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02/21/11 6:15 PM ET
Ladies' first: Siegal makes history at Tribe camp
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Justine Siegal reached into the green basket to her left, placed three baseballs in her left hand and one in her right, and then tried to keep her emotions in check as she prepared to throw to a professional hitter. Siegal then fired off four-seam fastballs, doing her best to give a group of Indians prospects some nice targets for this historic round of batting practice on Monday. It was a moment Siegal had been dreaming about for years -- becoming the first woman to throw to a Major League ballclub. "I've been thinking about this almost every hour for the past month," Siegal said. It was about a month ago that Siegal got the call from the Indians. They were going giving her permission to throw batting practice to a few of their hitters this spring. Siegal was overwhelmed by the news. The first thing she did was scream for her daughter, Jasmine, to come in the room. Siegal's 13-year-old daughter was on hand at the Indians' player development complex to watch her mom throw for the Tribe, too. With her mom on the mound, wearing her own Indians jersey with No. 15 -- honoring Jasmine's February birthday -- on the back, Jasmine was proud. But impressed? "I can wake up any morning and see her throw," Jasmine Siegal said with a smile. Justine Siegal's journey to the mound on Field 2 has done well in making Jasmine a firm believer that anything is possible. So the idea of her mom throwing to a group of professional hitters was just another item added to the list of reachable goals. "You should ask her teachers," Siegal said. "My daughter thinks she can do anything and she's ready to tell anybody that. She just has a belief that you can really do anything. That's the whole point. My daughter actually doesn't play baseball, and that's fine with me. "All I'm trying to do is show that we should do and be whoever we want to be." Siegal, 36, began her morning by throwing to a group of five Cleveland Minor Leaguers. After the club came away impressed, she was given permission to throw to a group of three big league catchers: Lou Marson, Paul Phillips and Juan Apodaca. Prior to that session, Siegal warmed up with a round of catch with Indians manager Manny Acta. "She made me look bad," Acta joked. Siegal dreamed of being a Major Leaguer since childhood. Raised in the Cleveland suburb of Cleveland Heights, Siegal grew up with Indians fans throughout her family. Her grandfather, Alvin, has been a season-ticker holder for the Tribe for more than 35 years. Her father, Michael, always signed Justine up for baseball and not softball. "It's in my blood," she said. "I wanted to be Orel Hershiser." When Siegal attended Hawken School in Gates Mills, Ohio, she wanted to try out for her high school baseball team. She was denied the chance, but Siegal did not let that shatter her dreams. That same year, Siegal attended a baseball camp and faced her high school team as an opposing pitcher. Siegal retired the middle of Hawken's lineup in order. "When I came back to try out," she said with a grin, "they said yes." Siegal played third base and pitched -- she said she used to top 70 mph with her fastball -- during high school. Since then, she has played on multiple teams and in men's leagues over the years, dealing with the obstacles that come with being a woman. "It's been a very difficult journey," Siegal said. "I had a lot of people say no. I sat the bench a lot and it didn't have to do with skill. It had to do with they didn't want me there. That's not every [team], but I had to learn to look for support where I could get it, to decide who I was going to listen to and who not to. "It was very difficult. To be honest, I grew up with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder." In 2007, she began a four-year stint as an assistant coach with Springfield College (Mass.), making her the only female collegiate coach for a men's program. In 2009, Siegal also became the first woman to coach pro baseball when she did so as a first-base coach for the Brockton Rox in the independent Can-Am League. Siegal is taking a break from coaching this year so she can complete her Ph.D. in sport and exercise psychology at Springfield College. She also founded and runs the non-profit organization Baseball For All, which she created 13 years ago to help girls find ways to participate in baseball. "What I want is girls baseball across America," Siegal said. "So when I throw, now all of a sudden we have a dialogue between how much girls and women love baseball and how they want to be a part of it." Siegal said her dream of throwing batting practice to a Major League team started when she was a teenager. When she was growing up, she would take the train into Cleveland and watch Indians games at old Municipal Stadium, paying close attention to the pregame routine. Siegal eventually realized she was not going to become a big leaguer. But she took one look at the men throwing batting practice and thought that was a task she could handle. "This year, I just decided, 'This is the time to do it,'" she said. During the Winter Meetings in December, Siegal approached multiple managers and general managers about the idea. Some listened to her story. Others ignored her. "That was the most common response," Siegal said. The Indians listened. Siegal discussed the idea with Indians general manager Chris Antonetti and the club worked to make it happen this spring. When Siegal arrived at the complex on Monday morning, she had an Indians uniform waiting for her. "There was a real thrill when I walked into the locker room today," she said, "and I saw No. 15 on an Indians jersey hanging up. That made the moment very real and I couldn't stop smiling." On her left sleeve, Siegal wore a patch from Little League for Christina Taylor Green, the 9-year-old girl who was killed in the recent shooting in Tucson, Ariz. Green -- the granddaughter of former Major League manager Dallas Green -- was the only girl on her baseball team. When Siegal took the mound on Field 5 for her second round of BP, a group of fans began to cheer and applaud. After she faced the three Cleveland catchers, Antonetti walked over, shook her hand and offered his congratulations. The hitters were impressed as well. "I thought she did great," Phillips said. "She would fit right in. Had you not seen her pony tails, you would not have thought anything of it." Siegal said her motivation for all she does is simple. "If you tell a girl she can't play baseball," she said, "what else will she believe she can't do? This is the greatest game on earth, so why shouldn't we all play it?" On Wednesday, Siegal will continue her journey by throwing a round of batting practice to the A's. She'd like to do so for a few more teams while in Arizona this week, but also plans on taking her daughter to see the Grand Canyon. After that? "I've still got dreams I haven't imagined yet," Siegal said with a smile.