Stone to Mayeux to Nakken

The love of baseball spans generations and with that ethnicity, social status, and gender. Alyssa Nakken was added to the San Francisco Giants staff in January 2020 making her the first woman to be named as a full time coach for a Major League team. She further made history on July 20, 2020 when she replaced Antoan Richardson as the first base coach for the San Franciso Giants becoming the first woman to coach on the field of a Major League Baseball game. This is the most recent chapter for women in baseball as women have been playing baseball for years, but it feels like no one seemed to notice until Penny Marshall made, “A League of their Own” in 1992.

The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), which is featured in the film, existed from 1943-1954 and came into existence during World War II when men were being sent to war, and Major League team owners were looking to try and replace their lost income by keeping baseball fresh in the public’s eye.  The AAGPBL paved the way for women’s professional sports, but the Negro Leagues turned out to be much more progressive as the boys came back from the war. Two years prior to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, Toni Stone suited up for the San Francisco Sea Lions of the West Coast Negro Leagues, and in 1949 the New Orleans Creoles until before finally getting a break in 1953 to play second base for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro League, who interestingly enough featured a man by the name of Henry Aaron as their second baseman the year prior.

Twenty years after the AAGPBL, and Toni Stone played their last professional games, the Little League Federal Charter was amended in 1974 to finally allow girls to play Little League baseball. Many women have come through the Little League system, and while most seemed to be steered away into fastpitch softball there are a few who kept pushing forward such as Victoria Roche who in 1984 became the first girl to play in the Little League World Series (LLWS), Krissy Wendell who also played in the LLWS and went on to Captain the U.S. Women’s National Hockey team to Olympic Silver and Bronze Medals.

There of course have been other trailblazing women in baseball such as the Colorado Silver Bullets who played from 1994-1997 barnstorming against men’s amateur and semi-pro teams. The team was managed by baseball Hall of Famer Phil Niekro and included Julie Croteau who was the first women to play and coach at the collegiate level. Ila Borders would go on to become the first woman to pitch in a Men’s NCAA/NAIA game, as well as one of the first women to pitch in professional baseball after Mamie “Peanut” Johnson who also played in the Negro Leagues. Justine Siegal would get the honor of being the first woman to throw batting practice for a Major League team as she did for the 2009 Cleveland Indians, and in 2015 the Oakland Athletics hired her as a guest coach for two weeks during the Arizona Fall League. Justine’s accomplishments would not be the only major accomplishment for women in baseball in 2015.

Melissa Mayeux a 16 year old girl from Trappes, France burst onto International headlines by becoming the first women to earn a spot on Major League Baseball’s International Registry and becoming eligible for the Draft. Growing up playing baseball, Melissa first caught the attention of Major League baseball scouts while playing in a showcase tournament in Barcelona, Spain. “The first time I got noticed I was playing in Barcelona, and I got a base hit off a pitcher who was throwing 91…I hit the ball hard, but I was just being me. I wanted to be a smart player and try to hit in the hole all the time”, Melissa said. Ultimately the International Draft came and went, without Melissa being selected by any team. She continued to play baseball for the next two years and even spent time at International Baseball Camps organized by Major League Baseball for elite prospects abroad.  Looking back on the experience Melissa said of the attention that she got, “I was just playing with the guys. For me it was just like too many people talking about it when it really wasn’t a big deal”. Melissa is grateful for her experience, but she feels that women still have a long way to go in breaking into baseball and being accepted as equals, “I think (women have) come a long way but there is still a long way to go in baseball. I remember when I was in the academy no girls were allowed to play baseball at first but with the advancement that we have seen with American women, in France we now have a Woman’s Baseball National Team”. Melissa discovered how hard it was to break into baseball as she looked for scholarships in the United States, “I had always wanted to come to the United States when I was done with high school, and I was looking for a scholarship in JUCO (Junior College) Baseball and a lot schools told me that they couldn’t give me a scholarship because I was a girl. So my goal since I was young was to always come to the States and the only way I could do it was by getting interest through softball”, which is what brought Melissa to Miami-Dade College.

The transition to softball did not come easy for Melissa as she and her coaches worked for days on end teaching her how to properly throw and catch a softball, but she never gave up. After spending two season at Miami-Dade the time had come for Melissa to transfer, and although she was having a good season with the Sharks, and there were plenty of teams showing interest in her playing for them, she wasn’t happy with the offers that she was being given. Luckily she had an in with Louisanna-Lafayette, “We had an American coach for the international team one year and he was a good friend of the coach at Louisiana and he just showed him videos and that’s how I came here”. One of Melissa’s teammates on the Rajin’ Cajuns softball team was also no stranger to baseball. Sarah Hudek, daughter of former Major League pitcher John Hudek, has been a member of the United States Women’s National Baseball team and won Gold at the 2015 Pan American Games.

Melissa came out swinging in her 2020 debut with the Rajin Cajuns going 2-2 with 3 RBI including a homerun against Texas-San Antonio during a nationally televised game, she showed everyone that the hype around her was real. Unfortunately, the pandemic shut down the season, and like so many of us she is left in limbo, “Right now its hard because all the fields are closed, so my roommates with me at the house are trying to stay healthy and in shape but its really hard because we just don’t know, we’re waiting for something, anything”. Melissa lost more than her softball season as the worldwide pandemic forced the Tokyo Olympics to be postponed until 2021, and the qualifying European Championships which Melissa had intended to participate in were also cancelled.  

