A graduate of the Towamensing Township Babe Ruth League located in Carbon County, Pennsylvania, Gabrielle Augustine, has been a baseball player for most of her life. In addition, her younger sister Stephanie followed in her footsteps.
Gabrielle and Stephanie became accustomed to being the only girls on their respective youth baseball teams. Both girls were home-schooled and Gabrielle graduated at the age of 16. She went on to graduate from Cedar Crest College in May 2012 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in anthropology and a minor in writing, at the age of 20. That fall she began her Master’s degree at Mercyhurst University in anthropology with a focus in archaeological textiles. All of her coursework is complete – she just needs to finish writing her thesis.
In 2014, Gabrielle Augustine became the first woman to play in Pennsylvania’s 94-year-old Glenwood League (an adult baseball league). (She last played baseball in Allentown’s Tri-County League, which is similar to the Glenwood League, in the summers of 2012 and 2013. She was the first female player to play in that league, which reportedly began six decades ago. Her sister Stephanie now plays for Tri-County).
Gabrielle joined the Hunter’s Inn team (Glenwood League) in the middle of the season, and the first time she met the team, they had her pitch the last two innings of the game as essentially a tryout. The other team did not score against her. “She went out there and pitched as well as some guys that I’ve seen pitch over the years,” said Peter Freed, Glenwood League organizer.
“It’s really awesome. I don’t mind breaking gender barriers, I guess you call it,” Gabrielle said. She said her new teammates weren’t surprised when she joined them for the first time before the game. Opposing players seemed shocked. She is used to opening eyes when people first see her pony tail sticking out of a cap. She is also used to unnerving male players because, she said, “they never want to be the guy that gets struck out by the girl.”
Gabrielle Augustine had an eventful summer in 2014 by starting three games for Hunter’s Inn and making several relief appearances. Her milestone came on July 3, with her family in attendance. Augustine struck out two batters while holding the opposition to two hits.
News of this milestone caught the attention of Justine Siegal, the founder of Baseball for All. Siegal contacted Gabrielle and invited her and her sister to compete in an all-women’s baseball tournament in Cooperstown, New York in late July 2014. Teams were comprised of female ballplayers from all over the country. The sisters’ team went undefeated and won the tournament.
Gabrielle Augustine believed her archaeology degree would lead her to her first international trip. She never thought her baseball career would take her halfway around the globe. After the tournament in Cooperstown, Siegal issued Gabrielle another invitation, but this time it was to represent the U.S. in an international all-women’s baseball tournament – the South Korea LG Cup.
Gabrielle and her 17-year-old teammate, Maddie Ashton, who she was also chaperoning, played four games in three days and placed seventh in the tournament.
Recently, Augustine was named “March Player of the Month” by the Minnesota Girls Baseball Association. The Minnesota Girls Baseball Association, founded in August 2014, is a nonprofit organization that strives to provide girls with greater opportunities and resources to play baseball.
In finding out about Gabrielle Augustine’s involvement and accomplishments in the game of baseball, Babe Ruth Headquarters asked her a few questions about her love of the game and her experience over the years.
When did you first start playing baseball?
Gabrielle: Oh good heavens…I think I’ve holding baseballs and have been around baseball ever since I was a baby. I have very distinct memories of throwing a baseball lefty (I’m right-handed) because I broke my right arm when I was three. Ironically, I broke my arm jumping off the backstop of a baseball field. However, I think I first played t-ball when I was 4 or 5.
What positions did you play?
Gabrielle: Through the years I have played (and can still play) every position except catcher. However, I am mostly a pitcher and middle infielder.
Did you play any other sports?
Gabrielle: No. Unless you count backyard football with the family.
When did you notice the attention of a girl playing baseball as an oddity?
