Jennifer Francis: Baseball Player
Connections: A Podcast of the James L. Hamner Public Library
Published April 20, 2022
Transcripts are edited to aid with ease of reading. Verbal fillers, stuttered phrases, sounds of listening, and laughter are generally removed, but grammatical errors and similar verbal idiosyncrasies are included. Ellipses (…) are used to indicate unfinished sentences or interruptions.
[Intro Music] Jill 00:04
Welcome to Connections, a podcast of the James L. Hamner Public Library. I'm your host Jill and the ideas episode represented the opinions and experiences of the speakers. They may not represent the library's official position.
Hello, everyone. With me today is Jennifer Francis. Jennifer is the president of the Eastern woman's baseball conference. So she is a woman who plays baseball in 2022. And she helps many woman also play baseball. Today she's going to be telling a little bit about her story and about baseball in 2022. So we are very excited to have her. But first, our featured resource.
Today's featured resource is Access World News. Access World News gives the library users access to over 12,000 full-texts national and international newspapers, including non-English language newspapers. Through the library, these full-text newspapers are free to library users. And again, that's over 12,000 full-text newspapers. About 200 or so of those newspapers are from countries outside of the United States. Find Access World News through the Digital Library tab on hamnerlibrary.org. And now, for the episode.
Jennifer, thank you for joining us. I will give a little background so that any listeners who are new can know how we ended up having you on the podcast. A few months ago, I read Ellen Klages book Out of Left Field, which is about an 11-year-old, or somewhere around 11, in the late '50s, and she really, really wants to play baseball. And she looks like a boy because she's so young. So she tries out for Little League and gets accepted. And it's almost their first game or official practice or like something really important. And somebody tells the coach that she's a girl and they won't let her play. And then she goes out and tries to convince Little League, national level, that girls to be allowed to play baseball. And then she meets all these famous baseball players of the time.
So from there, I started trying to find out more about the history of women in baseball. I talk to Dr. Leslie Heaphy, who specializes in woman in baseball history. And then I kept looking for somebody in the 21st century, who is actively playing and somebody told me about the Eastern Woman's Baseball Conference. And then we ended up with you. And I'm so grateful you're here and willing to talk to us.
Thank you for inviting me, Jill, and I listened to the podcast with Dr. Heaphy. And it was so interesting. I had no idea that the legacy of women in baseball reached back in the 1800s.
Yeah. I was looking a little bit online. There are a lot of people with your name. Can you just tell us a little bit about your background and how you are here now as an adult woman playing baseball, how you ended up there?
Yeah, I started playing baseball, I would say when I was about eight years old, in machine pitch through the Herndon Optimist youth baseball in Virginia. I grew up in a family of ardent baseball fans. My dad played catcher when he was in high school and intramural through college and my grandfather played in baseball when he was younger in like a semi-pro Negro League team. And so I grew up loving baseball.
For listeners who are not from Virginia, what does DMV stand for?
So I started in the machine pitch. And I played until I was about 12 or 13, switched over to fast pitch softball and played Division One college softball. And then a few years passed, and I learned about the Eastern Women's Baseball Conference. And it was a league with four teams from the DMV area. So there were two Virginia teams, and there were two Maryland teams. And so I jumped at the opportunity to play baseball and you know, rediscover my roots. And so I'm here today. I've played in the league now for about five or six years. And I'm currently serving as the president on the EWBC board.
Oh, it stands for the District, Maryland, and Virginia. So it's that, the DC metropolitan area that encompasses both Virginia and Maryland, kind of like the suburbs feeding into DC.
If you are the president of the Eastern Woman's Baseball Conference, what does that even mean?
So the league has been around for over two decades and there is actually an earlier iteration of it, although it started going by the Eastern Women's Baseball Conference around 2000. And basically, it was created to give women the opportunity to play baseball in the area, with the goal of trying to expand it up and down the East Coast. So there's been different teams throughout the league's years. I believe there were even teams from outside the DMV area that would participate. But it was an opportunity to get players involved in the area and outside the area, and just organized games to give women the chance to play.
So in my search that led to you, it was quite challenging to find baseball teams for woman. Do you know why that is? Or do you have any thoughts?
Women in baseball, I think there's a number of women who are interested in baseball and who play it. But we're still in an age where I think a lot of girls and women may get shown to the softball side of things. So there might not be as many women's baseball leagues.
And now we're at a point. I mean, it is an exciting time for women in baseball. We're starting to see more women coaches come up. Like for example, yesterday, the Giants assistant coach Alyssa Nakken, were the first time there was a woman coach in Major League Baseball on the field. She ended up being a base coach in the game because the base coach got rejected. And then we're seeing female general managers. We're at a time where more and more women are gaining access to the sport after years and decades of interest and wanting to play. But we're still at a point where I think society being open to women playing baseball, it's a work in progress.
Are you willing to share a little bit of your story on how you've been baseball, softball, baseball, and what that was like as a teenager? What's been your experience and how you ended up in softball starting off with baseball as a little kid?
