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Mother's Day The Baseball Way

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Reflecting on the Mother's Day holiday and how it is intertwined with baseball in a variety of ways.Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

By Stephanie Springer

One of the great joys of parenthood is introducing your child to new experiences, and sharing the things that you love with them - like baseball. You hope that even if they don’t love baseball, they will at least tolerate it and sit through a few innings, just long enough for you to savor a beer while they are placated by cotton candy and Cracker Jack.

To that end, I started my son’s indoctrination into baseball before he was even born. I am sure that even in utero he could hear the standing ovation for Albert Pujols’ 500th career home run at Nationals Park. At eight weeks old, he slept through David Ortiz’s 400th home run with the Red Sox at Fenway Park. As a toddler watching television, upon seeing Aaron Judge hit a home run, he knew that excitedly jumping up and down and shouting “BASEBALL!” was the appropriate response. Even my mother - who once asked “Are the Yankees a baseball team?” after reading a story about Chien-Ming Wang - feeds my son’s enthusiasm for baseball by showering him with CPBL merchandise from her trips to Taiwan.

As he grows, my son’s relationship with baseball has changed. In preschool, he enthusiastically embraced Joey Votto as his favorite player - but now Joey has been relegated to second place to make room for Shohei Ohtani. When he watches baseball, he’s very likely to follow Gameday on the MLB app, and we point out plays that he can use as lessons for his own baseball games.

My family’s relationship with baseball has changed over the years as well, and like any relationship, it has not always been easy. Although baseball was a constant presence in my life from the moment I started dating the man who would become my husband, this took on a new dimension when baseball became my husband’s career. My son won’t remember the years when my husband worked in player development and was often traveling for most of the summer. We planned vacations around grueling Spring Training schedules, SABR Analytics, minor league baseball schedules, and Saberseminar.

My network during those years consisted primarily of my husband’s coworkers’ wives. So much of my experiences of early motherhood was shaped by these women. They had an understanding of the ebbs and flows of the season in a way that many baseball staff did not have themselves. They were consummate travel planners and could recommend children’s activities and restaurants near ballparks and hotels. The mothers exchanged contact information for child care providers and babysitters. We kept each other company when our husbands were on the road, and our children would play together during baseball games. We talked about our jobs, the jobs we had before baseball or before kids, and the jobs we wanted in the future.

I distinctly remember my husband’s colleague telling me that if our son liked baseball, it would make his life easier because of the demands of baseball life. Our son would understand why his dad was away so much.

No one ever said anything about whether or not the mothers liked baseball. But I’m not sure it would make the mothers’ lives easier.

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It is impossible to disentangle the role of mothers in baseball from the discussion of women in baseball more generally. When we talk about women in baseball, we talk about the women working in the front office, the women who are coaching, and the women who are playing professional baseball. The show Pitch gave us a view into the life of another woman in baseball - the wife of a professional baseball player. In the last episode of the series, outfielder Blip Sanders’ wife Evelyn pushes back when Blip suggests that they have another child. Instead, Evelyn points out that she put her own career ambitions on hold to support his career.

For Mother’s Day in 2021, MLB.com published a story on Amber Sabathia’s new career as an agent. It’s a fantastic story of a woman who spread her wings and found a new career once her children were more independent. But there are so many more stories like Amber Sabathia’s - women who put their own dreams on hold or precariously balance family and career while supporting their spouses and children in their own baseball careers. It just so happens that because Sabathia’s new career is in baseball, baseball media has focused on the Sabathia family’s story. 

Amber Sabathia’s story and Mother’s Day as a whole should also be an opportunity for baseball to reflect upon how it discusses mothers and women. In the story about Sabathia’s role with CAA, there is discussion of Sabathia’s “motherly approach to the job,” and Sabathia herself describes “motherly components” - which encompass care, nutrition, and overall well being of a player. Shouldn’t a player’s well-being - physical and mental - be at the forefront of everyone’s minds, regardless of whether or not they are a mother?

The role of mothers in baseball is a labor issue as well. So many people who work in professional baseball are away from their families for the majority of the year. It is often the mothers who are planning travel around school schedules, facilitating homeschooling, and making childcare arrangements. This is in addition to the role many partners play in looking for housing for spring training and the regular season - sometimes on very short notice. Like much care work, this is unpaid and underappreciated labor.

The Mother’s Day stories on MLB.com are full of heartwarming celebrations of mothers of players, and the mothers of players’ children. But there are so many stories at the intersection of motherhood and professional baseball, and these stories shouldn’t be limited to a single day. Instead, they should serve as a touchstone for further thought and examination of the role of women in baseball.

Stephanie Springer is a scientist and a baseball fan - and a mom - who writes about the intersection of science and baseball. She can be reached on Twitter at @stephaniekays.

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