Two woman coaches face off for first time at High-A

May 3rd, 2023
Ronnie Gajownik, wearing No. 34, on the field as Hillsboro's manager as Ashley Stephenson, donning No. 2, looks on from the Vancouver dugout.Jared Ravich/

On paper, it was the start of a typical six-game series between the Hillsboro Hops and the Vancouver Canadians. On the field, it was anything but typical -- at least for now.

For the first time at the High-A level, two women faced off against each other when Ronnie Gajownik, manager of the Hops, and Ashley Stephenson, a position coach on the Canadians’ staff, took the field from opposite sides of the diamond Tuesday night.

"It is extra special," Stephenson said of having two female coaches in prominent positions on the same field. "It’s exciting for us to have these opportunities, and we want other women to have these opportunities. There are more women out there who would make fantastic coaches.”

This wasn't the first time these two have crossed paths. In the 2015 Pan-American Games in Toronto, both were players on their respective women’s baseball teams -- Gajownik for Team USA and Stephenson for Canada -- when the Americans took home gold against their rivals from the North.

The pair caught up again in the Arizona Fall League last year when Stephenson was with Salt River for a few days while Gajownik was a coach on the Rafters. The more they talked, the more Gajownik realized Stephenson was fit for the role of a coach.

"She has a great baseball mind, it's cool for her," Gajownik said. "Women are qualified [for coaching roles], so it's cool to look into the other dugout and see a ponytail and have it be attached to a female's head."

Hillsboro manager Ronnie Gajownik (center) instructs her team with Vancouver position coach Ashley Stephenson holding a clipboard in the dugout behind her.Jared Ravich/

Gajownik started her journey as a development coach for the inaugural USA Girls Baseball Camp, while Stephenson jumped right from being a player with the Canadian Women’s National Team to a coaching role and eventually became manager for the club.

Two years ago, Gajownik joined the D-backs organization as a video coordinator. Stephenson was invited by the Blue Jays to their new Player Development Complex last August. Now both of them are taking on major roles in the Minor League system as women continue to break barriers across the sport.

"It's great to see how far it's come along, and it's pretty cool to be a part of and to see other females succeed in their own roles and in their own dreams,” Gajownik said. "It's cool that you don't necessarily have to look into one dugout [to see a female coach], you can look into two.”

In the first of 30 contests between the Northwest League foes, it was Stephenson’s Canadians who came out on top, 8-1. Even though her team won the first battle, Stephenson was quick to sing the praises of the skipper on the other side.

“She’s in a position of leadership as a manager, it's such a significant role on a team. To have a female leader is a further step for us, for women,” Stephenson said. “We understand that if we do a good job, that continues to open the door for other women.”

Stephenson messaged Gajownik before the season to wish her luck and even checks in on how the Hops are doing from time to time because she wants to see her succeed. After all, as Stephenson said, the more women succeed, the more opportunities they’ll be given. Even with a less visible role, Stephenson knows she's part of something bigger than just a coaching job.

“We all understand that we have eyes on us,” she added. “I understand that people are maybe watching us a little closer, just because it’s the first of many things. But it certainly won’t be the last.”