Jen Pawol has been steadily moving up the umpires ranks over the course of her eight-year career, and she is now one step closer to the Majors with the Monday announcement that she will be the first woman since 2007 to work in Major League Spring Training games. This is
Jen Pawol has been steadily moving up the umpires ranks over the course of her eight-year career, and she is now one step closer to the Majors with the Monday announcement that she will be the first woman since 2007 to work in Major League Spring Training games. This is a crucial step in Pawol’s effort to become the first female umpire in the Majors, a goal that’s significantly closer today than yesterday.
Whenever MLB needs fill-in or additional umpires during the regular season, it draws from the group of Triple-A umpires that are named to the MLB Call-Up list that is made up exclusively of umpires that had been invited to MLB Spring Training. After firmly standing her ground while the pool of candidates narrowed around her, Pawol’s odds have never been more favorable.
She’s had nearly a decade to build up to this moment.
Pawol started her career on June 24, 2016, in the Gulf Coast League. At the time, Pawol was the seventh woman to umpire in a Minor League game, following in the footsteps of Bernice Gera (1972), Christine Wren (1975-77), Pam Postema (1977-89), Theresa Cox Fairlady (1989-91), Ria Cortesio (1999-2007) and Shanna Kook (2003-04). Cortesio was the most recent female umpire to work a Spring Training game.
Not since Postema, though, has there been this much momentum in a woman’s quest to officiate in the Major Leagues.
The 47-year-old Pawol is one of nine women scheduled to work on-field roles in the Minor Leagues this season. Yet, the list of female umps who have made it as far as Triple-A is significantly shorter: Postema, who was also the first woman assigned to Major League Spring Training games, and Pawol. The league has put a real effort into growing those numbers in recent years. If you open the testimonial page of MLB’s umpire camp website, two of the first four videos you’ll see feature women. One of them is Pawol, and the other is Isabella Robb, who became a professional umpire in 2022.
Pawol first attended an MLB/MiLB tryout camp in 2015 in Cincinnati, at the suggestion of long-time umpires Ted Barrett and Paul Nauert, whom she’d met at an ump clinic in Atlanta the year prior. Pawol was among 38 people invited to the league’s Umpire Training Academy in Vero Beach, Fla. That led to her Minors assignment in '16.
Pawol kept rising from there. From the GCL, she moved through the ranks all the way to Double-A in 2022 and Triple-A in '23.
But she and the game go back way further than that.
A New Jersey native, Pawol was inducted into the West Milford High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2022 after graduating in 1995 as a three-year all-state athlete in softball and soccer. That earned her a softball scholarship with Hofstra University, where she played in Division I as a catcher. Around that same time, a young Pawol also began umpiring softball games, a practice not uncommon for college backstops looking to get a better feel for the strike zone.
She added a World Championship with the U.S. Women’s softball team in Toronto in 2001 before converting into an NCAA umpire for both softball and baseball.
Becoming a reference for the generations after her is a fortunate bonus for Pawol en route to the main goal. But that’s usually how it goes for pioneers. Like the women who paved the way before her, Pawol is forging a path that’s wider than herself.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Pawol was the first woman since 1988 to umpire a Major League Spring Training game. This has been corrected. We apologize for the error.