The first female ballplayer in the 21st Century to sign with an all-male pro baseball team
Womensportreport was lucky to interview Tiffany Brooks, they first female since Ila Borders to sign a contract with a Pro all male basebal team. Norm Coleman conducted the interview
How does it feel to be one of the first woman to sign a contract to play American professional baseball in the 21st century?
Well, as you can imagine, it's an amazing experience, and I can't thank my GM, Mr. Smith, and the rest of the Big Bend Cowboys organization enough for believing in me as a ballplayer and giving me a chance. To be the “first” to do anything is always a huge honor, and that's really exciting at a personal level, but I would be remiss if I didn't say that I'm walking in some pretty large footsteps of those women who have come before me in Pro Baseball. I've been dreaming of this and working hard for this opportunity really since I was about four years old. I stress the word “opportunity” because, keep in mind; I've not yet made the team. Just like anyone else, I have to go through Spring Training, prove myself, and win a spot on the roster.
Do you feel any pressure?
Of course! Although I, in no way, claim to represent all women and girls, all female athletes, or really anyone but myself, I do get a lot of e-mail and comments from girls, women, and sometimes fathers of daughters who are wishing me well, telling me to “represent,” and that they're “counting on me” to help open doors for the future. That does lead to a bit of additional pressure. If I have a bad day on the mound or a bad day at the plate, I feel like I've not only let myself and my teammates down, but all those girls and women (and fathers of daughters) who are watching as well. The main pressure I'm feeling at the moment is the same as any other ballplayer: I've signed a contract, but that's only Phase 1. I have to train hard and be the best I can when I show up to Spring Training so I can win my spot.
Do you believe a time will ever come when a woman will play in the Major Leagues?
I absolutely DO believe a woman will be in the Major Leagues – and soon! I know some great female players around the globe, and I see us breaking in at 1B or possibly 2B and possibly as a Relief Pitcher to begin with, then working our way into other positions as we receive the advantages of the same training opportunities at High School and College level the guys have had for the last 100 years or so. Now that there is a known path to professional baseball and that many High Schools are integrating girls into their baseball programs, I think it's only a matter of time.
Mia Hamm got many young girls to play soccer. Do you think young girls will want to play baseball, rather than softball now because of you?
That's a fun question. I think a sports figure – of either gender -- can be a catalyst to some extent, but I think the players have to already have an interest and a desire to play the sport. I think there are millions – yes millions – of girls in the world who want to play baseball but because of societal pressures or lack of equipment or a thousand different reasons have not had the opportunity to do so. Will I change that? It's highly unlikely. If I have any effect at all, it might be on the girls who are under 15 who have been playing baseball at the tee-ball, Little League, Pony Ball, etc levels and really would like to continue playing the game they know. I don't think I'll be converting girls who are already playing softball to baseball. They're both great games, but as the NCAA ruled, they are NOT equivalent sports. I loved softball, too, when I played it – no doubt – and it does have skills requirements similar to baseball in many aspects, but they're different games. Many of the adult women players I know played softball at some point – usually in High School and College – but switched back to the game they started with – baseball – once other playing opportunities were exhausted. If I can somehow show girls in the pre-high school ages that there IS a possibility to have a professional baseball career, it may influence some to continue in baseball rather than switching to softball. I'm already contacting female players from other countries to encourage them to come try out and try to break into pro baseball.
When did you first start dreaming of playing professional baseball? Is it true you
dreamed of playing for the Dodgers?
I guess I started dreaming about playing pro ball when I was about 6 or 7 years old – definitely not old enough to know that girls “couldn't” play pro baseball! Yes, I dreamed of playing for the Dodgers...literally! Many nights I would have the dream of taking the field in Dodger Blue. What's funny is that I STILL have that dream occasionally. I'm a dyed-in-the wool Mariners fan now, bit I guess I can have a NL team too!
Is your dream to play pro ball about to come true?
It is if I can go to Spring Training and be one of the top 25 players there!
How do you feel about being the only female on an all male team?
Is there any other way? Seriously, though, I do get to play with female baseball players a few times a year, but the majority of my time is spent playing with male teams, so I don't even think about it any more. I think the key is that once I've proven myself on any team, I just become another ballplayer...not a female ballplayer...just a ballplayer.
