Baseball trailblazer Beth Greenwood continues to blaze a trail behind the plate
Coaches have been unsuccessfully pushing Greenwood into softball for years. But baseball is his life. Everything else is a sneaky attempt to sabotage his pursuit of happiness. Softball, she says, is a different game.
Joe Reina, his future baseball coach at the University of Rochester, tried to mention it in a meeting before his freshman year of college. He couldn’t even get the ‘soft’ out of his mouth before she stopped him faster than a laser beam at second base.
“She had her mind made up and knew what she wanted,” Reina says.
His baseball journey is a profile of perseverance.
Although she was cut during her freshman year at Rochester, the mechanical engineering major came back and was part of the practice squad and then the varsity. She flew to center field at her only college batting, against Clarkson on April 17, 2021.
“I just didn’t want to pull out,” she says. “I wanted to hit the ball hard.
There have now been three catchers in NCAA history. Canadian born Marika Lyszczyk was first in 2020 when she played for Rivier University in Nashua, NH Alexia Jorge played last spring for St. Elizabeth University in Morristown, NJ
This summer is exciting for Greenwood, who just graduated with honors. The ponytailed receiver is still eligible for the college summer league and then hopes to play for the United States Women’s National Team, which plays in a friendly series against Canada in Thunder Bay starting July 28.
In August, she will report to the Philadelphia Phillies on an MLB Diversity Research Fellowship, working with their research and development team on biomechanical technology. Last summer at All Star Sporting Goods in Shirley, Mass., she tested backswings on catcher’s masks and helmets to prevent concussions.
“She’s the complete package,” Justine Siegal, founder of Baseball for All and the first woman to coach for a major league organization (Oakland, 2015), said in an email. “Works incredibly hard, knows the game, can play under pressure and is just a nice person.”
Greenwood joined Baseball for All, a support program that gives girls the opportunity to play and coach the game, when she was 11 years old. She still mentors girls for leadership roles in East Coast baseball.
When Greenwood was 13, she was chosen by Siegal to catch a first pitch from Maybelle Blair, an inspiration for the movie “A League of Their Own” for a segment on “The Queen Latifah Show.”
“I remember Justine: ‘You won’t let that bullet pass. You’ll catch it,’ said Greenwood.
Last year, she was a paid consultant teaching baseball to the cast of the upcoming Amazon Prime TV series “A League of Their Own.” She also makes an appearance on the pitch. Recently, she attended the series premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in New York. The series begins airing on August 12.
Greenwood, who knows there’s no crying in baseball, became emotional when Blair announced at 95 that she was a lesbian.
“I was crying a little bit,” she said, “because I’m gay, and the feeling that someone you’ve looked up to all your life can finally really be themselves, I was like, wow, that was such a great time.”
Obstacles at every step
Greenwood grew up in Amherst, NH, and was sandwiched between two brothers. She fell in love with baseball at age 5 and never played an inning of softball. But she was constantly pushed in that direction, like thousands of other girls who were told that baseball is for boys and softball is for girls, period.
She’s just 5-foot-5 and 140 pounds “on a good, wet day.” Not exactly your typical receiver profile.
Her battle with the baseball police started when she was 8 years old and her coach didn’t want the girls to play baseball. There were only two girls in the league.
Greenwood recalls a New Hampshire boy who was throwing hard and no one wanted to catch “so I volunteered to catch because I just wanted to play,” she said. “And from then on, catching was always my thing.”
When she became the first girl to make the Amherst Middle School baseball team on her second try, the pressure to switch to softball intensified. The boys were getting bigger and stronger and he was told he couldn’t compete.
“So I had a chip on my shoulder,” she said. “Kind of like, ‘Watch me do it.’ “
She was called up to the Souhegan High School baseball team in 2016 and was on the state championship team.
In 2017, she participated in a summer tournament in Danville, Virginia, in a team made up of Australian boys and girls. At the time of the match, they said the players were not going to be allowed to play. The boys wanted to leave but the coach wouldn’t let them. Famous referee/musician Perry Barber (who once opened for Bruce Springsteen) told them to take a hike and stormed off the field.
“They said it was, like, insurance issues with the pitch and a bunch of other bullshit,” Greenwood explains. “It was heartbreaking.”
She says she never had problems with her teammates – although some were distant – but she heard a lot of silly talk while playing high school ball in New Hampshire.
“I’m a catcher, so I’m close to the shelter,” she said. “I can hear what you say and speak [expletive] on. Like, ‘She must be dating all the guys on the team, or doing this and doing that. And that’s why she has playing time here. ”
She also understands why Little League World Series hero Mo’ne Davis switched to softball.
“I just wish she had gone on with more baseball exposure,” Greenwood said. “But I completely understand. Sometimes you’re so fed up that you’ll just pursue the other opportunities that have more money or whatever.
Hard work, no glamor
Before an early summer college game with his new team, the Storm, Greenwood opens up about his difficult journey.
“It’s frustrating and it sucks and you feel so alone,” she said. “I think that was the hardest part. And that’s why things like Baseball For All were huge and changed my life because I met other girls. Nobody else in the world understands what we have to go through.
She stops to let her words sink in.
“But when you’re actually playing the game and actually taking the BS away, that’s why I do it,” she says. “I love playing the game. I love the game itself.”
That night, she went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and one hit per pitch. But her team wins and she is satisfied.
“I can hit,” she says, although she’s been hitless in her first three games.
The next morning, she’s at the gym pumping up 115-pound weights.
Jason Sosa, 20, a Dominican College first baseman, initially thought it would be awkward to have a female teammate, but says he was wrong.
“Honestly, she’s been amazing for the team,” Sosa said. “For me, personally, I love playing with her. She brings a competitive fire with her.
Ed DuPont, president of the Hudson River Collegiate Baseball League and coach of Storm, says having Greenwood on the team isn’t a problem.
“As far as I’m concerned, she’s just another player on the team,” DuPont said. “If things aren’t going well, she goes out, and if things are going well, she stays.”
A little girl named Elizabeth comes to every game and has even received an autographed baseball from Greenwood. DuPont likes the way Elizabeth looks at Greenwood.
“It’s very cool that now Elizabeth can also have the same dream,” he says.
Greenwood hopes to help develop a women’s professional baseball league. But for now, her biggest challenge is not presenting her story as a fairy tale.
Her locker room is often a funky bathroom stall or the locker room of the women’s lacrosse team. Sometimes there’s even a quick wardrobe change on a metal bench.
She knows she won’t be the first woman to play in the majors. But she wants to help that person get there.
She says the media fails to portray how difficult it is for women to play baseball at a high level.
Recently, Kelsie Whitmore became the first woman to pitch in the Independent Atlantic League, for the Staten Island FerryHawks. In just 5⅓ innings, she allowed 14 runs.
“There are so few women who get to that level that we try to glorify their path to get there and tell those kids it’s going to be easy,” Greenwood says. “There’s nothing glamorous about it. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. I’d do everything I’ve done again in a heartbeat.
Stan Grossfeld can be contacted at [email protected]