Jen Pavol, the first female umpire to reach Triple A in three and a half decades, is another step closer to the big leagues. Pawol will officiate major league spring training games in Florida this season, becoming just the third woman to do so and the first since 2007.
Pawol, who will also be promoted to the role of Triple-A staff manager, is aiming to become the first woman to manage an MLB regular season game, which could happen as early as 2024.
“I’ve hit full throttle and we’re going full speed,” Pavol said Monday. “I’m comfortable in my own shoes, I’ve grown wings, so to speak, and that’s the narrative, that’s the plot, the plot. And people are excited and encouraging. And when it comes down to it, I just need to get my next game right.
Pawol was one of 24 umpires announced Monday to officiate major league spring training games. She will be based in the Jupiter area and is scheduled for her first game in West Palm Beach on February 24. Pavol, 47, who was promoted to Triple A last spring, began his career in the Gulf Coast League in 2016 and has steadily worked his way up.
“I hear a lot of ‘You’re going to do it, you’re going to be the first one, keep going,'” Pavol said of the reaction he’s gotten from fans. “I get asked for my autograph a lot … it’s been very positive for sure.”
Pavol said all autograph requests always come with the caveat that everyone on the team must sign.
“You take all four of us or none of us,” she said. “(We’re) spreading the love around.”
Baseball’s history with female umpires hasn’t always been so rosy. Pam Postema spent 13 seasons in the minor leagues, becoming the first woman to umpire a major league spring game in her final season in 1989. After six years in Triple A, Postema’s contract was voided.
Teresa Cox was another early pioneer (1989-91). She tried to change her voice and received criticism for her appearance. Both women filed lawsuits, Postema for gender discrimination and Cox (who now goes by the name Fairlady) for harassment and abuse in the community of judges; both cases were eventually settled out of court.
Ria Cortesio was the second woman to umpire a major league spring training game. She was released in 2007 after nine years, the last five in Double A, after a season in which she began as the league’s top-ranked umpire.
Pavol cites Cortesio and Postema, who wrote a book about her experiences, as mentors. She said Monday that she has been texting both women since the news that she will be an umpire in major league camp. Pawol learned of her promotion in a phone call last week.
While other major professional sports, such as the NFL and NHL, have female officials, Powell is the best shooter in baseball. There were five female umpires in professional baseball last year, but she was the only one above Class A.
“She’s going to make it,” said Pawol crew chief Jonathan Ortega last summer, who called Pawol one of the hardest workers he’s seen. “I don’t know if it will be a year or two, but I think she will.”
Pawol, a former shortstop at Hofstra, earned a master’s degree in painting from Hunter College. On weekends, she umpires fast-pitch softball to help pay for her tuition. Pawol rose through the fastpitch ranks and a colleague snuck her into some amateur baseball tournaments, but the presence of a female umpire rocked the boat and, Pawol says, she was always met with resistance from tournament administrators.
In January 2015, Pawol attended the Southern Umpires Camp in Atlanta, Georgia. Baseball clinics offered more drills and skills than softball, and she wanted to be more well-rounded after a dozen softball clinics and nearly 2,000 amateur games under her belt. Longtime MLB umpire Ted Barrett was among the instructors and was impressed with Pawol. He told her about the free one-day MLB umpiring camp in Cincinnati that was open to everyone.
“You know I’m a woman, right?” Pavol joked.
Intrigued by Barrett’s offer, Pavol booked a one-way ticket to Cincinnati for August 15, 2015. She had no plans to return to her day job: She wanted to win the coveted scholarship to the league’s umpiring academy. And she did just that. Pawol debuted in the Gulf Coast League the following year.
In some ways, a promotion to crew chief is as important as spring training in the big leagues. Pawol will now be responsible for the logistics of his crew’s schedule as well as being a leader on and off the field. As a Triple-A crew chief, Pawol is considered part of a small group of call-ups if there is an injury or illness to current big league umpires.
Every spring in his eight-year career, Pavol would be in the backfield in minor league games, hoping, praying, for a chance at the big league spring ballpark. This year, that dream came true. While it’s still a step toward where he wants to go, “for any umpire in the pro system, it’s a big, big deal,” said Pavol, who estimated he probably has 1,000 professional games under his belt.
“It’s a lot of innings, a lot of work to get there, it’s very humbling because it’s need-based, there’s only so many slots. … As for the other significance that (getting the chance to be the first woman in MLB ), I feel like I have to keep making the right next play and I try not to let that or any other distractions.”
(Photo courtesy of Jen Pawol)