Women in baseball share experiences

December 17th, 2020

Raquel Ferreira has had a lot of supporters and mentors in her 22-year career in the Red Sox organization -- Theo Epstein, Ben Cherington, Mike Hazen and Brian O'Halloran, to name a few.

In Major League Baseball’s “Women On Deck” webinar, organized by chief people and culture officer Michele Meyer-Shipp, Ferreira noted how lucky she’s been to have received such support and mentorship. But her No. 1 supporter and advocate? Herself.

“Sometimes, I feel like every day is a challenge,” Ferreira said, "because not everyone is going to believe in you. So you have to believe in yourself, and it's not always easy. And some days you have to make a conscious effort to feel less, and it's something that I have struggled with [and] I continue to struggle with.”

Having started as an administrative assistant, Ferreira now holds the title of executive vice president and assistant general manager. She was joined by three other panelists during Wednesday’s webinar, which was part of an ongoing initiative from MLB to increase growth in the areas of diversity and inclusion.

The webinar featured four women with careers in baseball operations, and they detailed their experiences working in the industry, various challenges they’ve faced and advice they have for others pursuing careers in baseball.

Ferreira’s sentiment was echoed by other panelists, including the Red Sox’s Bianca Smith.

“Any time I get some negative feedback, or somebody who doesn't believe in me and doesn’t think I can do it,” Smith said, “that's when I want to crack open another book and say, ‘OK, well, I'm just going to get better and prove you wrong.’”

Most recently, Smith worked as an assistant baseball coach and hitting coordinator at Carroll University in Wisconsin. Smith has a decorated résumé as a coach, but her experience with baseball began as a player. While managing the Dartmouth College varsity baseball team, Smith was a member of both the softball and club baseball teams. Smith’s time on the field fueled her desire to learn and has influenced her to consistently look for opportunities to grow.

“I think that's what put me in a good position, is that I want to learn,” Smith said. “And I don't think you should ever stop learning. And that's really what coaching is. … The moment you stop learning is the moment you're doing a disservice to your players.”

Caroline O’Connor, chief operating officer for the Marlins, made the switch to baseball after working in technology and banking, two industries she felt weren’t well represented with women. While she faced countless challenges, O’Connor believes that being a woman ultimately “gave me an opportunity to stand out” in baseball.

“In this industry, specifically, everybody should be taking stock of what they can bring to the table that’s special and different," O'Connor said.

As far as those differences go, Ferreira noted how they can actually be beneficial to an organization.

“Different points of views and ways of approaching problems can only make an organization stronger,” Ferreira said. “You learn more about people that are different from you, than [those] that are similar to you. And so I think it's super important that organizations [and] men are involved in this entire process, and they need to be on board with it. And understanding that different points of view are only going to make an organization stronger.”

Having been with the Brewers organization for just over two years, Andy Acosta, a senior developer in baseball systems, acknowledged the challenges she’s faced not just as the only woman in the room, but also as a newcomer to the workforce. In those situations, Acosta has learned the value in “just doing it.”

“No matter how uncomfortable you are, ask your question," Acosta said. "Connect to that person. You never know, someone else might want to connect with you or ask those questions themselves. … Every criticism you take, use that to fuel your fire. Let it propel you to the next level, to the next promotion to whatever title you want.”

Though every panelist spoke to the value of learning to become their own biggest sources of motivation, Ferreira acknowledged other women in baseball who have acted as role models throughout her career. Most notably among those is Jean Afterman -- Yankees senior vice president and assistant general manager -- who Ferreira says she aspires to be the reboot of, even if she’s “not as good as the original.”

“She has taught me, even so late in this game to advocate for myself,” Ferreira said of Afterman. “And to put yourself out there for other people to see that this is possible for young women, for anybody else trying to get into the game.”