Are you hard skinned enough to handle the trash talk you will probably hear from the other teams? Are you prepared for this?
I get asked this a lot. About 50% of my fellow players, my managers, and the fans (including fans from other teams) are really supportive. About 45% are curious, and about 5% don't like the idea of a female ballplayer at all. Just like any player, if you're having a rough day, a few of the fans will make it their mission for the day to wear you out. When I first came back to baseball, playing in Holland in the men's league, I had some seriously rough “trash talk” from the other team, and I got a bit of it at a few games in amateur men's ball. When you get to the higher levels, though, it just kind of stops from the opposing players – there's a professionalism and respect if you can play the game the way it is meant to be played. Regarding fans, well, there are a few moments here and there where you actually hear fans, but for the most part, if you're focused and in the game, you don't hear them – not individually at least.
Are you aware, or is it true the Commissioner of baseball, Ford Frick invalidated a female's minor league contract in1952 for being female and then banned women from professional baseball? Has that ruling been overturned allowing you to sign a pro contract and if so, when?
The ban, apparently, went away when MLB was re-writing a lot of its own rules in the 1970's. None of us aspiring female ballplayers, however, knew about this until just a couple of months ago, when Chris Long, of the Padres organization, researched it and announced it to me. I then started spreading the word. So... all of us (female ballplayers) were told that the ban was in effect all these years... which, as it turns out, it wasn't. So, tragically this undoubtedly killed a lot of dreams over the years and likely funneled more girls into softball rather than baseball.
When the Big Bend Cowboys in Alpine, Texas first contacted you, what was your immediate reaction?
Wow. It's hard to put into words actually. The GM, Mr. Smith, actually e-mailed me and said he was very interested in me and was enclosing a contract for me to review. He gave me his phone number and asked me to call him. I read those words, and everything got silent inside me...except for my heart pounding and the blood rushing! I think my hands actually started to shake a little. I re-read the e-mail, and then re-read it again. Then I looked at the contract – standard boilerplate stuff. The next thing I did was call my Media Rep, Kaitlyn Sawyer, who had helped me in sending out inquiries to several teams. I then called Brooks Carey, my former Manager at the Arizona Winter League who had also been looking for playing opportunities for me. I asked him, “Brooks... can you think of ANY reason I shouldn't sign this contract?” No pause at all from him – “Sign it!” he said. And I did.
I realize your manager will make this decision but do you think you will pitch?
I'm happy to help my team in whatever way my Manager thinks I can best contribute. If that's pitching, then I think it's likely I'll be a reliever. Although I can throw 100 pitches or so like a starter, I think my particular style and delivery may work best coming out of the bullpen... but if my Manager thinks I can help the team as a Starter or even as a Closer, I'm more than happy to try those roles. If it turns out I can best help my team as a first baseman, and at the plate, that would be great! I love 1B and played it growing up and most recently at the Arizona Winter League, where I alternated days as a 1B and a relief pitcher.
How fast do you throw?
I've been gunned at 82, but I think I need to get checked again soon. I've been working on mechanics and arm strength, and think I may be able to touch 85 now when I really bear down. Keep in mind, that's way behind a typical Power Pitcher at any pro level, so like Jamie Moyer. (Philadelphia Phillies) I need control, speed variation, and a variety of pitches to be effective.
What's your favorite pitch?
I really like to throw them all – but my favorite is a breaking ball that got named the Funky Monkey by a bunch of guys I pitched against up in Montreal.
If you end up being a reliever, and your team wants to play a special song for you as you leave the bullpen, what song would you prefer?
I'm hoping they will play a portion of Joan Jett's “Cherry Bomb” for me! If not, then I really like AC/DC's “Thunderstruck.” J. J. Putz had that one at Seattle, and I thought it was an awesome intro!
Who is your favorite pitcher in the Major Leagues, and why?