Yeah. So when I was little I, I was one of the only girls on my team. Like, there would be another girl or two in the league. And for the most part, I felt accepted. But there would be occasionally times where I felt like I had to prove myself because I was a girl. That sort of thing, like, it just makes you, I don't know, more... I wanted to persevere and be persistent and get better at the sport. And, again, for the most part, I had supportive teammates, and the parents were supportive.
But sometimes I would be at tournaments, and you know, there would be people that kind of jeering and like, "Oh, this is a girl, like, playing baseball." You know, "girls can't play baseball." And, I don't think that has any place in the sport. I think everyone should feel welcome. And again, that was just my experience for small parts of the time. But overall, I felt like it was a very good environment. I really enjoyed playing ball. And then as I was approaching adolescence, I was thinking kind of about the future and like whether I wanted to play competitively in college, and so I ended up going the fast pitch softball route. I really enjoyed fast pitch softball. Like, I played in high school and middle school, high school, and college. It's a different sport.
I think one thing people should know is, like, baseball and softball, you know, you have your gloves and your bats and it's very similar, but the sport is a bit different. Fast pitch, I would say it's a very quick game. Like, the term is "softball," but I would say there's nothing soft about softball. The reaction times are pretty quick. The game can sometimes be a little bit faster. I really enjoy both sports. And so as I graduated from college, and I entered the workforce and everything, like, I wanted to keep up that recreational activity and being on a team, being with friends playing, so I did play in adult fast pitch league for a time and then slow pitch softball, but I also really wanted to return to baseball. I love watching it. I'm a huge Mets fan. I grew up watching Cal Ripken and that Orioles team, Brady Anderson, all of the guys from the O's team. And so I wanted to experience that as a player and that's how I came to the EWBC. It was a well-established league, and the players - there's a lot of camaraderie among the teams, and like just different groups of players from all walks of life. And I feel like I found a good family and friends playing in this league.
So for say 10, 11, 12-year-old girl who would really like to play baseball but the only option she feels like she has is softball. What would be your thoughts for her on how to, as you have on the EWBC, you have a quote on there, to learn from the past while looking to the future and living in the present.
Yeah. So, what I meant by that quote is: know the history of the game, have a goal for yourself, too looking at the future, and then just living in the present, enjoy the moment. That also just applies to baseball, specifically, because it's a game where more often than not, you're going to fail at the plate. Like, if you go 3 for 10, that's a good day. And so, what I love about baseball is just you have to be even-keeled, like, you may have a great day one day, and then the next day, you slump, you go like, 0 for 5. But then the next day after that, you could have an amazing day. And so, I think that also applies to life. You basically learn from what you did in the past. You know, if you had a bad day, for example, you take what you did, and you ask yourself, "Okay, how can I approach this differently?". And then you set goals for yourself, and then just live in the moment, enjoy the game.
And so for girls that are aspiring to play baseball, if there are no opportunities, try to create opportunities for yourself. Try to reach out to people who know the game, whether it be you know, men or women, try to find a mentor. There are some organizations out there that try to give girls opportunities to play baseball. One of those I can think of is Baseball for All, which is a nonprofit that tries to give real opportunities to girls and women to coach and play in different tournaments and things like that. So, that's the advice I would give to young aspiring players.
Okay. I recently listened to another podcast, and I can't even remember what the topic was, but it was something totally unrelated to baseball. But, part of the conversation, the host mentioned, is that he used to really enjoy watching baseball, but it's boring now. Because, I guess, there's like all these stats, and you just kind of do a math problem to figure out how you're supposed to play or something. For teams that might be in the Eastern Woman's Baseball Conference, do you find that's the approach to play, or is there a different approach?
So baseball, analytics have become a huge part of professional baseball, for sure. There are pros and cons to that. I would say because we are a recreational league, our main goal is to have fun. We will look, you know, at statline sometimes where, you know, if you're scouting a player and, you know, say they've hit to left field, we'll be like, "Okay, let's shift over here." And to try to make the play the next time they're up to bat. But, for the most part, it's all about going out there and enjoying. Because we have players, a huge age range. We have teenagers to players in their 70s. And it's great. And it's also like, you have players that have played pretty competitively, and then players that are just beginning and they've wanted to play baseball all their lives. They've had kids that have played baseball, and they want to give it a try themselves as an adult. That's what I really enjoy about our league, the different experiences that come about and the unifying interest in playing baseball.
That sounds really exciting to have such a wide variety of ages and skill levels. It seems like it could either be super intimidating, or incredibly encouraging, depending on the mix of people.
And that's a baseball in a snapshot. It can be, it's a really fun sport. But you know, striking out is is never fun. But then, it, like, you could strike out three times. But, when you get that hit, and you're running the bases, there's no other feeling like it.
If there was a woman who wanted to play and didn't really have any experience and didn't have any local opportunities, how could they potentially go about starting their own local team? Is there a rule book or something that you could just sort of figure it out as you went along?
