In a league of her own

Jus­tine Siegal, the nation’s first woman to coach a pro­fes­sional base­ball team, does not pos­sess the ath­letic ability of an Olympic gold medalist or the unfet­tered imag­i­na­tion of a hall of fame manager.

“There is nothing spe­cial about me,” said Siegal, who for the last 15 years has been one of the most promi­nent advo­cates for women in base­ball. “I’m only 5-​​foot-​​7, with decent ath­letic ability and average smarts,” she added, “but I have pas­sion and determination.”

Siegal is the director of sports part­ner­ships for Sport in Society, a North­eastern Uni­ver­sity center that is part of the College of Professional Studies. In November, she recounted her rise to sports-​​world promi­nence at the TEDxBea­con­Street con­fer­ence, a local sub­sidiary of the TED lec­ture series.

Siegal’s human­i­tarian mis­sion is to expand women’s base­ball in every corner of the globe. In the late 90s, she founded the non­profit orga­ni­za­tion Base­ball For All, and today serves as the chair of the Women’s Base­ball Devel­op­ment Com­mis­sion at the Inter­na­tional Base­ball Federation.

Siegal noted that eight coun­tries cur­rently com­pete in the Women’s Base­ball World Cup, which was held for the first time in 2004. “That didn’t exist when I was growing up,” said Siegal, who devel­oped a sharp curve and 75-​​mile-​​per-​​hour fast­ball while playing ball with the boys in high school. “If a girl wants to play, now she can.”

His­tory fol­lows this sports pio­neer. In the spring of 2009, for example, Siegal signed a con­tract to coach first base for the Brockton Rox of the inde­pen­dent Cana­dian Amer­ican Asso­ci­a­tion of Pro­fes­sional Baseball.

She had pre­vious coaching expe­ri­ence as an assis­tant for Spring­field Col­lege, but noted that a few players on the Rox treated her with much dis­re­spect and peti­tioned to kick her off the team. She coun­tered the hate with out­size kind­ness. “I knew if I let the anger con­sume me, then I wouldn’t be able to move for­ward and find my own peace,” she explained. “When they tried to kick me out of the locker room, my daughter and I made the team brownies.”

In Feb­ruary of 2011, Siegal became the first woman to throw bat­ting prac­tice to Major League players, and gar­nered inter­na­tional fame for the feat fol­lowing a front-​​page story in a Japanese news­paper. USA Today, for its part, chron­i­cled her one-​​of-​​a-​​kind story, and talk-​​show host David Let­terman even men­tioned her in one of his monologues.

“It was a dream come true and so hum­bling to touch so many lives,” said Siegal, a Cleve­land native and life­long fan of the Indians, the first of six teams for whom she tossed bat­ting prac­tice. “So many girls and mothers were sending me emails saying I was living their dream and inspiring them.”

Siegal closed her TED talk by imparting keen advice to her youngest audi­ence mem­bers. “It’s OK to be who you want to be and not let others tell you who you are,” she said. “It’s impor­tant to go after your dreams and know that they can come true.”