After working in the minor leagues for the past eight seasons, umpire Jen Pawol is one step closer to reaching the majors as she’s been assigned to work in the Grapefruit League during spring training beginning later this month.
Pawol, 47, will be based in Jupiter, Florida, on a one-month assignment before taking over as a crew chief in Triple-A once the regular season starts.
“For any umpire, working in the pro system, this is a big, big deal,” Pawol said on a Monday afternoon Zoom. “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.”
Pawol is the first woman umpire to work a spring schedule since Ria Cortesio in 2007, but a woman has never umpired a regular-season game. Pawol could be the first as she will be one call away once the regular season begins.
Triple-A umpires can get called up just like players if there are injuries or other circumstances. MLB is the only major sport yet to employ a female official.
“As far as the other meaning that it has [breaking the gender barrier], I feel like I need to keep getting the next play right and really try not to let that or other distractions get in,” Pawol said. “It’s all about my crew, getting the next play right, staying athletic and conducting myself as a professional. And having some fun, of course.”
Pawol was a softball player at Hofstra before beginning her umpiring career, first working softball games, then joining the pro ranks in baseball. She reiterated several times that her focus is on her job not on the attention that comes with possibly being the first woman to umpire a major league game.
“The male/female thing literally never went through my mind,” Pawol explained. “It was just ‘I can do that.’ I have to learn how to get the feel for it … but I just hit the gas. I wanted it from the inside. I didn’t care what anyone else thought. I wanted to do it. I was going to try it for myself, and if it didn’t work out? ‘OK.’
Pawol’s first spring game will be between the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros on Feb. 24 in West Palm Beach. She’ll work that area of the Grapefruit League, hoping to get the encouragement from fans she has already received during her time in the minors.
“The fans are very energetic,” Pawol stated. “They’ve been supportive. I hear a lot of ‘You’re going to do it. You’re going to be the first one. Keep going.’ I get asked a lot for my autograph.”
Pawol was asked what her fellow umpires do when she’s asked for an autograph.
“I tell the person, ‘You get all of us or none of us,'” she said with a laugh.
Pawol said she’s focused on the job instead of breaking barriers simply because it’s such a difficult one. She knows if she keeps making right calls, she’ll find her way to the big leagues, and she understands the attention that will come with it.
“As an umpire, we have to hit 1.000 every night,” Pawol stated. “The challenge of that is absolutely riveting. It’s what makes me get back out there the next day.
“I want to get the next play right. I love being an umpire.”