For women in baseball, visibility on the rise

December 14th, 2021

Four years ago, Major League Baseball launched its Take the Field program with one goal in mind. As part of its mission to promote and help prepare women for jobs in baseball, Take the Field leaders just wanted to get one person from the program hired in the industry.

Fast forward to this week, when the fourth annual Take the Field took place virtually, and 39 program participants have been hired for roles in baseball, with over 100 interviews taking place. Whether it’s seeing participants hired for front office or on-field jobs, or more clubs leaning on Take the Field’s qualified candidates for job openings, the program has seen massive growth.

The keynote speaker to kick off the two-day program filled with panel and breakout sessions was Yankees senior vice president/assistant general manager Jean Afterman, a pivotal figure in New York's front office since 2001. She spoke about the significance of allyship from men for the women trying to break into baseball, as well as how important visibility is for women already in the game.

“You have to see yourself in these jobs,” Afterman said. “You have to see yourself and imagine yourself -- and I know that sounds sort of hippy dippy, which is slightly what I am, but if you can visualize it and you have confidence in yourself, these jobs are attainable.

“It’s important for all the women in baseball to be visible. For little girls and little boys to see that little girls can get these jobs. On home games, I make sure that I go down to the clubhouse, I walk out from the dugout and I go behind the cage for batting practice. I don’t really have a reason to go out there, but I want everyone in the stadium to see that there’s a woman who has this kind of access. I want them to see that women are in baseball and that we are now a fundamental part of baseball.”

Success stories from the Take the Field symposium can be found everywhere in baseball. Past participants include Veronica Alvarez, who attended in 2018 and '20. She has worked as a Spring Training instructor with the A’s, and is the manager of the USA Women’s National Team. Alyssa Nakken, who made history as the first woman to be named to a Major League coaching staff when the Giants promoted her in '20, was a Take the Field participant in '18.

Bianca Smith, a Minor League coach in the Red Sox system and who also worked in baseball operations for the Reds, attended the symposium in 2018 and ’20. Christina Whitlock (2018, ’19) is a fourth coach and scout for the Cardinals.

In total, 18 women who have attended Take the Field went on to be hired as full-time employees, fellows or interns at the Major or Minor League level and in MLB’s Central Office baseball operations department. A dozen others are working in the college ranks or in other baseball-related fields. Seven more have gone through the interview process with at least one Major League club.

At this year’s symposium, Afterman was also part of a breakout session called Women in Baseball, joined by Smith, Red Sox executive vice president/assistant general manager Raquel Ferreira and Rays baseball operations manager Sammi Bireley. They fielded questions about how they got into baseball, their leadership styles, how they manage being the only woman in the room in their respective jobs and how they deal with unconscious bias with colleagues because of their gender.

“Jean and I have always talked about how people use different adjectives to describe you, which is stuff that I’ve brought to their attention,” Ferreira said. “I had a former boss one time say that I was being emotional about something, whereas when a man does something, he’s passionate. I politely called him out on it. The use of different adjectives to describe how someone leads or acts is one of the things that I think we still battle every day.”

Bireley added: “The little things, they aren’t intentional, but you do have to call them out when they come up because it’ll keep happening.”

Take the Field is more than panel discussions and quick Q-and-A formats. Participants attend workshops to develop professional skills, mock interviews to prepare them moving forward and breakout sessions to meet representatives from Major League organizations.

On the “Breaking into the Game” panel, Giants manager Gabe Kapler was joined by Orioles director of player development Eve Rosenbaum, Mets director of Minor League operations Ronny Reyes and MLB director of coaching development Bo Porter to give advice on skillsets and strategies needed to land jobs.

“There is a whole lot of value, whether you want to be in the front office or if you desire to be on the field, the better you understand the overall totality of how the organization works, it allows you to do your job better, regardless of what level you’re working at in the organization,” Porter said.

The conversation ranged from networking to what technologies and certifications one should have before applying for a job -- and, Rosenbaum emphasized, an understanding of how to apply those certifications to the job.

What was clear throughout the weekend was that, while there is still more work to do, opportunities are growing for women and minorities in baseball, and Take the Field is a good first step to find qualified candidates for those opportunities.