Without a doubt, I admire Jamie Moyer the most. He's not only had an amazing career with Seattle and now the Phillies, but he does great work in the communities where he lives. He's 47 years young, and has won a spot in the starting rotation with the World Series-contending Phillies again! His passion, intensity and work ethic are amazing, and he is successful on the mound using intelligence and control and changing speeds. More recently, I've also been struck by the Braves' Peter Moylan – who throws a lot like I do – but faster!
I'm sure you get asked this in almost every interview, but if you make the team, how will the Cowboys accommodate your shower and locker room needs both at home and on the road?
Yes, I am asked that in pretty much every interview! I think the interest is piqued because most fans and readers don't really know how clubhouses are set-up and what a pro ballplayer's routine is. In most clubhouses, there are quite a few unused or little-used rooms that can easily be used as a changing room. Showers can be problematic, but unless you have to get on a bus or plane or attend a public function immediately after a game, some players just change, drop their laundry off, and head back to their hotels to shower. For home games, if I need to, I can change at my host family's house and drive to the ballpark. After, I can change into street clothes and head back to the shower at “home.” On the road, the only issue I see will be trying to figure out how to get cleaned up on “get away day” before a long bus ride, but I have no doubt we'll get it worked out. One thing most people don't realize, though, is that not being in the locker room/clubhouse with your male teammates, you miss a lot of information and camaraderie.
On the road, will you room alone or will you have a workout coach or other female staff with you?
Great question. Although we haven't discussed this yet, Mr. Smith and the Cowboys are a class organization and although I'm not aware of there being a female trainer on staff to room with, I'm sure we'll get it worked out, with me rooming alone if necessary.
How do you balance your femininity with trying to integrate into what has been a traditionally male sport?
Now that is the most difficult question you have asked so far. I address both societal expectations of me as a female and my teammates' expectations of me as a ballplayer. Off the field, I will occasionally “girl it up” with a skirt or dress, make-up, etc., but I've been an athlete pretty much my whole life, so you'll most often see me in shorts or workout gear with my hair in a pony tail– but most often with a small concession to a little make-up. On the field, whether for training or games, I'm just another ballplayer. I'd say the main difference there is that I don't chew anything but gum and seeds, don't spit quite as much as most guys, don't have anything to keep “adjusting” on the field, and do wear a little make-up until it wears off about the 2nd or 3rd inning. My communication style does change markedly when I'm around my teammates. It's not male and it's not female, it's just the language of baseball.
What woman baseball player do you most admire?
Although I've never had the pleasure of meeting her, I admire Ila Borders for her trailblazing and her internal fortitude and talent to compete in the Northern League. Every woman who steps on the field with guys owes her a debt of gratitude for her inspiration. What makes that all the more important is that she has repeatedly been quoted as saying she didn't play to be an advocate or an activist for women's rights. She was just playing because she loved the game. I feel the same way. I hope more girls and women break into pro baseball, and if my doing so helps in some small way, that's great. But, like Ila, I don't see myself as anything but a ballplayer who loves the game and wants to help her team do the best they can.
How supportive have your sponsors been? Is it hard to get financial support?
With the notable exception of the 90 MPH Club's Paul Reddick who generously donated actual cash towards my attendance at the Arizona Winter League, I’m still looking for a sponsor, endorsement deals or patrons/patronesses who will actually help pay the bills – as Independent Professional Baseball pays very little. Having said that, I do have very generous equipment sponsors who save me thousands of dollars each year – Akadema Pro, 3n2 Sports, and Birch Bats have been amazing supporters of my dream to be the first American female pro ballplayer since Ila, and at the local level, Gold's Gym in Spokane keeps me in shape, while Dr. Pirie keeps me seeing both the pitches and the catcher's signs. My media rep, Kaitlyn Sawyer helps me with press releases and communication and my legendary umpire friends Perry Barber and Kate Sargeant help me with emotional support on at least a weekly basis. Perry is also trying to find me a true agent to help with endorsements, and possible book or movie deals. I couldn't do it without all their kind and generous support.
Have you played baseball outside of the U.S.? If so, where?
I've been very fortunate to play baseball in the Netherlands (Holland), Montreal, Canada, Mexico, and Hong Kong, China.
Along with Shawna Macurio, you are the Co-Captain and Co-Organizer of the North American Liberty Belles Women's Baseball team. Who are the Belles?
