Jen Pawol becomes the first woman to umpire a spring training game since 2007

FILE - Umpire Jen Pawol, front right, works with students during MLB baseball umpire camp at The Diamond in Richmond, Va., June 25, 2022. Pawol is on the verge of becoming Major League Baseball’s first woman umpire. (Eva Russo/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP, File)(AP/Eva Russo)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — It took eight years but Jen Pawol made the leap from the minors to a major league game spring training contest as umpire at the Grapefruit League opener between the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals at CACTI Park of The Palm Beaches on Saturday.

Pawol’s spring training debut marked the first time since 2007 that a woman umpired a major league spring training game, last done by Ria Cortesio. With a ponytail coming out of her ballcap, Pawol was stationed at third base.

After the traditional pregame meeting with the umpires and managers at home plate, the group posed for pictures. Nationals manager Dave Martinez shook Pawol’s hand and chatted with her briefly.

Eight years ago, Pawol, a former New Jersey high school softball star who played at Hofstra, became just the seventh women to umpire a minor league baseball game.

“I greatly appreciate everyone’s enthusiasm, everyone’s welcoming attitude on the field,’’ Pawol said after the 7-4 Astros victory before 3,655 fans. “Tonight was very, very special. Both managers shared congratulations, (everyone was) welcoming, enthusiastic. The players on the field, so many said congrats and great to see you up here. A gentleman, Javier (Bracamonte, Astros bullpen coach), he ran out early in the game and said he has a daughter playing all kinds of sports. It’s good to see you out here.’’

Across the next few weeks, Pawol, 47, will be based in Palm Beach County to work other spring training games. No woman has ever been assigned to umpire a regular season game in the majors.

On Sunday, Pawol will work behind the plate in Jupiter for the Nationals-Marlins game. She has no timetable on when she might work a regular season contest.

With a rotation set for every three innings, Pawol switched to second base in the fourth. She then went to first base in the seventh inning, where she saw her most action. She called out two straight Astros batters off groundouts in the top of the seventh. In her closest call in the bottom of the seventh, Pawol motioned safe after Nationals’ Travis Blankenhorn appeared to beat out a grounder to first that was bobbled.

Pawol’s most noteworthy maneuver occurred at the start of the bottom of the fourth when she stopped play after noticing the Astros didn’t have a centerfielder. Astros’ Justin Dirden bounded out of the dugout and raced to centerfield.

“Tomorrow I got to get out there and do it all over again,’’ Pawol said. “That’s my next job. Anybody in baseball will tell you to keep it simple and work hard, put your all into it and get ready for the next day.’’

MLB’s move comes 27 years after the gender barrier for game officials was broken in the NBA, nine years after it ended the NFL and two years after the men’s soccer World Cup employed a female referee.

“This is a viable career becoming a professional umpire – men and women, girls and boys,’’ she said. “I didn’t know that the first several years when I got into umpiring in amateur ball for 10 years.’’

Pam Postema, who worked in the 1970s and 1980s, became the first woman to umpire a spring training game.

“It’s in my DNA,’’ Pawol said. “Once I started umpiring, I said this is for me.’’

Crew chief Lance Barksdale called it “a neat experience.’’

“It was a big deal for Jen,’’ Barksdale said. “She’s earned this opportunity to get here. I told her in the sixth inning we didn’t have many plays at first but the only thing supervisors can watch is the way you present yourself and get in position to make calls. She did a very good job. And later on she had close plays at first and nailed those plays. I don’t want her to put extra pressure on herself.’’



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