Gabrielle: Throughout Little League there were never many girls playing baseball in my area. In fact, the local paper did a story on me when I was the only girl on my all-star team and there were two other girls on another all-star team from a different town. But I really didn’t notice it as an oddity until I moved up my Junior Babe Ruth Baseball team when we played in a wider geographical region and I was the only girl playing baseball. Even the two girls who had been on their all-star team went to softball. There were several parents who thought I would be great at softball, but it held no interest for me. I learned from my friends that the softball league in the area wasn’t that competitive and I preferred the competitiveness of baseball.
Why baseball over softball?
Gabrielle: Again, the softball leagues in the area weren’t competitive. I even played softball and baseball in the same season just to see what it was like (mostly because all of my girlfriends were playing it). That was a crazy spring/summer for my parents – between my baseball and softball schedules and my sister’s baseball schedules, we were constantly going to someone’s games. But really, aside from the competitiveness factor, baseball won because I prefer the techniques of it better, especially the pitching motion. Baseball has always challenged me to keep getting better.
You weren’t allowed to play high school baseball because “softball was the female equivalent to baseball” according to the PIAA. What are your thoughts about this ruling?
Gabrielle: Bottom line is they are two completely different sports. The physical aspects of softball – the ball size, bat types, and size of the field lead to different strategic approaches.
Who was the most influential figure in your youth baseball career?
Gabrielle: My dad has definitely been my role model for my entire baseball career. Even though most leagues that I play in have a season from May-July, I practice with my dad and sister as early as March through early November (weather permitting). And if he wasn’t coaching or assistant coaching my teams, he would be at every game, as would the rest of my family.
Who was your favorite athlete as a kid and why?
Gabrielle: Before he retired, Cal Ripken. Ever since, I’ve definitely looked up to Derek Jeter. He’s just a great role model for how a baseball player should act on and off the field. He also was my inspiration to learn how to play shortstop and why I always wear the number 2. It was a great coincidence my Senior Babe Ruth team was the Yankees.
Do you have a career goal in baseball?
Gabrielle: I’ve never really considered myself as having an actual career in baseball because it has always been more like full-time sport. However, I am always available to sign a contract with MLB.
Do you feel that over time there will be more gender balance in baseball?
Gabrielle: I don't think balance is the correct term to use here. Girls have to want to play baseball - if they want to play softball, that's completely fine. But for the girls that want to play baseball, there shouldn't be so many roadblocks. It shouldn't take a lawsuit for a girl to be able to play high school ball. Coaches shouldn't be against the idea of a girl playing on a boy's team - if a girl can play, then let her play. That's where some of the changes need to begin. Unfortunately, there will always be parents who think that a girl on a baseball team is just taking their son's spot on the field. But if there are coaches, like mine through the years, who recognize that a girl can play, then that will hopefully keep the parents quiet. If anything, having a girl on a team should be more motivation for boys to try harder so that the girl isn't better than they are.
What advice would you give to girls who want to play baseball?
Gabrielle: To all of the girls that want to play baseball with the guys: it’s not always going to be easy. You're going to be the one on the field with the ponytail and that's the first thing people will see. They will likely make assumptions based upon that observation. But don't let that stop you because if you're doing something that you love then it doesn't matter what anyone else says. Always practice hard and don't worry about making mistakes - everyone makes them. One of the greatest things about baseball is that if you have a bad game one day, you can always come back the next day and do better.
Tell us about your trip to South Korea for the International Women’s Baseball Tournament
Gabrielle: Oddly enough, it wasn't until summer 2014 that I heard about women's baseball. After playing in Babe Ruth, I continued to play in men's baseball leagues and have become quite accustomed to being the only girl on my team (except for my younger sister, Stephanie Augustine - but we've rarely played on the same team because of our age difference). After becoming too old for Babe Ruth, I found a men's wooden bat league in the Allentown, PA area called the Tri-County League.
