Female Umpires in the Minors
Jen Pawol becomes the seventh woman in affiliated league. Is Major League next?
They always say that the best kind of umpire is the one that no one notices. That isn’t exactly the case when you become the first female umpire in the Gulf Coast League since 1978 and the seventh in Minor League Baseball history.
Jen Pawol was behind the plate for a GCL game between the Blue Jays and the Tigers. Before her, there had not been another female umpire in the league since Pam Postema, who was on the field during the 1977-78 seasons. Other trailblazers that helped pave the way for Pawol were Bernice Gera (1972), Christine Wren (1975-77), Theresa Cox Fairlady (1989-91), Ria Cortesio (1999-2007), and Shanna Kook. (2003-04).
Powel was a decorated softball player at Hofstra University in the late 1990s. She both caught and played short. Hitting .332 with 169 hits in 161 games, she was a three time all-conference selection from 1996-98. After college, she competed for the USA Baseball Women’s national Team and played for the Connecticut Brakettes of the National Pro Fastpitch League. She is also currently working on her master’s thesis at Hunter College, which is on the flexibility of time and space in baseball.
By 2010, she was a four year veteran umpire and an eighth grade art teacher in Binghamton, N.Y. When teachers began getting laid off, she resigned from her teaching job and went to work for the Florida Professional Officials Association. For the next three years she would average around 700 games per year. Her big break came when she attended the Tony Thompson Southern Umpires Camp. The instructors were Major League umps, and two of them, Ted Barrett and Paul Nauret, recognized her potential and encouraged her to accept a scholarship to attend the Major League Umpires Camp. She went on to do just that, and the offer from the GCL followed soon after.
GCL umpires are also part of the Association of Minor League Umpires. AMLU is an affiliate union of Office and Professional Employees INternational Union and the AFL-CIO. They work with Minor League Baseball to help improve the lives, wages, and working conditions for minor league umpires.
Overall, her first GCL game behind the plate. went smoothly. The first batter was a strike out looking, so Pawol got to use her signature punch out move right away. There was one play at the play, but the out call was not controversial at all. The runs were scored on their own. It was almost as if the umpires weren’t there, which is the exact kind of game you want when the center of attention.
Pawol understands that being a female umpire has its own challenges. Players love to test umpires, and some may believe that they can push her farther because she’s not a man. She hopes to make it to the major leagues, but can see that the odds aren’t always in her favor. Even so, she remains focused on improvement of her game.
“I want to work as hard as I can and develop my talent, my game, my umpiring skill every day,” she told Newsday. “Tomorrow when I go out, I got to be better than I was today.”