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The Worcester Red Sox host the third annual UniBank Women in Sports Day with star-studded panel

All-American Girls Professional Baseball League player Maybelle Blair; former Milwaukee Brewers president Wendy Selig-Prieb; baseball coach, player, and educator Justine Siegal; Worcester Railers president Stephanie Ramey; and Assumption University head field hockey coach Annie Lahey made up this year's historic panel
May 10, 2024

On Saturday, April 20, the Worcester Red Sox hosted their third annual UniBank Women in Sports Panel. Each year, the team welcomes women who have had illustrious careers in sports to talk about their journeys and inspire the next generation. This year, Polar Park welcomed baseball trailblazers Maybelle Blair, Wendy

On Saturday, April 20, the Worcester Red Sox hosted their third annual UniBank Women in Sports Panel. Each year, the team welcomes women who have had illustrious careers in sports to talk about their journeys and inspire the next generation.

This year, Polar Park welcomed baseball trailblazers Maybelle Blair, Wendy Selig-Prieb, and Justine Siegal, as well as local Worcester heroes Stephanie Ramey and Annie Lahey. These women never wavered in their dreams, showed perseverance through trials and tribulations, and paved the way for many more women to follow in their footsteps.

In the early 1930s, “All the Way May” Blair was just 9 years old playing baseball with her brothers in their homemade backyard diamond. She “didn’t know anything but baseball,” back then, but everything changed in 1943 at the onset of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). The institution of the league meant a chance for women to play professional baseball. In 1948, Blair signed with the Peoria Redwings as a pitcher.

During the panel discussion in Polar Park’s DCU Club, Blair recalled the moment she knew her dreams had come true. On the day of her first game with the Redwings, she put on her uniform and spikes for the first time. The “clickety-clack, clickety-clack” echoed across the cement as she made her way to the field. “What beautiful music that is to your ears,” she remembered fondly. The striking green of the grass caught her eye as she walked out of the dugout and thought to herself, “Oh Maybelle, you’ve got your dream. And I never thought in my whole life I’d be able to do this. I’m a professional women’s baseball player.” Following Blair’s time with the AAGPBL, she played professional softball in Chicago with the Chicago Cardinals and later in New Orleans with the Jax Girls Softball Club of New Orleans.

Today, Blair crisscrosses the country promoting baseball, helping provide girls with opportunities to play baseball and make their own dreams come true. She helped establish the International Women’s Baseball Center in Rockford, Illinois, where the Rockford Peaches played. The dream is to open a museum on the site to honor all women in baseball.

“All the Way May” also spends time supporting Siegal’s organization, “Baseball for All,” attending all its events.

“We all gotta work together and promote it,” Blair said.

Blair proudly passed the microphone to the next panelist, Wendy Selig-Prieb, and quipped, "Just like I taught you" as Dr. Charles Steinberg described Selig-Prieb as "one of the most accomplished people in baseball, as well as one of the most accomplished women the history of baseball.”

As the daughter of Allan H. “Bud” Selig, Selig-Prieb was practically born into the world of baseball. When she was 10 years old, her father assumed ownership of the Milwaukee Brewers. She recalls thinking, “If my father had been a history professor like he had wanted to, I’m not so sure I would’ve loved going to the office with him. But going to the office was going to the ballpark, and I loved that.”

Selig-Prieb grew up within the walls of Milwaukee County Stadium, but it wasn’t just her father who passed down his passion for baseball. She cherishes the memory of her grandmother meticulously keeping score of every game while sitting next to her grandfather who read TIME magazine during the games.

When the time came, Selig-Prieb knew she wanted to embark on an adventure for college. She chose Boston as her destination and enrolled at Tufts University to study political science. The transition from Milwaukee to Boston was a challenge at first; as a young woman leaving home for the first time, she remembered thinking, “What am I doing? This Midwest girl is around all these ‘wicked smaht’ people that have this accent I can’t understand half the words they said.” To ease the transition, before she left Milwaukee, one of her favorite Brewers players, Cecil Cooper, wanted to introduce her to his best friend in Boston. At one game that summer, Cooper introduced her to Jim Rice. Rice gave Selig-Prieb his phone number and let her know he and his wife would be happy to help her if she needed anything. Once in Boston, Selig-Prieb soon fell in love with Fenway Park and frequented the games there. After games, Rice always offered to drive her back to Tufts.

After graduating from Tufts, Selig-Prieb was accepted into law school but ultimately declined the offer. Instead, she moved to New York City to attend MLB executive training. She eventually found herself on the player relations committee, which sparked her passion for labor relations. When she looked around and realized she was the only one in the office without a law degree, she decided to pursue law school again. Selig-Prieb’s important message to those in the audience was that “it is never too early, and it is never too late. Even at 97, we can go after new goals.”

In 1998, Bud Selig became the commissioner of Major League Baseball, and Selig-Prieb took up the reins of the Milwaukee Brewers organization. She remarked that when she entered the business, she already had three strikes against her: “I was young, I was a woman, and I was the boss’s daughter.” She felt weighed down by her peers’ preconceived judgments of her. Despite these challenges and the fact that she was one of the only women in an executive position in MLB at the time, she navigated her tenure as president and CEO with poise and grace.

