In 2000, the Yankees and Mets were in a World Series for the ages.
Young Laura Schwartz, a Boston, Massachusetts native watched the game, sitting beside her aunt, the biggest Yankees fan she knew. She’d attended some minor league games with her dad as well. She remembers not having a full grasp of what was going on, but she felt excited by the unfolding action.
“I remember being bummed out that the World Series only went five games,” Schwartz said. “I wanted the Mets to battle back just so we could get more baseball.”
A difficult personal period moved her away from baseball fan life. Her grandmother died in 2004 and her aunt moved to Texas. She wasn’t paying much attention to baseball for a while. Then she went off to college in Washington DC. A new National League team was in town and tickets were cheap. Her roommate was a baseball fan, and she convinced Schwartz to attend some Nationals games.
“I got pulled into being a Nats fan…I really started to learn little details of game play, like the neighborhood rule, learning the notation for keeping score, details on that level. I had no clue about anything that nitty-gritty as a kid,” she said.
Catherine Stem spent her childhood bonding with her family through baseball in Toronto. She loved the game, but it wasn’t her life. Eventually, she had her own family to raise, three boys, with husband Kevin. In 2012, her life was transformed by tragedy when Kevin died of cancer. And just like when she was a child, she found family connection through baseball; watching games became a source of healing for the mom and her boys.
“Baseball became the way to connect with them on another level,” Stem said. “It gave them an emotional outlet that was so needed at the time…and still is.”
Her love for baseball, and the emotional connection she felt, sparked her interest in writing about her favorite team, the Toronto Blue Jays. She joined Twitter with a desire to keep up to date on the team. Then she decided to start her own Jays blog. It was a welcome return to writing. She’d had a blog that she says wasn’t about happiness, but about dealing with the pain of watching a spouse go through cancer and the grief of their loss. It was called ‘The Cancer Patient’s Wife’.
“I hadn’t written since Kevin’s death. I was just happy I found my voice again,” she said.
Fellow Blue Jays blogger Jenn Smith, who writes for Baseball Prospectus, explains that it’s quite simple how she came to know and love baseball.
“I remember watching games with my dad and asking questions about rules, in-game decisions, etc. My passion has grown over the years. I thank my parents, particularly my father, for taking me to games and fostering my interest in baseball” she said.
What men have always pointed to, or are credited with, is the shared childhood experience of baseball games with, usually, a male figure. We’re moved by the moment Kevin Costner in ‘Field of Dreams’ asks his deceased father, ‘Wanna have a catch?’ We understand on that father-son level that something extraordinary happens within the context of a day that was very ordinary at the time. A lifetime of baseball games at the park or watching at home on television gave fathers and sons a connection society celebrates as a symbol of American life. The sons join Little League and play in high school, then they graduate, maybe they go to college, maybe not, but even if they do, they don’t necessarily play collegiate ball. Playing the game might become just a memory, one that father and son will cherish for a lifetime, a common bond, a shared interest that they’ll hold dear.
But women like Schwartz, Stem and Smith, are part of that childhood story that connects the heart to baseball, and, often, leads to a love of writing about the sport.
With more women watching baseball, making up nearly 50% of the MLB fan base and an increase in attention on girls playing professionally, a new generation of boys and girls are being raised on the simple notion that girls love, watch and play baseball too.
Like the boys, the girls learn sometimes by playing, and by watching (for some reason, that needs explaining), developing a passion and knowledge over time that drives many toward a writing career in baseball. Blogging gave the passionate fan who aspired to write about their passion a new way in. The power of social media and blogging has been met with resistance and frustration by professional writers and teams. But that power’s only grown. They’ve had to adapt and embrace the new form of expression and coverage. That doesn’t mean that every fan gets a press pass, or even wants one; it just means that aspiring writers, with a wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm, and who are consistently blogging develop many necessary skills needed to enter the profession of baseball writing, without taking a more traditional route. There’s no one that benefits from this more than the female baseball blogger.