The Belles – the name reflects a tribute to the Racine Belles of the AAGPBL and some of the women who came before us – are a talented group of female baseball players who play in tournaments throughout the U.S. and the world. We not only represent North America at select tournaments, but promote women's and girls' baseball, have a Developmental Player system, and do charity work, usually with children's hospitals, and sometimes in conjunction with the Pay it Forward Foundation, and the excellent children's baseball book, “A Glove of their Own.” The Belles have played in the Hong Kong Phoenix Cup International Women's Baseball Tournament the last two years (winning silver medals in 2009), and against men's amateur teams in Montreal and Las Vegas in 2009. We expect to attend three women's tournaments in 2010, as well as returning to China in 2011.
You were the only female in the men's National Adult Baseball Association (NABA) World Championship Series in 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona and Jupiter, Florida and one of only 3 women out of 5000 guys in the Men's Senior Baseball League (MSBL) World Series in Phoenix in 2008. What was that experience like?
Those experiences, nearly all positive, were what drove me to enter the AWL and see if I could compete with male pro hopefuls for a job in baseball. I've said before – about 95% of the male ballplayers I come in contact are either supportive of women playing or are at least reasonably open-minded and curious to see how it might come out. About 5% are vehemently against women in the sport, and believe we shouldn't be anywhere but in the stands. At the amateur tournaments with the NABA and the MSBL, I would say I got a LOT of double takes, and people saying “Hey! That's a girl!” They'd see me in uniform, carrying my gear bag, and ask, “Honey, do you play ball?” You can imagine being one of the few women they ever see playing that that's a familiar question. I try to just smile and say, “Yes, I do!” I had a couple of good tournaments last year, and got invited to play on some top-notch amateur travel teams after the tourneys, so I guess they get used tot he idea pretty quickly...or as I hope – just see another ballplayer who might be able to help their team.
How often did you hear the phrase, "Baseball is for boys"? How do you react to that?
It's funny... I don't think I ever actually “heard” it. Where that misguided opinion shows up is in the occasional anonymous online comment by someone who either likely didn't reach his own dream or believes I'm a “publicity stunt” and as such is taking the place of a man, who to quote one such writer, “has worked hard his whole life to get a chance – not some girl playing softball.” Such comments show not only a lack of knowledge of how hard I train and how long I've been working for this, that I started playing baseball at age 4, that baseball was not an option for me for a number of years after age 15, but also shows a real lack of knowledge about how difficult Fast-pitch Softball actually is. In the beginning of the media attention, I read a few of the comments, but I don't any more. Like in “real” life, about 95% of the comments were positive or curious. It's really only about 5% or so who believe “Baseball is for boys” – and I can live with that, no problem!
Opening Day is May 6th. Do they have "spring training” or exhibition season or do they just say “Play Ball” and go right at it?
I report officially to an abbreviated Spring Training on April 30. I plan on arriving two days early to get some work in ahead of time and hopefully get tuned up to give myself the best chance possible of making the team.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
Yes, I do! Here they are:
"Go hard or go home!"
"Pain is temporary; pride is forever."
"There is no substitute for strength and no excuse for the lack of it."
and of course, the amazing Tom Hanks quote:
"There's no CRYING in baseball!"
Do you have a favorite baseball movie?
Tough choice. Number one has to be A League of Their Own, but after that comes (in no specific order) The Rookie, The Natural, Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, and Major League.
What’s your favorite baseball book?
I'm reading Breaking into Baseball: Women and the National Pastime by Jean Hastings Ardell and The Bullpen Gospels by Dirk Hayhurst right now both are amazing books! One of my all-time favorites is The Mental Game of Baseball by H.A. Dorfman.
What person, male or female had the most influence on you in convincing you, you could play baseball?
In recent years, it has been a mixture of Kait Sawyer, (former coach and training partner, now my media rep), Shannon Schoonover (former NELU, Monroe softball pitcher and my closest confidant who always believes in me), Quansio Quant, my coach in the Netherlands who believed in me from Day One, Shawna Macurio and Frank Rekas, who brought me back to the sport, and the great instructors at the AWL – Garry Templeton, Brent Bowers, Les Lancaster, Tim Johnson, Cory Snyder, and my former manager Brooks Carey
What do you do for relaxation?
