The Mariners might be struggling on the field, but off the field, the team continues to Royally Own, with the most recent entry into this being last night’s Women In Baseball Night. Not to take anything away from lady fans who love their bejeweled tanks and pink logo clutches, but women-centered events at ballparks have mostly relied on this type of marketing to the female fan, a concept seemingly drawn up on a whiteboard by a group of men in a conference center after a 12-hour repeated binge of the 1995 film Showgirls (“chips + nails + boobs = woman”). I have never enjoyed the idea that my fandom can be symbolized by a pastel pink hat, or something showy, shiny and small. With last night’s event, the Mariners positioned themselves as vanguards in a new approach towards female fans who are as passionate as they are informed, smart, and driven to learn more about the game they love.
LL alum Meg Rowley moderated a panel of four women from different areas of baseball expertise: Sarah Gelles, Director of Analytics for the Orioles; Kelly Munro, Senior Manager of Baseball Information for the Mariners; Amanda Hopkins, a Mariners scout for the Four Corners region; and Shannon Drayer,
Queen writer/on-air personality from 710 ESPN and the lone woman to host a baseball pregame show. While representing a wide range of experiences, each of these women is a storyteller in her own way, whether it’s penning stories about the players like Shannon or Kelly do; weaving a narrative through data, like Sarah does; or jotting notes in a scouting report, as Amanda does.
While each panelist knew she wanted to work in baseball from a young age, not all of them had clear paths to the sport. Amanda Hopkins was lucky to have a father who was also a scout, who taught her the craft from an early age, but she wandered along a different path in college, studying psychology, before deciding she couldn’t resist the pull of the family business. Similarly, Kelly Munro was deep into a teacher track at WWU before deciding she really preferred her experience working at the ballpark as a sales associate. As a younger member of the panel, Sarah Gelles was able to connect to what she wanted to do earlier on, taking stat courses in college that she knew would make her a desirable candidate for MLB teams looking to staff competitive internships. Her experience shows how far we’ve come for women in baseball since Shannon Drayer decided she couldn’t pursue a career in broadcasting baseball on the radio—something she would certainly be good at, HINT HINT MARINERS—as there were no women at the time who had those jobs. Instead, Shannon took a job at Starbucks, where she was able to get benefits, and talked baseball to anyone who would listen until a customer told her about a KJR contest where she could win a weekly spot talking sports, if she could just submit the best tape. Spoiler alert: she did. (Guys, we do not deserve Shannon Drayer. She is just fantastic. And she has never stopped. “When you’re not sleeping, it’s baseball,” she wryly observed, when talking about her day-to-day. “Baseball’s a living, breathing thing, and it doesn’t ever stop.” As someone who had to stop baking a pie on Thanksgiving Eve to cover Dipoto’s blockbuster trade, I hear that.)
When the panelists were asked for advice for how to advance a career in baseball, I thought many of them said remarkable, inspiring things, but I found scout Amanda Hopkins’ advice the most concrete and practical. “Go to the park as much as you can,” she said. “There’s no substitute for watching the game.” She also leaned on the importance of writing skills, something echoed by each of the other panelists, and suggested writing a little bit every day, practicing writing little capsules of strengths and weaknesses for each player. This advice may be the more baseball-y version of the old chestnut of writing advice (“write every day, read even more than that”), but these are easily-implemented ideas for anyone who is intent on growing her skills.
As far as the sweeping inspirational ideas go, though, it’s hard to top the story Shannon Drayer told about when she was still a young reporter learning how to interview players. Edgar had wanted to reschedule their interview to right that minute, and when Shannon protested that her notes were upstairs, he chided her gently that she didn’t need them. “You’re a good reporter, Shannon,” she said in an eerily good Edgar impression, before going on to talk about how much that interaction meant to her, to feel signed off on by one of the organization’s key players. It reminded me of one of my favorite Edgar quotes—everyone needs someone to tell them they are good—and it also serves as a reminder of the way that we, the women in this field, have a special responsibility to pick each other up, to extend a hand.
The Women in Baseball night was a smashing success, a near sell-out with many eager participants and a lively Q and A. There were even jokes! Even as someone who thinks and writes and talks about baseball every day, I learned so much from listening to these women and the range of their experiences. The Women in Baseball Night is a model that will almost certainly (hopefully!) find multiple imitators across the league next year, but I’m incredibly proud of the organization for blazing this particular trail. The Mariners organization is ours, and you can’t have it.