I played there for two years but couldn't this past summer because I was living and working in Erie, Pennsylvania. But I did find a men's baseball league there called the Glenwood League. I found them while they were in the middle of their season, so my first game, where I was originally supposed to throw on the side so they could see how I pitched, they actually put me in for the last two innings. That made the Erie newspaper where I was identified to be the first female baseball player for the league during their 90+ year existence. And then, that led to an interview with the newspaper, which is how Justine Siegal, the founder of Baseball for All, found me and invited me to play in her all-girl's baseball tournament in Cooperstown at Double Day Field in early August (which was really exciting). There, during the tournament, Justine asked me to be a player/coach for her USA 22 and under girl's team that she was taking to South Korea later that month. (I did both my master's and undergraduate in anthropology with the idea that it would bring me opportunities to travel - who knew that baseball would lead me to my first international trip!)
The trip to South Korea was so exciting and a dream come true for the anthropologist in me - it was a chance to observe a completely different culture. The LG Cup International Women's Baseball tournament in Seoul hosted a total of eight women's teams: two from Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, India, Taiwan, and USA. We played in a brand-new complex built by LG and stayed in the Konjiam Ski Resort. We played four games in three days and placed 7th in the tournament. We didn't do as well as we had hoped, but I chalked it up to the fact that this was the first time we had played together as a team while some of the other teams had been playing together for years. On our last day, we were able to tour Seoul and visit a Korean market, which was a thrilling experience.
You are one of thirty-six players invited to the 2015 USA Baseball Women’s National Team Trials. Tell us about your experience leading up to this point
Gabrielle: The whole opportunity of being invited to the 2015 USA Baseball Women's National Team Trials came about because I try to play as much baseball as possible. It could be said that I live, breathe, and yes, sometimes eat baseball. I was able to attend the USA Baseball Women's National Open in January because I had just finished up my contract position at the Erie County Historical Society. I had no idea what to expect when I went to the Open in Houston, Texas except to hope for some warmer weather than what we were getting in Pennsylvania. It was a really awesome and interesting experience to get to play with such a large group of girls - many of whom have played baseball. As I said before, I grew up used to being the only girl on the team, so to see a baseball field full of ponytails, as it were, was really different. Personally, I don't think I did as well as I could have at the Open, but I look at it that it from the perspective that it was the middle of January and I only had just started throwing for the season, barely two weeks before. I think my favorite part was working with the pitching coaches who have coached college teams and getting their feedback. I'm not sure yet where the National Team Trials will be held, but I'm looking forward to it and having more opportunities to play baseball.
Other Fun Facts
Gabrielle: I am a lifetime member and leader of Girl Scouts (I completed their highest award, the Gold Award, in 2008) and am an active volunteer at the Palmerton Area Historical Society. In the complete opposite spectrum from playing baseball, I am an annual participant in the Make It With Wool Contest, a competition where contestants must sew, knit, and/or crochet their own outfits out of wool and then model them. In 2008, I was the Junior Ambassador for the National competition (which is the highest honors of the division). I've represented Pennsylvania many times at Nationals, and this past January, I placed 5th in the Senior division and also received the Exemplary Construction Award. The guys on my baseball teams have always gotten a kick out of me sitting and knitting before a baseball game.
Girls and women have been involved in baseball since its establishment. Despite numerous barriers, females have always found a way to play. Today, there are over 100,000 girls playing youth baseball across the United States, along with thousands who play in high school. There is also a rich, often untold, history of women participating and excelling at all levels of America’s national pastime.
Gabrielle’s dream is to one day work at the Field Museum in Chicago or at one of the Smithsonians in D.C. “No matter where I end up with my career, I will definitely be looking up baseball leagues. And, of course, I will continue to be part of Baseball for All because I love seeing other girls play baseball,” said Augustine. She also said she would continue to play the game she loves in the Glenwood league next summer if her career allows her to stay in Erie. She said her Glenwood experience was solely about her love for the sport. “I wasn’t doing it to make history or any statements,” Augustine said. “It’s just about being able to play the game.