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Jen Pawol on verge of becoming first MLB female umpire, gets full-time spring training assignment

By The Associated Press
Posted 12:13AM on Monday 12th February 2024 ( 2 months ago )

NEW YORK (AP) — Jen Pawol is on the verge becoming Major League Baseball’s first female umpire.

The 47-year-old from New Jersey was selected to work a full-time big league spring training schedule this year, people familiar with the decision told The Associated Press. That put her on track to become the first woman to umpire a regular-season big league baseball game.

Pawol’s spring training assignment was to be announced later Monday. It was disclosed to the AP by people familiar with the decision who spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement had not yet been made.

MLB's move comes 27 years after the gender barrier for game officials was broken in the NBA, nine years after it ended the NFL and two years after soccer's World Cup employed a female referee.

Ted Barrett, a big league umpire from 1994-2022, first encountered Pawol at an umpire camp in Binghamton, New York, in early 2015 and encouraged her to pursue the career. Barrett doesn’t think Pawol will be made to feel uncomfortable by players or managers.

“When I first got into this 30-something years ago, that would have been the case,” he said. “Right now, it’s at the point in the major leagues, people don’t care race, creed, color, religion, belief. If you can umpire, you can umpire, and if you can’t, you can’t. The concern of the guys coming up is, ‘Can she umpire?’ If she can, she’ll be accepted and bought in. If she can’t, you got to get her out of there and get somebody else who can.”

Pawol has been a minor league ump since 2016 and worked her way up to the highest minor level last year, when she was behind the plate for the Triple-A Championship game.

MLB has 76 full-time staff umpires and uses fill-ins on crews for openings created by injuries and vacations.

Twenty-six umpires were assigned full spring training schedules last year, and 21 of those were assigned to the in-season call-up list. All worked at least one assignment — either on the field or in the video review control room — with one fill-in getting 149 big league assignments. In all, the call-up group had 1,590 assignments.

Because of the nature of their jobs, umpires often are confronted by angry managers and players.

“Once you get to the big leagues, you start all over, the learning curve,” Barrett said. “It’s going to be: Will she be able to adapt to that? And I’m confident that she will. And then it becomes a numbers game, right? We do have some older guys and there’s going to be some turnover. So any umpire that has major league spring training this year, I feel like they’ve got a pretty decent chance of becoming a full-time umpire.”

Pawol is among a small group of women who have umpired minor league games, among them Bernice Gera (1972), Christine Wren (1975-77), Pam Postema (1977-89) and Ria Cortesio (1999-2007). Nine women are scheduled to work in the minor leagues this season.

Cortesio was the last woman to work a big league spring training game, in 2007.

Pawol became an all-state softball and soccer player in New Jersey for three seasons in each sport at West Milford High School, where she was a 1995 graduate and was inducted into its Athletic Hall of Fame in 2022. Pawol went to Hofstra on a softball scholarship and became a three-time all-conference pick, hitting .332 with 15 homers, 102 RBIs and 22 stolen bases in 161 games from 1996-98

She played for the USA Baseball Women’s national baseball team in 2001.

After umpiring NCAA softball from 2010-16, she was approached by Barrett and fellow big league umps Paul Nauert and Marvin Hudson at a clinic in Atlanta in early 2015 and went to an MLB tryout camp at Cincinnati that August. She was among 38 hopefuls invited to the Umpire Training Academy at Vero Beach, Florida, and was offered a job in the Gulf Coast League in 2016.

Pawol moved up to the New York/Penn League in 2017, then was promoted to the Midwest League after the first two weeks of the 2018 season. She worked the South Atlantic League in 2019, the High-A Midwest League in 2021, the Double-A Eastern League and the Triple-A International and Pacific Coast Leagues last year.

Violet Palmer became the NBA's first woman referee when she worked Dallas' opener at Vancouver on Oct. 31, 1997, and Sarah Thomas was the NFL's first woman on-field official when she served as line judge for Kansas City's game at Houston on Sept. 13, 2015. The NHL has not yet had women as on-ice officials but changed the job title from “lineman” to “linesperson” this season.

Stéphanie Frappart of France became the first woman to referee a men’s World Cup game when she worked Germany's 4-2 group stage win over Costa Rica on Dec. 1, 2022, and Rebecca Walsh became the first to referee in England's Premier League when she officiated Burnley’s 2-0 win at Fulham this past Dec. 23.

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More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb

FILE - Umpire Jen Pawol, front right, works with students during MLB baseball umpire camp at The Diamond in Richmond, Va., June 25, 2022. Pawol is on the verge of becoming Major League Baseball’s first woman umpire. (Eva Russo/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP, File)

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