her and at any level. If there is an advantage to being a woman in a job like hers, it is that the list of those who have come before her is short.

So she knows that only one woman has made it to AAA. She knows that woman, Pam Postima, Ended up from baseball working in welding After only a few years of looking at a job in the National Association.

Heck, she even read Postema’s notes, in which Postema described the sexism and verbal abuse she received during those years, those that offended newspaper articles (like this one) because they spoiled her plan to keep a low profile long enough that she could get into majors before small-brained men tried to intervene . Postema was the last woman to make headlines as the league’s first major female governor. Those titles ran in the ’80s.

And Powell prefers not to be in the headlines either. But other than that, her experience couldn’t be more different The women who kissed herthose who shortened names from Christine to Chris on school applications, and those who were excluded from those schools because they did not have separate facilities to accommodate women.

“Obviously there’s still work to do, but I get paid equal. I have the same contract. No gender gap. I get equal union representation. I get equal health benefits. I get equal training. I’m given no more questions Exam or test questions that are easier or harder in Governance School. I get the same supervision. “Same number of looks,” Powell said. “Being in that frame, it’s very comfortable. You can be comfortable in your own skin.”

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Powell had been ruling for years before she learned that affiliated baseball was even an option for women. I’m tired of ruling local baseball games in upstate New York and dealing with Division I softball games in New York and New England. She wanted something bigger.

“Amateur baseball and high school, you pay $70 to join the referees, and you can work in those leagues,” Powell said. “I was really tired of doing this. I wanted a salary. I wanted a contract. I wanted to be in a union. I wanted a job.”

Each year, the New York High School Baseball League holds an annual clinic with the major league referees. The head of a local governing association called her one Friday afternoon in 2015 and asked if she was registered with the clinic, which was due to start the next day. It wasn’t. By Saturday morning, it was.

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At that clinic, she met longtime MLB referee Ted Barrett and purchased a ticket to his Georgia clinic the following year. At that camp, Barrett asked her if she wanted to be a professional. Tell her about the ruling camps. I joined.

Pawol paid for her own ticket to one of the ruling high school nutrition clinics, then got a scholarship to the ruling school. For years, the path to professional refereeing has run through private referee schools such as the school founded by Harry Wendelsted (the father of the current big league catcher) in 1977 or the school run by Jim Evans until Minor League Baseball She stopped accepting her students In light of a racist incident in 2012. Under the old system, concerned rulers had to pay thousands to attend private schools.

But now, as part of MLB’s drive to diversify its ruling ranks, it is reforming the system. MLB hosted five open clinics this year, including one in Brooklyn Maimonides Park in August. This year it announced that top performers will be given the opportunity to participate in the Governance Development Camp in January at no cost to them.

If he had never said anything, Powell said, I wouldn’t have known it. “Now, today, if you go to the website, you can see it. I wouldn’t have waited 10 years to join professional baseball.”

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Pawol made it, but she may have done it sooner, which is why a woman who’s dedicated her career to inclusion was willing to talk about all of this. When she left Hofstra University as a decorated softball star in 1998, little did she know there were avenues for majors in refereeing or even in coaching classes, where you now watch women hack. She wants others to see them.

“I can become a batting coach now,” Powell speculates, wondering what it would have been if the same tracks were open and clear at the time. She trained to join the Millikin University baseball team near her home in Illinois. She trains batting for baseball and softball players alike. She wants others to know how much things have changed since Postema found herself a step away from the major leagues but light years away from feeling welcome there.

“When Pam came along, you could still smoke in planes. The culture, it was just a different mindset. In those days, the idea of ​​a woman kicking a man out of a professional baseball game was a strange idea, an uncomfortable paraphrasing of long-standing gender dynamics still fixed on professional consciousness. Now her crew spends ground trips to divide leadership equally, rotating who pays for fuel rather than punishing the younger ones, arguing about whether they should refer to themselves as “crew of three” anymore or should they really say” Three crew umpires’ instead.

Pawol never asked them to change anything on her behalf. She says she didn’t have to. She’s one of them, because she’s not intentionally obvious as groundbreaking as she could be.