And I, I think that's the challenge. I mean, if you have any advice for me, that'd be great. But, one thing I would start with, because there are a lot of really good softball players out there, and you know, we touched on it a little bit, a lot of women, the past kind of goes towards the softball direction. And although the sports are different, the basic skill levels, you know, swinging a bat, fielding, they're the same and so there's a lot of good women softball players out there, and I think they may not know about the opportunities for playing baseball or the opportunities might not be there. So, I think one way of, you know, trying to develop a baseball league for women is to look into that market. Look at women who play softball, either through co-ed teams or on fast pitch teams. That's how we've recruited a number of players. You know, women that didn't have that baseball experience, but, you know, enjoy watching as a spectator, and they have those fundamental skills that are easily transferable to baseball.
Often when something is originated with men, the equipment and the clothing is not suited for women and even attempts to make it so are not particularly successful. I'm thinking of hospital scrubs, for starters. Are there really good baseball uniforms for women that are designed for the variety of women's bodies, or is it basically men's clothes that woman wear?
So when I'm shopping for, like, uniforms and stuff, I find, I actually find the softball pants more tailored for the women, but the baseball pants are okay. It's, essentially we're all wearing, like, pajamas. Or they look like pajamas, like the jersey and the pants. So, it's not too hard to find uniforms or equipment that fits. I would say.
That's good to hear. I remember when I was a teenager in martial arts, the uniforms, were particularly challenging for women to wear unless they had a body that was more like the average male body. So it's good.
Yeah, because we've come a long way. Like, I think in any of the major sports stores, you will find athletic wear, like, good athletic wear, for women. So, that's something that I think has really improved over the past few decades.
Do they have usable pockets?
Um, the pants, most of, like baseball pants, the pockets are in the back. So, you can use it to put, like, batting gloves, or for some of the players who like having sunflower seeds, that's a good place to put them.
Is that for safety reasons, that there aren't front pockets?
You know, that's a good question. I never thought of why there are no side pockets. But, yeah, maybe. I think it also will depend on the uniform, but in my experience, most of the uniforms have had pockets in the back. And maybe it's just kind of a custom thing, because I've always seen players, you know, put their batting gloves in their back pockets. And, yeah, that's an interesting question.
So why are so many pants white? Because it's like horrible when you're a woman, often.
Well, also, you know, you're sliding in the dirt, they get really dirty. But, I think it's also a rite of passage to slide and get your uniform dirty. And so, first of all, I think white it's supposed to, like, you know, crisp and clean. But then when you're making a diving play, whether it's in the grass, or whether it's in the dirt, and you get a little stains and stuff on your dirty, it's like, okay, I've played, I've done something in this game. The problem will be if your uniform is completely clean by the end of the game.
So maybe white is easier to bleach? So the stains come out more easily?
I don't know. I think it's just kind of, it's just how the uniforms look from the stands. Maybe they stand out. Because I know when I played basketball, we had a team rule where everyone had to wear white shoes. And it was just, like, the look. It looked cleaner, I guess? I don't know. But, I would say a lot of the teams... I'm trying to think. The teams in our league also wear the grey pants, and I think that's a pretty traditional look, too.
It's very interesting. I'm curious. I don't know much about sports, obviously, you can tell from... but I'm trying to think. Are there any sports that started with woman and continue to be dominated by women? And I'm curious how their clothing compares to others?
I can't think of any.
Yeah, I'm not sure. But it's interesting, too, how the fashions have changed in, like in all different kinds of sports, like for basketball, for example. You know, the way uniforms were. It was the short shorts, and then they got really long, and then now it's kind of like they're back to the shorter length. And then in baseball, you had the tighter pants look, and then you had like the looser pants look, and so even within a sport the way players wear their uniforms changes.
I asked you to talk about baseball and I just dragged you into fashion!
So as we wrap up, is there anything else that you would like to say about women in baseball, particularly in the 21st century, or particularly for girls or women in the 21st century?
Yeah! I would say, I think now is a great time if you're a baseball fan and a woman. Like, opportunities are opening up every day. We're seeing women coaches. We're seeing now, you know, we've had the first GM of a major league baseball team as a woman. And we have, like, aspiring young talent who wants to take their game to the next level, whether it be in college or professionally. So, it's definitely an exciting time to be following baseball and women's role in baseball, whether it be in front office positions or as players. And so I hope the trend continues to go up because we certainly could use more women in the sport. And I hope that the sport continues to embrace women and, you know, be open and accepting, because there are a lot of fans out there that love baseball.
All right, Jennifer, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and your stories. I hope that we have inspired some people to maybe explore a different part of the sport than they originally even thought about.
Thank you for having me.
Listeners, I hope you have enjoyed hearing Jennifer's story. If you are a girl or a woman who wants to play baseball, I hope that you have been encouraged that there are other people like you. You might have to look a little bit, but look at the additional resources on our show notes. Also in the show notes with the Dr. Heaphy, we have links to some other organizations.
Everyone, if you have enjoyed this episode, please share it with someone and thank you for listening.
[Outro Music] Until next time, keep learning.