Photo VIA Scott Strazzante, AP
In a time when I didn’t know what a pandemic was, I played softball. I played third-base and I loved the sport, the community, and the friends I made along the way. I was pretty good at it, but I never attempted to move higher than a B ranking. That was fine by me; I played softball for fun. You don’t make a professional career out of softball.
Well, actually, I was completely wrong, and I am blaming stereotypes and my own misconceptions for it. On April 12th, Alyssa Nakken—my new personal hero—made history by being the first on-field female coach in a regular season. When Antoan Richardson, first-base coach for the San Francisco Giants, got ejected on the basis of unsportsmanlike behavior, Nakken stepped up to the plate (not literally, but quite close) to replace him. She received huge amounts of applause from the crowd and a handshake from Padres’ first-baseman Eric Hosmer as she was officially smashing another barrier for women in professional sports leagues.
That’s right– as well as being the first on-field coach in a regular season game in Major League Baseball history, Nakken also made history for being the first coach on-field in an exhibition game and the first full-time female coach in MLB history.
Her background? Softball. All throughout high school and university, she distinguished herself as an accomplished softball athlete. She played first-base for the Sacramento State Hornets until 2012 and joined the San Francisco Giants organization as an intern in 2014, getting promoted to full-time staff at the start of 2020.
As she was seen standing proudly near first-base on April 12th, ready to give coaching advice to her fellow Giants in the batting lineup after the altercation between Richardson and the third-base, TV broadcast commentators could be heard in awe as they confirmed history being made. They spoke of how, as dads of girls, they were happy to see women advancing slowly but surely to the major leagues. They are right; Women athletes like Nakken will definitely serve as excellent role models for any young girls playing softball (or baseball for that matter). I know I would’ve needed a role model like her when I was a little younger, before I dropped out of softball.
According to a report by Canadian Women in Sport dated back to 2020, 1 in 3 girls engaged in sports will leave the sport by their late teens, while 62% of girls do not engage in sports at all. Compared to teen males, there is a large difference: only 1 in 10 boys will leave sports by their late teens.
Now, there are a lot of reasons why girls drop out of sports so much. The main one is academic and social lives taking up a lot of space. I’ll admit, I’m the first one to say I’m overwhelmed by both. However, we do not see women in sports nearly as much as we see men in sports and that can influence how much girls see a reason to pursue sports. But that is changing.
Alyssa Nakken isn’t the first woman we see in a professional sports league. Also, I’m aware baseball isn’t most people’s favorite sport (it’s not boring I swear!), so let’s talk about hockey. Manon Rhéaume is another trailblazer in women’s sports history and an amazing goaltender from our very own Quebec.
Manon Rhéaume was the catalyst, the first women to play in any major North American pro-sports league. She signed a contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning and played in exhibition games with them in 1992 and 1993. Oh yeah, she is also an Olympic silver medalist and an IIHF gold medalist. No big deal. To this day, her jersey is proudly and rightfully displayed in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
I know I’m going to be met with the criticism that there is a reason as to why there are more men than women in pro-sports. However, I like to believe that the sports performance gap we see between men and women is constantly shrinking and that, actually, it’s not as prominent as we think. If you still have The Plant’s February Issue near you, I invite you all to look back on my article in the Sports section to further understand my point.
In any case, I was unbelievably happy to see Nakken on the field last month. As a fan of baseball and as a fan of women’s sports, I hope I will see more of Nakken and I hope to see more women in pro sports.
Nice going Nak.