Selig-Prieb describes herself as a “grinder,” working hard every day to get where she wants to be. She defines a “grinder” not as someone who never fails, but as someone who never gives up. Selig-Prieb referred to MLB executive Kim Ng as the perfect definition of a “grinder.”

“[Ng] never hid her ambition, and she never stopped pursuing it,” she said. “That, for me, when you say a grinder, yeah, that’s what a grinder looks like.”

During Selig-Prieb’s tenure with the Brewers, she inspired young women throughout the country, including fellow panelist Justine Siegal.

“I was in high school when I first found out about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and about Wendy Selig,” Siegal said. “You start to see glints of women doing things. Pam Postema was an umpire. And that’s when I started to see the other women who were being pioneers.”

Siegal went on to be a pioneer in her own right. Growing up, she would always go to Cleveland Indians games with her brother and her grandfather, and “[they] would just eat as much as [they] could, and always got a souvenir, and it was always the best day ever!” Siegal grew up playing T-ball and was hooked from the start. It was at 13 though, when she was first told she should quit baseball because it was a sport for boys. That same day, Siegal decided she would never stop playing baseball. Later at age 16, she decided that she wanted to be a college baseball coach. The shy and quiet Siegal took a chance and told her baseball coach about her dream. His response was to laugh and say, “No man would ever listen to a woman on a baseball field.”

Luckily, Siegal did not take this to heart. She instead thought, “Maybe he’s wrong. Who is he to tell me what I can do?” That was the day she decided she would get her PhD, “because [she] wouldn’t have the same playing opportunity as men, but [she] could out-educate them.” She continued to persevere, despite growing up with an undiagnosed learning disability and becoming a new mother while still in college. None of this stopped her, as she took on a fifth year of college and kept attending school until she had earned her PhD in Sports Psychology at Springfield College. While enrolled, she was the only woman in the country coaching college baseball.

“I promise you that men will listen to women on a baseball field, or anywhere, when she knows what she’s doing,” Siegal said. “She can make them a better player and help the team win.”

Siegal had been dreaming about her next goal of throwing batting practice to a major league team. Eventually, she met Oakland Athletics executive Billy Beane in a hotel lobby at the MLB Winter Meetings. Batting practice had never been thrown by a woman at the major league level, but this did not deter Siegal. When Beane finally agreed to let her throw batting practice to the A’s, she first returned to her hometown Cleveland team to toss to them. She later went on to throw to the Tampa Bay Rays, New York Mets, Houston Astros, and St. Louis Cardinals. In Houston, she “even had to sign a waiver that said [she] might die.”

From there, Siegal enrolled in scout school and began to pursue a career in coaching. After four years of asking Beane, getting her PhD, becoming an associate scout, and working constantly to improve herself every year; she was finally brought in as an instructional coach during Instructional League. This was a landmark achievement, as Siegal became MLB’s first female coach. This was not an easy journey by any means; in Siegal’s words, “the road was filled with a lot of ramen noodles. Because I gave up so much for this one pursuit of being a professional coach. I didn’t go to the corporate world. I just wanted to be a professional coach.”

For the future of women and girls playing baseball and softball, Siegal envisions a world in which they have a choice to play whichever diamond sport they choose, not being forced into one or the other. At age 23, Siegal founded “Baseball For All,” an organization that helps communities form girls' teams and supports events that get girls together. In her experience playing baseball, Siegal often felt isolated, “so [she] decided to build a community for other girls who love baseball too.” She firmly believes that once we fully address the issue of girls being told they can’t play baseball, then “we’re going to get to see what’s really possible.” There is a great deal of excitement right now for the future of women’s baseball, and “there is no limit as to how we can support girls in this great game.”

Blair, Selig-Prieb, and Siegal have paved the way for so many others who are either dreaming of a career in baseball or who are currently working in sports. Siegal is proud to say that there are over a dozen women following in her footsteps and coaching professionally now. She eloquently described her motivating philosophy: “The path is never fully about oneself. It’s about ‘how do we build for those behind us?’ And it’s so beautiful to see where we’re going.”

Though the panelists come from a wide geographic range that extends from coast to coast, the conversation always returned to our home: Worcester, Massachusetts. Panelists Stephanie Ramey and Annie Lahey expressed their fondness for the city they have called home for their entire lives. Steinberg also recognized the deep love and respect the city of Worcester has for the Worcester Railers Hockey Club, currently fronted by Ramey as president. Ramey didn’t grow up playing or even watching hockey, but as a result, she brings a different perspective to the organization, one that focuses more on marketing, the community, and the Railers’ relationship with the local economy.

“I grew up in a household where we really didn't have the access to sports,” Ramey said. She described how her familial structure and household economic situation prevented her from exploring sports at a young age, but being a fourth-generation Worcester native led to her “deep-rooted desire to see the city succeed.” This passion, combined with her knowledge of marketing and economic development, made her the perfect fit for the role.

