Justine Siegal and Baseball for All Are Making America’s Pastime Available to Everyone
For thousands of girls in this country, heading to the park with a bat and glove is met with discouragement.
America, your national pastime has an inclusivity problem. Thankfully, Baseball for All is working hard to find a place for the many young girls who want nothing more than to live out their passion for playing baseball.
While there have been recent success stories, there is so much more work to be done. Kim Ng was named the first female general manager when she took over the position of the Miami Marlins. Alyssa Nakken earlier this year became the first female full-time MLB coach. Those are just a couple of the trailblazers adding much-needed representation in baseball.
But their stories belie the fact that so many girls are not given access to this wonderful sport. “To me, it's a social justice issue because if we tell girls they can't play baseball, what else will they think they can't play?” Baseball for All founder Justine Siegel says in a conversation with En Fuego.
“And so it's important that you're allowed to play baseball regardless of your gender. Just like it's important that you can get your job in the corporate world regardless of your gender. So we want these girls to know they can do anything.”
Siegal remains vigilant in her efforts to open the diamond to any girl who wants to play this sport. Her non-profit is geared to bring equity to baseball and reverse a staggering statistic that is listed on the website: “Over 100,000 girls play youth baseball, but only a little over 1,000 girls continue playing high school baseball.” Numbers by Statista further illustrate the extraordinary chasm of involvement across genders.
These girls don’t suddenly disappear or lose their love for the game. As is often the case, access is non-existent in their neighborhood or they are outright denied the ability to play. As Siegal discovered at a young age, coaches are very much of the opinion that baseball is a male-only sport.
Proving Them Wrong
Aside from running her foundation, Siegal has a long list of accolades that make her one of the top minds in baseball, period. She has a Ph.D. in sports psychology from Springfield College, where she is the former assistant baseball coach.
She is also acknowledged as the first woman to coach a men’s professional team, joining the Brockton Rox in 2009. In 2015, she coached an instructional team within the Oakland A’s organization.
But all of this started from a moment of discouragement.
“When I was 13, I was first told I should quit baseball because I was a girl,” Siegal recalled. “And that just made no sense to me. So, I decided I would play forever. And I think that the more people tried to take the game away from me, the more I’ve fallen in love with it.”
It wouldn’t be the only time she was given pushback on her desire to make a future in a sport that largely ignores half the population.
At one point, she explained to one of her coaches that she too wanted to one day employ her wisdom as a baseball coach.
“He immediately laughed at me,” she said. “I was only 15 and he laughed at me and he said, ‘No man will listen to a woman on a baseball field.' And, you know, I had to decide at 15 that he was wrong.”
Siegal had to not only make her way in a demanding sport but had to do so against the current of a sport that remains stubborn in its most outdated ideals. There are so many ballplayers out there who wouldn’t have pushed back against such rejection. And the sport is far less than it should be because of that fact.
A Game For Everyone
Baseball for All, then, is fighting to make the simple but profound change of making baseball far more inclusive, increasing the access girls have to playing baseball.
And this can be done in myriad ways, including bringing boys and girls together on the diamond but also pushing toward having far more leagues where girls can run the show.
“Baseball is very supportive of coed baseball,” Siegal points out. “That's beneficial for everyone. But what we want to see is what happened with women's soccer, which was back when I was a kid, I had to play with the boys. But now that there's women's soccer, you have it in every single school level and obviously all the way up to the Olympics and just more girls participate.”
There is a systemic problem in baseball. At some point the outdated notion that baseball was purely for boys became ingrained into the sport, and, as Siegal points out, it’s a social justice issue. Girls are immediately limited because of a lack of access. The benefits of solving that are evident immediately.
“We essentially teach communities how to start girls baseball programs of their own, and then we hold events for those girls to come together. So many of the girls play with the boys before events. They get this empowering opportunity to meet other girls who are just like them,” Siegal explains.
Parents out there with daughters are encouraged to go to Baseball for All, which is dedicated to finding a place for girls to play ball.
The more innings afforded to everyone the more opportunities that open up off the diamond. Equity can be a contagious thing if we allow ourselves to answer a simple question, why do the boys get to have all of the fun?