She doesn’t have to wait for that diversity-allergic sports editor to give her a shot. She can create her own platform, to express all her thoughts about that day’s game or write-up an opinion on the big prospect making his mark. In that space, women can be part of the baseball conversation without the possible risk of ridicule or intimidation. In that space, though not entirely private, especially if the effort stays low-key for a while, a female baseball blogger can find her voice and enjoy it. She can grow as a writer. She can express herself as a fan and connect with other female fans, trying to forge their own path. She can create a community. The importance of creating that community can’t be overstated. The baseball blogging community is still largely male; and when you have a band of brothers getting off on their own aggressive voices, sometimes degrading women in the process, that can be incredibly difficult to shout down. By creating their own community, women create their own power.
While many female fan bloggers may not take the step toward pursuing baseball writing as a profession, or even a side-job, plenty have and will. Creating that baseball community that is led by women and welcoming to them, can have immense impact.
“I was lucky to be friends with [baseball writer] Meg Rowley. I also interacted with a lot of female fans on Twitter,” said Kate Preusser, a writer for Lookout Landing, a Seattle Mariners blog. “As I’ve gotten more involved in the baseball world, I’m thrilled to see how much women (and men) support and amplify female voices within the community.”
I began my own career, without any idea where it would lead, writing about the Phillies minor leagues for sites that gave me immense freedom to grow. I picked up my first professional gigs within a year. It was a couple of years before I finally began ‘Heels on the Field.’ Even though it wasn’t subtitled, ‘A Minor League Blog’, that was the main focus most of the time and where my interest kept taking me. When I decided to officially make the blog exclusively minor league focused, my sense of purpose in baseball was re-newed. I knew I’d be contributing something unique by devoting all coverage to one specific area. By writing almost every day my confidence grew, as did my skill level. Without my blog, I wouldn’t have had the outlet to discover and grow comfortable with my voice. I’ve always been better on paper, than in conversation. And being personal is difficult for me. I found my way as a baseball writer because of the HOTF blog. Knowing what I was good at and what I loved to do took some time. The things that happened that took a hit on my confidence were more easily worked out because I had an outlet. Building readership on my own mattered in calling on more confidence in myself.
Inviting ourselves into the baseball conversation can be daunting. Men are so certain the language is theirs, convinced that they’re the teachers. I’ve had men treat me like that even when they knew I was a professional. But if another guy enters the conversation and says he’s also just a fan, he’s likely rarely tested on the breadth of his knowledge of baseball. It’s just assumed that by way of his gender, he knows.
“I mean, who hasn’t?” Preusser responded when asked if she’d run into the aggressive type of male sports fan. “Meg and I have both noticed that certain readers will nitpick facts or stylistic choices in our articles that don’t seem to be mirrored in articles by our male counterparts.
Women are also finding their voices heard in baseball in cross-sectional ways. Domestic violence and sexual assault have been more thoroughly discussed in the realm of baseball via Twitter and Facebook, as well as on blogs (HOTF included). Women can cover those issues with a first-hand understanding, grasping the injustice we face in the rest of the world, and seeing it reflected in sports. That’s not to dismiss the fact that men too are victims of those crimes. But DV, sexual assault, sexual harassment, in the workplace and online, are very uniquely female experiences. How many male-written articles and men’s opinions have we read about DV accusations against baseball players? Admittedly, it’s burned me up at times. So when women have taken control of the conversation, it’s thrilling. It’s also necessary. Opinions are one thing; having direct experience that you can bring to discussions of an issue, while remaining objective, is even more powerful. With so much recent discussion of domestic violence in baseball, due to a new DV policy and more players being disciplined for the crime, women have emerged in a new way as baseball writers. We’re addressing a subject we know too well, in the context of an industry we work in that has far too often dismissed the issue of DV, as well as sexual assault, when players were accused.
In the independent blogosphere, you can be freer. Objectivity isn’t always a requirement. The other vastly important part of this is that professional writers tend to sanitize the work. We have to, particularly when it’s straight reporting that requires us to stick to information available. We’re there to give voice to the players, not voice our own opinion, unless of course you are an opinion writer. Blogging is our modern day op-ed. But, take note, as a professional writer I have income. Blogging, well, the traditional newspaper op-ed probably paid more. Blogging is driven by passion for a subject we love and know well. It’s not necessarily a means to pay the bills. I’ve had many conversations about that with Jarah Wright, who runs the baseball blog ‘Wright Beyond the Bleachers.’ She’s worked various jobs in the minor leagues, but the blog is a passion. Making money from the passion, as we’ve discussed so often, can be incredibly difficult. We’ve talked about the many times we’ve seen guys less qualified get jobs we knew we were perfectly capable of doing.
