'Beyond my wildest dreams': Women Official Scorers break another barrier

2 years ago

There was history made at Chase Field on Opening Day this season — but it wasn’t necessarily Yu Darvish’s six innings of no-hit ball or Seth Beer’s walk-off homer on National Beer Day

Instead, it was made by the person responsible for chronicling those events. 

Kara Blackstone served as the Official Scorer in the D-backs’ win over the Padres, making her part of a group of women this year who became the first female Official Scorers to work an Opening Day game. Jillian Geib (Dodgers-Rockies), Sarah Johnson (Mariners-Twins) and Alexandra Irving (Marlins-Giants) also worked season openers. Brittany Womack (San Diego) and Melissa Booker (Cincinnati) will also serve as Official Scorers this season, though their respective clubs began the season on the road. 

“I was on an emotional rollercoaster all day,” Blackstone said. “I was so excited and so pumped, then started talking to family a little bit more and it started to set in like, ‘Wow, this is actually happening.’ So, then the nerves kicked in.”

And that was before Darvish tossed six no-hit innings before handing over the bid for history to the San Diego bullpen.

“It was very rattling,” Blackstone said with a laugh. “Every time the ball hit the bat, my heart sank a little bit.”

But make no mistake, Blackstone was ready for any situation that may have come her way. In fact, she and the other four women hired to be Official Scorers this offseason — Irving, Johnson, Womack and Booker — are just as qualified as any new hires in the history of the game. That’s because they went through an intense training program as part of a new initiative called Official Scorers University, which launched last summer.

The program was an MLB initiative aimed at improving diversity within a role that had featured only four women previously. Prior to the five hired this offseason, the only other female Official Scorers in MLB history were Geib (hired last year), Marie-Claude Pelland (2015-2017 in Toronto), Susan Fornoff (1990-1993 in San Francisco/Oakland) and Elias Green (1800s in Chicago).

“To have that few women in any role in 2022 was obviously something that we wanted to take a close look at,” said Tyler Barton, the senior manager of data operations for MLB who oversaw the program. “I never could have imagined the quality of candidates we were going to get out of it.”

Barton made it very clear from the start of the program — which also produced three male hires in Frank Johnson (Houston), John Jackson (Chicago) and Chris Ruiz (Texas) — that it was going to be a significant commitment. It started with some basic online training over Zoom, then progressed to scoring Arizona Fall League games and even included watching Stew Thornley — an Official Scorer for the Twins — via Zoom as he scored a game last summer from the Target Field press box.

“Leading up to the first game [on Opening Day], it was — actually, I can’t even tell you how it was, because it all just happened so fast,” Irving said. “It was absolutely unreal, to be honest. It was beyond my wildest dreams.”

Of course, every candidate came into the training program with some form of previous qualifications. For instance, Blackstone, Johnson and Irving had all worked for MLB Data Operations for more than a decade, whether as Stats Stringers or BOSS Operators in their local big league ballparks.

“I loved it so much and just kept doing it,” said Irving, who’s been scoring games since she was a kid. “And here I am now. I think it’s just wonderful [girls] can look up into the press box and see someone who kind of resembles them a little more and give them the hope that if it’s something they’re passionate about, they can do it, too.”

Meanwhile, Womack said she has played the sport “all my life,” including softball at San Diego State University and baseball for the USA Baseball Women’s National Team that won Gold at the 2019 COPABE Pan-American Championships. Barton called her a natural, saying she picked it up “immediately” once she decided it was something she wanted to pursue.

Others came in with some Official Scorer experience already under their belt, whether it be for Minor League or collegiate teams.

“If it’s something that you’re interested in, just do it,” said Johnson, who has served as an Official Scorer for the Triple-A St. Paul Saints and the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. “Anything you do, you’ll find people who are negative, but you’ll also find people who think it’s really cool. And I’ve found that to be true.”

The Official Scorer’s chair is just the latest place to see increased representation in recent years. Kim Ng was hired as the first female GM by the Marlins in 2020. Rachel Balkovec just made her managerial debut for the Single-A Tampa Tarpons. Alyssa Nakken is a big league assistant coach for the Giants who recently became the first female on-field coach in MLB history.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, set big goals and work hard,” Womack said. “You never know what you can achieve and where life will take you. I am so grateful for this opportunity and I hope it does inspire more people to chase their dreams no matter how big they are.”

That said, it’s not necessarily all fun and games, especially when you’re the one responsible for documenting every single thing that happens on the field.

“It gets stressful. I always laugh when people say, ‘Oh, baseball is kind of a slower game,'” Johnson said. “And I’m like, ‘Not when you’re trying to figure stuff out!’ We always joke, you can’t really call down and say, ‘Hey, can you just pause for a second, we’ve got to figure this out up here.'”

Blackstone may have loved to have that option in her frenzied Opening Day debut. From Darvish’s no-hit bid to Beer’s come-from-behind walk-off shot, it made for an unforgettable, albeit hectic, debut — all with her parents in attendance to share in the moment.

Blackstone plans to commemorate it all with a photo collage that will hang in her office. She hopes other young girls with dreams of working in Major League Baseball will get to enjoy a similar experience in the coming years.

“Anything is possible,” Blackstone said. “If you have the dream, make it happen. Don’t quit. And lean on people who believe in you.”

As far as Barton is concerned, this is just the beginning of a new Official Scorers pipeline. Though it’s a role that typically features very little turnover from year to year, with many Official Scorers around the league remaining in the spot for decades, Barton is dedicated to continuing to create new opportunities for qualified individuals.

“This isn’t something where we just want to sit back now,” Barton said. “The focus is to keep going. Keep building and keep training and keep opening doors. But this program only works because of the Official Scorers, and their hard work and dedication.”