Normal Coach Is Changing The Face Of Professional Baseball
Justine Siegal's career has taken her from her roots in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, to places like Brockton, Masscusetts - and now, Normal, Illinois. And most all jobs have been on the baseball (not softball) diamond. The newest coach on the staff of the minor league Normal Cornbelters, she’s also the first female coach in Frontier League history.
But this job is just her latest in a list of accomplishments.
Siegal played high school and college baseball, coached minor league players in Massachusetts, scouted big leaguers, and pitched batting practice to major leaguers. She also has a Ph.D. in sports psychology from Springfield College in Massacusetts.
Siegal's love for the game starting with playing tee ball, just as many kids do. But at age 13, when Siegal was told by a her baseball coach to play softball instead, she refused to quit.
"So I decided then I'd play forever," she said. "At 16, I finally realized I wasn't going to be a Cleveland Indian. So I needed Plan B. And that was, I wanted to be a coach."
Siegal, who's a pitcher, says she likes helping other ballplayers improve, but that wasn't always the goal. An injury cut short her time with the Colorado Silver Bullets, a pro-women's team that played in the 1990's, managed by former major league pitcher Joe Niekro.
Siegal says in order to pitch batting practice to major league teams - all she had to do was ask. Those teams include the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland A's, Houston Astros, and New York Mets.
"My goal was to throw a four-seam straight fastball at about 70 miles an hour," she said. "I tried not to think about who I was throwing to. It was pretty funny with Coco Crisp (A's outfielder) when he whiffed one, and then he hit one out. And so he Tweeted about that, just cause it was sort of fun."
Siegal's conversations with major league players and managers include former Rays and current Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon, A's general manager Billy Beane, outfielder Manny Ramirez, and longtime player and coach Don Zimmer, who coached with Rays late in his career.
She's also the founder of nonprofit group Baseball For All, for women who hope to play the game. The organization just held its second national baseball tournament.
"There are still girls who are being told they should not play this great game," she said. "And so we them they can."
In 2009, she was named as an assistant coach for the Brockton (MA) Rox, making her the first female on-field coach in men's professional baseball.
With the Cornbelters (whose regular season ends Sunday), she's throwing some batting practice, coaching first base, and using her sports psychology degree to help out players.
Siegal hopes to help the team make a last-minute push for a playoff berth. As of Monday, they're 4 1/2 games behind the wild card-leading River City Rascals with just six games remaining in the Frontier League season.