For passionate female baseball fans starting blogs, who’re frustrated by insults, inequality and imbalance, they can vent hard, getting all that frustration in the open. It’s always encouraging when you see one woman standing up. We’ve witnessed the impact that has on social media. Teams are paying attention to what their players are saying about women, and they’re exacting more discipline. Male fans, many with their own blogs, have been taken to task by swarms of female fans, banding together to defend sexist insults. Male reporters have also been disciplined after making insensitive, careless comments about DV and other forms of abuse. Most infamously, Stephen A. Smith was absolutely trounced by sports fans and reporters, including reporter Michelle Beadle, who fearlessly confronted him for his repeatedly tone-deaf remarks about issues concerning domestic violence.
In a 2011 Fangraphs piece titled ‘Women Are Coming to Baseball, Like it or Not’, Alex Remington illustrated the frustrations of trying to simply find women in baseball, and talk to any who were making progress in changing the game.
“When it comes to hiring women, Major League Baseball still has a ways to go”, he wrote.
And while that mostly referred to the state of women being hired for work in baseball, such as umpiring and executive positions, all of this is connected. None of it is a separate issue, but bound by the same basic truth: it is hard for women in baseball to be hired and it is hard for women in baseball to be heard.
For that reason, the social media connection is perhaps the most important mechanism for the blogosphere. For female baseball bloggers it’s even more important. It deepens the bond and widens the reach. When you join the social media universe, you find women just like you, speaking your language.
Jayne Hansen is one of few women focusing on the minor leagues, and with ‘What the Heck Bobby’ she writes about the Houston Astros system. She’s also the author of the ‘Houston Farm System Handbook’. Hansen talked about her admiration for Astros beat writer Alyson Footer (“She’s just the best. Period) and how important her example is for any female baseball writer. But the downside is that some women don’t walk the talk.
“Honestly, I’ve had mixed results,” said Hansen. “Most women are very supportive, but sometimes I’ll run into someone who goes out of her way to ignore me. One woman wrote a piece about how women in sports should be supportive of each other. I tried to reach out to her to ask her a couple of questions and she ignored me. Ironic, huh?”
Yes, it is. And in recently addressing this on this blog in my own career, and for other women who’ve experienced the same thing, I tried to be fair and tough. Because we’re up against so much that we don’t control, we have an incredible opportunity to control the discourse. We can create change within a very sexist industry.
I’ve experienced all sides of this; and it’s as important to increasing the power and value of female baseball bloggers as anything else, including male misogyny. Unless we value each other, this doesn’t work. When you look at women in professional sports, they benefitted from a lot of male support and count me among them. But the rise is organic for a baseball blog. You’re not jumping in the pool of writers with the backing of a well-known professional outlet. Those fan blogging communities grow by way of connection. Women blogging about baseball have the ability to create a change in the climate by combining their talents and being each other’s backers. No boy’s club ever changed without a lot of unified women banging on a lot of doors, refusing to be denied. Going it alone is tougher.
It’s easy to view today’s world as more hostile, more dangerous to women with online harassment and image-obsession. In sports, like any form of entertainment, those issues are magnified. The other side of the coin is that women with shared interests and experiences have a support system. Dealing with know-it-all, hostile sports fans is something all reporters have to contend with. But for female sports reporters, the insults often focus on appearance, and can take a turn to the sexual and misogynistic. Female baseball bloggers are on the fringe. While they have complete freedom, they’re also less protected. They don’t necessarily have the confidence that a professional reporter has who’s around supportive male reporters and other professional women in sports.
When I go up to do a major league assignment there’s an immediate sense of how different that world is. There’s a greater sense of confidence being in that environment. And when you see that many professional women, many working in the media, that confidence is strengthened. If we’re seeing more work by female baseball bloggers, and connecting with each other, it can only increase our confidence and sense of belonging.
Hollie Hamilton has noticed an absence of that in her own baseball blogging life.
When asked if she was around a lot of supportive female baseball bloggers she simply said, “No. None.”