I like to hike and watch movies. I also like to fly fish, but haven't had the chance to go for a while.
You have traveled a lot. What is you favorite American City? What country did you enjoy the most?
Of the big American cities, I guess I like Seattle best. Worldwide -- Stockholm, Prague, Amsterdam and Paris are among my favorites.
As a country, I really, really like Sweden, but I also love Thailand. I'm exploring how much I may fall in love with Belize at this point, but I think Thailand and Sweden get the nod right now.
What is you workout routine? What do you do to stay in shape?
In the off-season, I'm in the gym 5-6 days a week for 2 to 2 ½ hours at a time with cardio, weights and core work. I do interval training and sprint training on both bike and cross-trainer year around. As the season approaches, that changes to about 3-4 days per week at the gym, two bullpens per week, fielding work (as weather permits), and numerous hitting sessions each week in the cage. I begin working agilities and stretching more, and right now, I'm running 60-yard dashes in addition to get ready.
What is your favorite kind of restaurant to dine in?
Here in Spokane, my hands-down favorite is Santé Restaurant and Charcuterie. The food is amazing, and the best I've had outside of Europe. A close second is a little-known Thai restaurant called “Sala Thai.” I've tried every Thai restaurant in the area, and it's by far the most authentic in preparation and taste. Versailles, in Little Havana in Miami, is my favorite Cuban Restaurant.
Do you have a nickname?
Yes...several! In men's ball, I'm most often known as “Brooksie.” In women's ball, a lot of folks have called me “Dottie” over the years as I'm tall like Geena Davis who played fictional character Dottie Henson in the movie “A League of Their Own.”
You've won two Silver Medals in Hong Kong, China. What was that like?
Winning silver in Hong Kong in 2008 with the Women's Baseball League NorthStars and again in 2009 with the North American Liberty Belles were life-changing events for me. It was the first opportunity for me to play with women BASEBALL players from all over the world. Hong Kong, itself, is an interesting (albeit overwhelming) city, but the baseball and sisterly camaraderie off the field and intense competition on the field was, and is what draws us back. Standing on the stage and having those medals draped over my head were two of the most incredible moments of my life.
What is your favorite TV show?
I watch mostly baseball (there's a big surprise!) and not much regular TV, but I have to admit, I'm addicted to Heroes.
Do you have a favorite band?
I have several – most recently Lady Gaga, Pink, and Green Day, but I also like old school AC/DC, the Veronicas (Aussie), Basshunter (Sweden) and Cascada (German) and my all-time fave is definitely Joan Jett.
What song powers you up, gets you pumped?
It depends on the day, but my workout MP3 player has all of the above on it, plus Kid Rock, Scorpions, Black Eyed Peas, and even Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Are you a switch hitter?
I'm working on it at the pro level.
Do you hit better from the right or left?
Better from the right at this point.
Are you a power hitter?
TIFFANY In women's ball I'm a power hitter. In men's ball, I'll hit the occasional home run, but mostly a singles/doubles hitter
Who is your favorite hitter?
Albert Pujols –because he can hit for both power and average. He has an amazing approach to the plate! (Pujols plays for the St. Louis Cardinals)
To what do you attribute your success in baseball?
Without a doubt, I couldn't have achieved whatever small level of success I now have without the support of so many people close to me. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to every coach who gave selflessly of himself or herself and to all my sponsors. Yes, I love the game, and I work very, very hard – as any player who aspires to this level has to, but without the support of so many others, friends, family, coaches, sponsors, and fans alike, I wouldn't have the opportunity to pursue my dream. Thank you all!
Tiffany Brooks of Spokane, Washington is the first American women this century
and the first woman since 1952 to sign a contract with a professional all male baseball team, the Big Bend Cowboys located in Alpine, Texas
Norm Coleman is an actor, writer and professional photographer living in Half Moon Bay, California. He has been writing for WSR since February this year.
Cover photo: Tiffany with the Western Canada Miners at the Arizona Winter League. The photo by Richard Hopkins.
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