The Railers already had a few community engagement projects in place before taking on Ramey to enhance the front office and the organization’s involvement with the community. She cited the “Skate to Success” program as an effective means of engaging with every 4th grade student in the area, allowing them to get out on the ice. In learning how to skate, these Worcester Public School students are assisted by Railers coaches, players, and staff, and return to school with an autographed folder and a voucher to come back and skate free of charge.

The Railers also host a handful of “School Day” games throughout the season, where the puck drops around 10 a.m. and allows class field trips to fill the stands of the DCU Center. An exciting field trip opportunity, Ramey describes “School Day” games as an “open invitation for every elementary school – grades 1 through 6 – in the city of Worcester to hop on a bus, to come out to the game, and to really experience not just a hockey game, but also exposure to the actual facility.”

Speaking about the DCU Center’s accessibility to the public, Ramey recognizes that not every kid gets the opportunity to walk through its doors. For this reason, the Railers HC Foundation, alongside their generous corporate partners, works to offset the cost of transportation to the venue, which the organization has been told is the greatest barrier to having kids come to games. After all, Ramey is correct in saying, “There’s just something beautiful and uplifting about having four plus thousand kids in a space cheering and excited and amplified.”

Ramey is also correct in saying that the DCU Center is part of the backbone of the downtown Worcester economy. She discussed the collective role that entertainment businesses, such as the Railers HC and WooSox, play in the local economy.

“We’re drawing tourism, we’re having people invest not only in the actual facilities, but they’re frequenting the restaurants,” Ramey said. “They’re supporting all the entrepreneurs in our community that really make this a great place.”

And it is exactly that special community that lies at the forefront of the club’s values. Upon joining the front office, Ramey recalls being amazed by the power of sports and the opportunity for the Worcester Railers HC to give back to the community. She also declares the club a “community first organization.” The claim is evidenced by their recognition of “Community Service Team of the Year” by the East Coast Hockey League for four consecutive seasons. Ramey closed by saying, “It’s been really refreshing to bring that marketing perspective in and to help enhance that experience and be part of an incredible organization.”

Speaking of incredible organizations, the Assumption University field hockey team has established itself as a dominant force within the Northeast-10 conference and beyond. This honor comes with many thanks to head coach Annie Lahey, who last year became the winningest field hockey coach in Assumption history, a feat that earned her a third Northeast-10 Coach of the Year Award.

Unlike Ramey, Lahey grew up surrounded by sports. She shared how she “played field hockey all throughout high school, but … played softball, primarily.” This statement was accompanied by a witty apology to Selig-Prieb, Blair, and Siegal, as it supports the norm of women automatically playing softball (instead of baseball), a notion that those women work to challenge.

A three-season athlete at Notre Dame Academy in varsity field hockey, basketball, and softball all four years, Lahey went on to play for the College of the Holy Cross softball team. Upon graduating from Holy Cross and receiving an M.T.S. from Vanderbilt University Divinity School, she worked as an English teacher and coached the varsity softball and club field hockey teams at Wachusett Regional High School. After a fulfilling six years at the high school, the Assumption University Head Field Hockey Coach position became available. Lahey recalls applying for what would become her dream job at such a young age; “I said ‘I gotta go for it,’ and I did, and I never looked back.”

With her teaching and coaching background, Lahey was able to confidently say that “every coach is definitely a teacher for sure.” She highlighted the impact a coach can have on young lives and cited positive reinforcement as an effective way to build confidence, something she considers incredibly important in the realm of women’s sports. She also shared some lessons that she instills in her players, advice that is often applicable to other sports and even real-world scenarios. For example, Lahey teaches them to “have a memory like a goldfish” and to stay involved in the play regardless of any mistakes they might make.

Lahey also suggests that there may not be a magic key to unlocking a person’s full confidence, especially when it comes to young women.

“I don’t know if there’s a special sauce to make people confident, and sometimes, I reach a point with players where you have to tell them ‘you’ve gotta find it within, you have to find that in your heart,’” she said.

The final ingredient for this “special sauce” is one that Worcester tends to excel at: showing up. There is no doubt that the energy and liveliness a crowd brings to a sporting event changes the game. Lahey acknowledges “the light in the eyes of [her] players when they go out and they’re playing in front of a crowd.” Though the city’s professional sports teams garner much attention and excel in attendance, there is a lack of recognition that what these college athletes are doing is special. It is extra special that both Lahey and Ramey get to lead such successful programs and organizations in their beloved home city.

At the end of the panel session, Ramey characterized Worcester as a year-round sports destination, at both the professional and collegiate levels, and “we should be incredibly proud of that.”

In his closing remarks, Steinberg acknowledged that these women were, to borrow Selig-Prieb’s word, “grinders.” These women saw their dreams, and never let anyone tell them no. Siegal concluded with her best advice: “to be kind, to live your life, to help others, and don’t let anyone ever tell you you can’t. And then just go, go, go.”

“That all of you here are writing the next chapter in history, it’s for the 8-year-old, and the 7-year-old, for the 10-year-old, this is for you,” Steinberg said. “We want your world to be one in which you can look back and say ‘yea, I was talking to Maybelle Blair about this, and she told me it was going to be like this.’”

A 10-year-old panel attendee perfectly summed up the event when she remarked, “Thank you for inspiring girls like me.”