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

Umpire Jen Pawol smiles as she takes part in the lineup card exchange before the start of a spring training baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the Houston Astros Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, in West Palm Beach, Fla. Pawol took a big step toward breaking the gender barrier for Major League Baseball umpires when she became the first woman in 17 years to work a big league spring training game Saturday night. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

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.

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.

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.

“For any umpire, working in the pro system, this is a big, big deal,” Pawol told reporters on a Zoom call in February. “This means so much. It’s the culmination of a lot of innings. I’ve probably put in about 1,000 professional games at this point.”

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

With a rotation set for every three innings, Pawol switched to second base in the fourth. She went to first base in the seventh inning and 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 manoeuvre 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. It is spring training.

During pregame festivities, entertainer Travis Scott took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the field to commemorate the name change of the facility, formerly known as The Ballpark of The Palm Beaches. Scott, who threw out the first pitch, is owner of CACTI Hard Seltzer.

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