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Feeney remembered at leadership symposium

MLB preserves executive's legacy, aims to create more opportunities for women
MLB.com @RichardJustice

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Katy Feeney blazed a quiet trail in baseball, opening doors, breaking barriers. She did this in the most basic of ways. By doing her job well. By treating others with respect.

She left an enduring legacy of kindness and charity, and her death last April at 68 left a gaping hole in the souls of the hundreds of people she touched during a lifetime in the sport.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Katy Feeney blazed a quiet trail in baseball, opening doors, breaking barriers. She did this in the most basic of ways. By doing her job well. By treating others with respect.

She left an enduring legacy of kindness and charity, and her death last April at 68 left a gaping hole in the souls of the hundreds of people she touched during a lifetime in the sport.

"I still find myself picking up the phone to call her," her brother, Stoney Feeney, said Sunday. "What would Katy do?"

He told that story to a gathering of female executives from Major League Baseball and its teams during the first Katharine Feeney Leadership Symposium.

Amid a mixture of tears and laughter, some of the people who knew Katy best began an effort to preserve her legacy and to create more opportunities for women in the sport.

They did this by discussing their own experiences and listening to others. In this way, they were reminded that they do not walk their walk alone.

"We wake up everyday with news of horrible events regarding women's experiences in the workplace," said Dan Halem, MLB Deputy Commissioner and chief legal officer. "It's more important than ever that we have events like this to both empower women and meet each other and provide resources that will help you advance.

"Katy cared deeply about the role of women in baseball. She was one of the pioneers. She didn't really talk about that or trumpet that. She was more concerned each and every day with mentoring and helping other women achieve her level."

Representatives of the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Executive Education did seminars on team building and inclusion in the workplace. And from all that, the hope is that these women will serve as sounding boards and role models for a new generation of women in baseball.

"What I hope this does is send a message to the rest of the industry how much the Commissioner values the role of women in baseball," said Jean Afterman, Yankees' senior vice president and assistant general manager.

"I've exchanged emails with most of all of these women," Afterman said. "Now knowing each other personally will make us stronger as a group. I hope we can learn from each other and go back perhaps more empowered and have more of a sense of community among all of us."

Katy's dad, Chub Feeney, was president of the National League from 1970-86 and an executive with the San Francisco Giants from 1946-70. His grandfather, Charles Stoneham, and great uncle, Horace Stoneham, owned the Giants for almost 60 years.

"Our dad's office was Candlestick Park," said John Feeney, another of Katy's brothers.

Katy Feeney's primary responsibilities at MLB were to help formulate the regular-season schedule and to coordinate some of the logistics at big events.

Beyond that, though, she and her best friend, Phyllis Merhige, another retired former MLB executive, did their jobs with such grace and efficiency that gender simply was not an issue.

"Katy was the strong, silent leader," said Kim Ng, MLB senior vice president for baseball operations. "I knew her for 25 years. She was never one to put herself out there in a very public way.

"But I think by the mere fact that she was out there among hundreds of guys during our jewel events, and be as professional as one would expect, she was always a great example of a woman doing extraordinarily well in this business."

And this event, Ng said, came at a particularly poignant time in the history of this country.

"It's long overdue," Ng said. "We're in 2017, and with some of the issues we've seen come to light in recent days, it's even more important for women to get together and be able to learn and feel empowered in their careers.

"A lot of these things are things that guys just don't realize until they experience it by our sides or by sitting across from us. I hope something all these women, including myself, get out of this is that there is this entire network of leaders out there in baseball that have experienced each other's pain in a lot of ways. It's empowering to hear how they deal with it."

For some, like Kathy Killian, Phillies vice president of human resources, simply meeting Ng, a groundbreaking executive in her own right, was inspiring.

"She's one of the most amazing superstars in baseball," Killian said. "To be able to share stories and connect with other women is one of the coolest things about this, and I hope it will continue. It's such an honor to be in this room."

At a time when the challenges women face in every industry have never been more clear, these women shared a common pride that baseball is committed to fair play and opportunity for all.

"A lot of brave and courageous women are really sharing some of the things they've experienced on a daily basis working in a male-dominated industry," said Ellen Hill Zeringue, Tigers' vice president of marketing. "I'm extraordinarily hopeful because this type of a seminar, this type of a gathering of women, proves that Major League Baseball is committed to helping women be a larger voice in baseball.

"There are women here from baseball operations, from HR, from marketing. There are women here from park operations. It's really exciting for me to see all the different women in all the different roles they play in making baseball the great game that it is. Hopefully, this symposium will mean there'll be many, many more Katy Feeneys in the world."

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.