Last year, Justine Siegal became the first woman to serve as a coach for a Major League Baseball organization, serving as a guest instructor for the Oakland Athletics’ instructional league.
That followed throwing batting practice for six teams, including the A’s, during spring training in 2011. In 2009, she was the first woman hired as a coach for any pro team, woking as the first-base coach for the independent Broxton (Mass.) Rox.
She also was an assistant baseball coach at Springfield College.
But beyond her own experiences, Siegal has become perhaps the staunchest advocate for equality in baseball and more opportunities for girls through Baseball For All, a non-profit organization she founded as a 23-year-old in the late 1990s. The organization’s mission statement is based on “providing meaningful instruction and opportunities in baseball, especially for girls” through mentoring, education and empowerment.
Last summer, Baseball For All organized the first national girls baseball tournament for players ages 10-13. The event included a Jr. All Stars program for girls 8-10. This July in San Francisco, the 2016 Nationals will feature teams in four age groups and is another step in the creation of leagues throughout the nation.
As part of Girls Sports Month, USA TODAY High School Sports spoke with Siegal, 41, about her deep-rooted love for the game, the reasons behind Baseball For All and her goals moving forward:
Q: Explain what Baseball For All is and what the mission is.
A: Baseball For All is a national non-profit organization that supports opportunities for girls to play baseball. Unfortunately, girls are often told that baseball is not for them. There is a cultural myth that says baseball is for boys and softball is for girls. There are many girls who want to play baseball. We want to present opportunities to play with other girls and advocate and educate people about how much girls do want to play the game.
We educate parents on knowing their daughters’ rights to play baseball. Some schools don’t realize that girls, under Title IX, have the right to try out for the baseball team. We provide resources to the parents to make sure that their daughters can try out for team and make sure schools know she can.
Q: Why did you decide to start the organization?
A: I thought about what I would have wanted being the only girl in my baseball league. I would have loved to have known that there were other girls who loved baseball as much as I did.
In 2002, we started the Sparks’ 12-and under baseball team that we’ve taken to Cooperstown for 13 consecutive years. We started with one all-star team and now we have a national baseball tournament just for girls. Last year was the first girls 12-and-under nationals in U.S. history.
When we started, we weren’t a non-profit. It was just something I started to put one teams together. Then, we wanted to teach others how to start programs. From starting one team we’ve gone to helping build teams all over the United States.
Q: Your own experiences obviously have had a big impact on your passion. What was the turning point that made you want to pursue this?
A: I grew up in Cleveland playing tee-ball and baseball and had a great time. When I was 13, I had a new baseball coach and he told me that I should go play softball. That’s when I decided to play baseball forever. It was a struggle to get teams to let me try out, but I kept pushing through. I knew early on it was wrong to tell me I couldn’t play just because I was a girl. I felt very alone. No one should feel alone playing this great game.
Q: What is the ultimate goal for Baseball For All?
A: To have girls baseball leagues throughout the country with the same opportunity as boys have around the country — girls high school leagues, girls playing in college, girls as young as 5 years old knowing they can play baseball. I don’t see any reason why this can’t happen.
Girls baseball is a movement and we’re leading the way. All of those teams that came to nationals didn’t exist two years ago. Our next step is to have enough teams to go from nationals to regionals for teams that can’t come to San Francisco. We need to grow girls baseball programs throughout.
Over 40 percent of Major League Baseball fans are female. It makes sense that girls and women would want to play this game. I’m 41. When I was kid, I had to play soccer with the boys. A generation later, every girl can play soccer. Ice hockey used to be only a boys sport. Now girls play in college. It takes time for new generation to get the opportunity.
To me, if you tell a girl that she can’t play baseball, what else will she think she can’t do? This is a social justice issue. There should be an opportunity to play what she wants to play.
Q: What should people do if they want to start a league in their area?
A: Go to our website — baseballforall.com — and email us and I will connect with them. I would do a clinic for them if possible. We help them start programs. We recently had a clinic in Cleveland with the (minor league) Lake County Captains. The local groups do all the recruiting, and we come in and use it as a rallying cry for girls to come out. They now have a start of a girls program.
Depending on what they are trying to build and where, we can help connect them to players, resources, fields nearby, depending on where there are. We talk them through about a flier or a sample press release and how to start the program. It’s not so much where I’d love to see you do A, B and C. Every inquiry is different depending on the location. Each place has different needs.
The sport itself is enough to build the momentum. If you get the idea, just start it then the fire will ignite.