Rays not fooled by pigtails: Siegal has game
Righty turning heads with play during spring batting-practice tour
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Justine Siegal threw batting practice to a Major League team for the third time this spring when she visited the Rays on Wednesday.
Siegal, 36, previously made visits to the Indians' and Athletics' camps. Robinson Chirinos stood in first, prompting Siegal to begin pumping pitches into the strike zone.
Rays manager Joe Maddon watched from the side, noting, "She knows what she's doing. She repeats her delivery, has a nice stroke, and she keeps the ball low, just where hitters like it."
Wednesday's effort came as the result of Siegal's ability to pitch herself during the Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings held in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., in December. For four days, Siegal tried to convince managers and general managers to allow her to pitch batting practice to their respective clubs. Maddon could be counted among those who took the time to listen.
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"I started going face-to-face with all the managers, and now here I am," Siegal said. "Joe was the first manager I actually talked to. And it was so affirming to have him actually say, 'This is a good idea. We can do this.' So that first night to get a positive response really helped set the tone. So then I was able to go over to [Oakland general manager] Billy Beane and say, 'Hey, the Rays are going to let me do that.'"
Beane turned out to be the first to say yes.
Siegal, who grew up in Cleveland, began to play baseball at the age of 5, and she dreamed of becoming a Major League player, specifically a member of the hometown Indians.
"When I was 15, I had plans to be out there with them," Siegal said.
That goal quickly transitioned to where she focused on being a batting-practice pitcher.
"I got the idea to throw BP when I was 17," Siegal said. "I was watching the Indians, as I always did during pregame, and I was always the last fan to leave. And I thought I could be a BP pitcher."
She tucked away that goal and continued to pursue a life in baseball, among other things.
Siegal started "Baseball for All," an organization that promotes baseball everywhere with an eye toward participation by women, a program that grew from an all-women's baseball league in Cleveland. Along the way, she also tried out for the Colorado Silver Bullets, the all-women's team that came into fruition in the mid 1990s that was coached by Joe and Phil Niekro. Unfortunately, she blew out her shoulder before camp and did not get to play for the team that traveled the country playing men's teams.
"It was very frustrating, because I was good enough to do it," Siegal said. "As soon as I tried out, they told me I was pretty much going to get invited to Spring Training after they saw how hard I threw. Sometimes when a door closes, you wait for another one."
She has since served as an assistant coach on the men's baseball team at Springfield College in Massachusetts from 2007-10 and she was a first-base coach for the Brockton Rox of the Can-Am League in 2009. Currently she is pursuing a Ph.D. in sport and exercise psychology at Springfield.
And now her dream to pitch batting practice to Major Leaguers has become a reality.
Accompanying Siegal on her journey is her 13-year-old daughter, Jasmine, and the memory of another young girl, whose life ended far too early, Christina-Taylor Green, the 9-year-old who was killed in the Jan. 8 shooting in Tucson, Ariz. Green was the granddaughter of Dallas Green, former Major League player, manager and baseball executive. Siegal wears a memorial patch in tribute to Green.
"She was the only girl who played on her Little League team and her goal was to be a Major League player," Siegal said. "She really represents all the girls who are a part of my organization, Baseball for All. They all have a dream to play baseball. Christina-Taylor, whose life was just cut too short, I'm trying to give part of my dream to her family, to do anything so we can all talk about Christina-Taylor and remember her and get hope from her story."
Christina-Taylor Green's story is one that hit home for Maddon, making Siegal's tribute special to him.
"I love the fact she's wearing that patch to raise more awareness of that moment," Maddon said. "I know Dallas, I don't know his son. It happened in Arizona. My kids live over there. She was 9 years old, I have a 9-year-old granddaughter, so it smacked me pretty good. So when I saw her wearing that patch, it even made more sense to have her throw here."
Siegal said it was reasonable to expect to be contacted by other women and girls during her journey, but messages from men have found her as well.
"I think a lot of people just resonate with this idea of getting a chance to live out a dream with baseball," she said.
Siegal pitched to Chirinos, Elliot Johnson, Jose Loboton, Sam Fuld and Joe Inglett. Afterward, Fuld noted that she did a great job, and he said that he saw no reason why she could not pitch batting practice to a team full-time.
"And the more she pitched, she would only get better," Fuld said.
Siegal said she "wouldn't rule out any possibility" about a woman playing in the Major Leagues in the future, noting that a "left-handed knuckleballer" might make sense.
"I don't see any reason that couldn't happen," she said, before adding that she would ultimately like to see a women's professional baseball league.
On Wednesday afternoon, Justine Siegal definitely stated her case.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.