You may think a woman on a baseball card is a unicorn — a myth. But there is such a woman, and she’s Malibu resident Justine Siegal — the only female professional baseball coach. Siegal has broken so many barriers in what has been traditionally a men’s game, baseball, it’s hard to keep up with her. The 42-year-old trailblazer is preparing to go to Korea next month with Team Israel for the World Baseball Classic (WBC). She’ll be the only woman and first ever in uniform on the field and in the dugout.
Siegal works as a mental skills coach for Team Israel, which advanced to the WBC after qualifying in a championship game in Brooklyn last month. She’s the first woman to coach for a Major League Baseball organization. In 2009, she became the first woman to coach men’s professional baseball, working with an independent league. She was honored with her very own baseball card for the Brockton Rox in the Can-AM League. In 2011, she was the first woman to throw batting practice to Major League teams, six in all, including the Oakland As, the Tampa Bay Rays, St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros, the New York Mets and the Cleveland Indians. In 2015, she became the first woman to ever coach for a Major League team, working with the As in their instructional league. She owns so many “firsts,” she’s been featured on NBC Nightly News, among others shows — including a mention by David Letterman, who called her “pretty impressive.”
Siegal started playing baseball as a kid with her brother and other children in her Cleveland, Ohio, neighborhood.
“I never thought about not playing baseball,” she recalled. “Then when I was 13, for the first time my coach told me he didn’t want me on his team because I was a girl and that I should quit.”
That was no deterrent for Siegal.
“I decided then to play forever and I was the first girl to play at my high school,” she said. “In fact, my high school wouldn’t let me play until I pitched against them. When I was 16, I decided I wanted to be a college baseball coach. My coach laughed at me. He said, ‘No man will listen to a woman on a baseball field.’ That’s when I decided I would prove them wrong.”
Siegal learned everything she could about the sport and even got a Ph.D. so she “could bring a different tool set to a coaching staff.” She ended up coaching three years as an assistant college coach, then on to pro baseball.
“I’m proof that a man will listen to a woman on a baseball field — when you know what you’re talking about and you show you care about them, then you are part of the team,” she confidently told The Malibu Times.
Siegal not only gets jobs all over the world — she just returned from MLB’s Africa Elite Camp in Johannesburg coaching the best players from Africa — she is also a highly sought-after motivational speaker who shares her life story and talks about the benefits of diversity and thinking outside the box.
Siegal’s passion for baseball and equal opportunities for girls led her to start the nonprofit “Baseball For All” promoting girls’ baseball.
“I want girls to know they can do anything,” Siegal said. “Too often, girls are told they should not play baseball — that they need to play softball or something else. We want them to know that not only can they play baseball, they can do anything that they’re passionate about.”
Siegal has successfully charted her nontraditional career all while raising a daughter, now 18.
“My daughter may be the only girl to have fallen asleep with her mother’s baseball card under her pillow,” she said.
When asked about a shift in attitudes from the men she works for and with, Siegal replied, “When I first started coaching some people were against me being there, but by the time I was coaching with the As in 2015, I’ve been treated really well.
“The younger generation of men coming out of college are [more] open to a woman coaching than the old guard,” she continued. “There’s been a lot of progress. The people who fought for Title IX are starting to see the results of boys growing up knowing girls can do any sport they want to do. We shouldn’t let stereotypes and gender boxes limit us. Follow your passions. When we smash the gender box, everybody wins.”