Hamilton decided that she wanted to be on the field, to interview players. She wanted to anchor and report scores. She talked about wanting to “create a place where women could learn and talk about baseball.” She’s thinking of a new focus, but she’s still deeply emotionally connected to the same things about baseball as she was as a child growing up in Fort Worth, Texas, playing catch with her brother. Her blog, ‘Miss Baseball’ is an extension of that which she’s loved and sought to understand her whole life.
“I felt like I knew the game. And then I wanted to KNOW the game,” she said.
One of the early, and perhaps the first, all-female run baseball blogs was ‘Chicks Dig the Long Ball’, a Phillies-centered site. It was founded by a group of female fans, including Michelle O’Malley. Liz Rocher was also one of the writers, and she now runs the Phillies SB Nation blog ‘The Good Phight.’ CDTLB deserves credit for trailblazing efforts. The tone was a mix of fun and fiery, but also extremely thorough in game coverage and storytelling. You would’ve been shut down quickly if you’d questioned those women about their baseball knowledge.
Joanna Cornish has run the Blue Jays blog ‘Hum and Chuck’ for ten years, and, quite a segue way from the Phillies blog mention, she remembers the moment Joe Carter hit his dream-like home run over the heads of Phillies players in the 1993 World Series. She got into the online baseball chat game in the early 2000’s, pre-social media dominance, writing a particularly memorable post on the fight between then Jays manager John Gibbons and pitcher Ted Lilly. The incident started on the mound and stretched into the dugout, then into the clubhouse.
“I remember doing a detailed breakdown,” Cornish said.
That led her to writing the ever-popular type of blogging post, the game recap. She added quirky thoughts, not normally found in newspaper post-gamers. She’d observe.
“I remember the fact that closer B.J. Ryan, who’d been shelved early in the season with what the team called, “a sore back”, ended up getting Tommy John surgery. GM J.P. Ricciardi said, “It’s not a lie if I know the truth.” I thought that merited a bit of discussion.”
After ten years, she says, it’s still what she does and loves to do. She remembers those early days like “sending feelers out into the wilderness.” Women, she says, have been very supportive. She acknowledges that, yes, it’s still very much “a boy’s club.”
Many of us are like Cornish. We come to the realization that this is something we can do and blogging gave us a way to do it in a unique platform, unencumbered by expectation or the male gaze. The male gaze has, of course, followed us into the sports world, where our clothes, words and every action is observed and critiqued. But Preusser sees a way forward from that.
“I think as women become more prevalent in the field, a lot of this outright aggression will go underground: not disappear, but be channeled into more subtle forms.” she said.
As Hamilton simply states, “It’s our game too.”
Today, there are many quality baseball blogs by female fans, like Kayla Thompson’s ‘Indy Ball Island’ that seek to mix fandom with a more serious tone, the social with the professional.
The industry of baseball writing is in flux. It’s drastically changed. And while there’s a huge, painful downside to that, including many newspapers cutting staff or shutting down, this new frontier is the future. We know that. The upside is that opportunities expand in other ways. The exciting part of that for women in baseball is that we can more easily control the message, even with the noise of online harassment of women from guys threatening to drown us out. Simply put, they cannot drown us out, especially if we are a force with a multitude of members. Female bloggers can contribute without an invite and build their own place. The more their voices are heard, the more impossible to ignore.
The baseball blogging platform can be transformed by women, just as professional sports media was. Hearing their voices in the fringey blogosphere can impact perception. The more that join the chorus, the more powerful the female baseball fan voice becomes. And that creates opportunity.
“The most important thing I’ve learned is that my voice and my opinion are just as valid as any male blogger’s opinion. I always try to encourage women especially to branch out on their own and start their own thing,” Cornish said.
We’re a generation of women who’ve grown up in the time of readily available advanced stats and advanced opportunity to cover games in a variety of outlets. Branching out has never been easier or more meaningful.
In those early days of blogging, women may have just been trying to join the baseball discussion without being leveled by some sexist guy. They made it possible for female fans to be themselves, pursue something they were good at, and have fun doing it. But what they’ve also done, and will continue to do, is increase the possibility for women to get in the door of baseball writing.
And kicking down doors in baseball is kind of our “own thing.”