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Make a space for the thing you love: an interview with Rebecca Hale, Public Information Director for the Mariners

On the importance of saying yes, taking a leap, and making space for the things you love

Opening Ceremony

The question “how did you get into baseball,” when directed at a woman, is one of those quietly exasperating things about being a female fan: “hello stranger,” it seems to intimate, “what has brought you across the shores from Lady-land and into the belching braying mouth of that which we call base-ball?” It’s a frustrating question for me personally because I don’t remember getting into baseball; baseball just was, as I’d sit on the floor in front of the TV and line up my stuffed animals to represent the players on the field, with cardboard bases and a doll’s hairbrush for a bat.

But I recognize that for many women who love baseball dearly, there is an origin story, something that pushed them from the fringes into the bleachers, the press box, the batting cages. Rebecca Hale, Director of Public Information for the Mariners, has a particularly romantic one.

Trained as a broadcaster at Oregon State, Hale’s first job in Seattle was the overnight shift at KIRO, reading the news and running the board, which included playing commercials between the innings for the Mariners game. “I’m sitting in this tiny little room alone, I’ve got the headphones on, and I’m listening to Dave Niehaus and Rick Rizzs, and I’m with them until ten, ten-thirty, eleven o’clock.” She pauses. “I just fell in love.” Twenty-two years old, new to the city and working nights in a pre-Internet age, the Mariners did what they’ve done for so many of us: propped up a person’s loneliness and provided a way to connect.

Eventually, Hale moved off the overnight beat and into more general reporting, but found it not as fulfilling as she’d hoped, even with the improved hours. She pitched the idea of doing sports feature reporting to her bosses at KIRO and was given an enthusiastic yes... provided she did it on her own time. So, in a time where very few women worked in sports reporting, Hale created a weekly feature during baseball season, talking to players, coaches, and umpires. “I couldn’t hide the fact that I was excited, that I was a fan,” she says, although she thinks that helped her with her subjects, who were all, according to Hale, wonderful to interact with (except for one visiting player who tried to intimidate her. Hale says she summoned her nerve and stood her ground and the guy backed down.). “I was less interested in talking balls and strikes, and more interested in getting to know them as people,” she says. “I was engaging them about things they weren’t used to talking about.” In an era before player Instagram accounts and Twitter likes and seemingly unlimited access to players as people, Hale showed sides of players the public wasn’t used to seeing. She talked to Bo Jackson about his stutter and his love of soap operas, and won an award for it. “I made a little space out of something that I really, really enjoyed,” she says, “because it was important to me to have that thing.”

Eventually, two-minute features during baseball season weren’t enough to balance the growing sense of restlessness Hale had with her chosen profession. What happens when your dream job stops being your dream? “One day I woke up and said, you know what, it’s time to do something else.” She clipped out a want ad from the Times for a position as a Public Information Officer at the Seattle Public Library and sent in her resume, and six weeks later had a job she had no idea how to do. Liz Stroup, the city librarian, knew Hale didn’t have the experience, but believed in her capabilities, and her belief was well-founded: Hale proved to be such a quick learner she was scooped up by the Mayor’s office to do communications for Norm Rice’s office.

The Mayor’s communications director was out of town when a fire in an electrical vault knocked out power to half of downtown Seattle on a Friday night and Rebecca Hale was the recipient of a very panicked phone call asking her to come to the Emergency Operations Center right now. That night would be the catalyst to a job Hale loved: all the frenzy of a newsroom (“Much more fast paced than the library,” she says. “I never got a call at midnight about the literacy crisis.”), but working on a team to serve a man Hale describes glowingly, to serve the city she had adopted as her hometown. She wrote remarks for Mayor Rice to read on his three to four daily appearances in the community. “He almost never used the cards, though,” she says with admiration. “Norm was so good.”

But Hale didn’t want to work for a mayor, she wanted to work for that mayor, so when Rice’s term was over, Hale was unemployed for all of about a month before she received a call from the Mariners—six calls, actually, of increasing desperation, before she was able to get back from vacation to return them. The Mariners were building their new ballpark and they needed someone to write about it. They remembered her from her feature reporting and knew about her work in the city. She’s now been with the team for twenty years. The restlessness has stilled. Instead of saying yes to new opportunities, Hale focuses on saying yes as often as she can within the organization.

Hale attributes her longevity with the Mariners to a few factors: her love of baseball, the energy that suffuses the building on game days, the fact that the job is different every day. It’s not always different in a good way: sometimes her job is crafting public responses to criticisms of the team or writing press releases about upsetting things; sometimes it’s intervening when a player expresses discomfort with having women in the clubhouse.

Part of Hale’s job is doing media training for the draft picks and international signees and the hundreds of other prospects who filter through the system. “We try to get to them as soon as we can and let them know that this is a fact of life. These are professionals and they’re there to do their jobs.” Hale says part of the focus right now is creating something like “The Cardinals Way” for the Mariners, an organizational culture that is consistent from the big-league club to the rookie leagues and all the stops in between. In order to do that, the focus is on getting to players as early as possible and making sure the player is clear on what expectations the organization has of them as people and as players. They receive a walk-through of the clubhouse either in Seattle or Peoria with an explanation of when media is around and how to talk with them. Presentations are done in both English and Spanish and the goal is, Hale says, to “demystify” the day-to-day business of being a professional baseball player. The training, which has been in place for around a decade now, has evolved over time, with social media taking up a larger and larger piece; Hale says the social media training aspect now makes up about half the total presentation. “We tell them, if there’s something in your social media history that you wouldn’t be proud of today, get rid of it. Do you want your mom to see it? Would you be good with your grandma seeing it? If you can’t pass that test, then you need to get rid of it.”

Doing Rebecca Hale’s job means getting to write about fun things, like Hall of Fame inductions, and it also means acknowledging the flaws of the organization in public and promising to do better in a way that doesn’t sound hackneyed or superficial. Part of what makes Hale good at her job is her ability to seek the positive in any situation. Speaking of what the women suffered in the harassment scandal visibly pains her, but she notes that it’s good we’re having these kinds of conversations as a society, even if they’re painful, and says it hasn’t shaken her faith in the organization. Not only were new trainings put in place after the incident, but even today, ten years later, “I see how sincerely people are taking this, how seriously.” She singles out John Stanton as someone who “feels things deeply and wants to do the right thing,” and praises both his intelligence and his heart. [It was Stanton who e-mailed Hale immediately after our roundtable was published on the site, asking her to reach out to us and engage us in conversation, and offered to be a part of that conversation. Hale, for her part, had already sent the email to us, and politely declined Stanton’s offer to be part of our women-only conversation.]

What keeps her going in the tough times? “I just really love baseball,” she says. “And every season is a fresh start, hope springs eternal. And even in the darkest seasons, something good happens. And the PR team, we just all pitch in to make that good thing as good as it can possibly be.” Thirty years after she turned a passion for baseball into a weekly feature, Rebecca Hale is still finding the little thing she loves and making a space for it, but now she gets to share it with an even bigger audience.