The team with the South Atlantic League’s first female play-by-play announcer will get its first female umpire this week when Jen Pawol, only the seventh woman to ever officiate professional baseball, comes to Lexington.
Pawol has described umpiring as a natural progression from her days playing catcher in high school, college and professionally.
“I … really enjoy working behind the plate,” she told the Greensboro News & Record earlier this season. “Umpiring is a lot like catching. I’m not afraid of getting hit by the ball. I was already used to seeing the strike zone from that end of the pitch. The more I umpired, the more fun it became. I love umpiring more than playing. I don’t ever have to leave the field. I’m in the game from the first pitch to the last pitch.”
Pawol, 41, in her first season in the Sally League and her fourth pro season overall after years umpiring amateur and Division I college baseball and fast-pitch softball, will be part of a two-ump crew here beginning Wednesday as the Lexington Legends host Kannapolis for a three-game series.
The Legends made history last season hiring Emma Tiedemann as their play-by-play voice, and she’s returned for year two. Like Tiedemann, Pawol’s goal is to make the majors just like the players.
The odds to make the majors from the minors are long, regardless of gender.
“Every minor league umpire has the one goal to be part of the 3 percent that gets hired for Major League Baseball,” Pawol told NorthJersey.com last year. “This is literally all every minor league umpire wants to do with the rest of their life.”
Pawol has been gaining notice ever since she got her big break in 2015 when she was spotted at a college baseball clinic by Major League umpires Ted Barrett and Paul Nauert. She was offered a chance to try out at an MLB umpire camp in Cincinnati and from there was sent with 30 other hopefuls to compete for eight scholarships at the Umpire Training Academy.
That led to a job in the Gulf Coast League in 2016 and then the New York-Penn Short-Class A League last season.
Last spring, she worked her first game involving a major-league team when she called a game that included the Detroit Tigers.
Pawol grew up in West Milford, N.J., where she was a standout in softball and soccer. She went on to play softball for Hofstra and later professionally with the Connecticut Brakettes in the National Pro Fastpitch League. She also played baseball growing up and was a member of the USA Baseball Women’s National Team.
In the off-season, she has her own business, Evolve 2 Excellence, training catchers, hitters and umpires. But full-time coaching after her playing career wasn’t a desire.
“I was looking for something and didn’t want to go into coaching, because you’re not in the game; you’re not on the field,” she told NorthJersey.com. “It’s just not the same.”
As for being a pioneer, Pawol recognizes she has opportunities now her mother didn’t and has gotten the respect from the men in the game that her predecessors might not have enjoyed.
“It is apparent to me how Title IX has been at work changing the way we think as a culture,” she told the News & Record. “Most of the men in baseball who have approached me to say something positive or welcoming have included references to their wife or daughter who also work in a leadership position in a male-dominated field. Most parents of the student-athletes I work with in the off-season, expect their daughters and sons to attend college. This was not the way my parents grew up culturally.”
Pawol and Emma Charlesworth-Seiler of the Gulf Coast League are the only two women working as umpires in professional baseball at this time. They were preceded by Bernice Gera (1972), Christine Wren (1975-77), Pam Postema (1977-89), Theresa Fairlady (1989-91), Ria Cortesio (1999-2007) and Shanna Kook (2003-04). Female umpires have officiated spring training games but never a regular-season major-league game.
In an interview last summer with Davenport, Iowa’s Quad-City Times, Cortesio said she’s her successors’ No. 1 fan even though they hadn’t met and she hopes to see them achieve the dream she once had.
“The people I talk with now say the climate and culture within the umpire development process has changed,’’ Cortesio said. “I hope that is the case and I hope that Jen, and Emma, too, get a chance to make it happen. It’s time.’’
Kannapolis Intimidators at Lexington Legends
When: 12:05 p.m.