Melissa will be a senior next year and decisions will need to be made about her future, “I want to keep playing after college” Mayeux says, “but it all depends on the opportunities that I’ll be given. Its hard for several players here and its getting harder, the level of play is just much better than in Europe. You have to get better every day if you want to be on the field. I know if I don’t have any opportunities, I’ll go back to Europe and find an opportunity there, but I would really like to stay in the states because I would really like to make my life here”. The difficulties that all college students face have been compounded by Covid-19, but even more so for student-athletes like Melissa who are here on visas. Early in July the Trump Administration required that International students must take classes in person to stay in the country legally this fall despite the global pandemic, and schools opting to deliver their classes through online video services. This would cause an extraordinary hardship on Melissa, “Its stressful because we don’t know what’s going to happen. I have been here since before the virus started and I don’t understand why, it just doesn’t make sense to me. So basically when school was cancelled, I thought about going back home straight up, just to do something, but then the whole virus got crazy, and the school wanted me to sign some paperwork that said if I’m leaving, I’m willing to leave my scholarship, and I couldn’t do it”. Luckily for Melissa, and the thousands more like her, after this interview had been conducted the Trump Administration has walked back its controversial decision to force International students to take at least one face to face class to remain in the country.

Melissa’s story is just one woman’s experience with baseball, but day in and day out young women are fighting to show that they belong in baseball, the board rooms, and the front office. Women continue to make strides in baseball, yet when they suit up to play ball, the resistance faced by early pioneers like Toni Stone are still faced today 70 years later, and girls are told that they can’t or shouldn’t play baseball solely based on their gender. On the subject, Melissa shared part of a discussion she had with Sarah Hudek, “I asked her what she liked better (baseball or softball), and she said, softball because she wasn’t looked at like an object”. Society needs to change how girls are seen in the game of baseball especially as they continue to excel on the field. A new generation of women playing baseball has arrived, and the U.S. National team has stars in Kylee Lahners, Danae Benites, and Megan Baltzell, among others who blaze the path and face obstacles head on. These obstacles don’t phase Melissa either as she looks ahead she sees herself, “Living in Miami Beach, playing in a professional softball league, and maybe training people in baseball and softball, but I was thinking about this the other day, and I’d love to get into MLB and be a coach”. Well Melissa, you’ve been knocking on the door for 5 years, and Alyssa Nakken has just opened it.

Pigskins + Cowhides: A Tale of Two Drafts

I don’t care much for football, I never really have. If you were to ask me who my favorite football team was though, I would quickly tell you it was the Denver Broncos. The reason for this is simple; my oldest brother attended Cal during the years John Elway played for Stanford and the rebellious five year old in me became a lifelong fan of the Cardinal. I would later find out that Elway spent a summer with the Oneonta Yankees so in a way my fandom still was rooted in baseball.

We are now in early May and there is still no sign of baseball, and out of desperation I decided to tune into the NFL’s “virtual draft” last week. There was Roger Goodell live from his basement, virtual boos and all, announcing the picks. I tuned in mainly to see who would go #1, and also to see who the Raiders, and 49ers would select. The lowly Cincinnati Bengals, who at 2-14 the previous season, had the first pick and selected LSU quarterback Joe Burrow. Burrow was considered a no brainer after the amazing season he had in 2019. Prior to the season, Burrow was considered a fringe player and Mel Kuiper had slotted him as a potential 6th round pick after a very pedestrian 2018 campaign.

Now a senior, at age 23, he became the fifth oldest player ever selected #1 overall. Burrow’s story is one that dreams are made of: but what about the nightmares? Although still going in the first round, and still a very respectable #5 overall, Alabama’s quarterback Tua Tagovailoa who was the long time favorite to go #1 slipped to the Miami Dolphins. Injuries over the past year gave teams something to worry about but the Dolphins gambled at #5 based on what he could do when he is healthy. To be clear he has been medically cleared to play football now. It will be interesting to see how both of these players’ careers unfold. Honestly I’m more intrigued with the #2 overall pick, Ohio State defensive end Chris Young. The commentators couldn’t say enough about Young and labeled him a “generational player” who can change the Redskins defense. It was also fun to see his teammate Jeff Okudah go #3 to the Detroit Lions. This pick made it the first time in history that the top 3 picks had all been teammates as Burrow played for Ohio State prior to transferring to LSU. I’m still not a football fan, but as a sociology major these stories fascinate me and the draft kept our mind off of the real world for a few hours, and although it didn’t cure the suffering, it allowed us to feel normal.

The Major League Draft is scheduled to start on June 10th, just a little over a month away. I don’t know if the world will be back to “normal” by then, but I hope that Major League baseball takes a page from the NFL Virtual Draft. I found it much more exciting and natural to see the player’s reactions when their names were called and the real emotions they shared with their families. Yes, you see that during the MLB draft, I vividly remember watching Tyler Beede, Kyle Tucker, and Brady Aiken celebrate their selections with friends and family but those moments are spoiled a little for me by those who attend in studio. An exception goes to the 2009 draft when Mike Trout was the only player to attend the in-studio draft in which was also the first year of MLB network. Honorable mention should go to Courtney Hawkins and his backflip in 2013.

The draft is the realization of one dream, and the beginning of another. One thing that this NFL draft has over the MLB draft is that due to the pandemic, the 2020 amateur baseball season has come to a grinding halt. Where as in college football Joe Burrow went from a potential 6th round pick tp #1 overall in his senior year is remarkable, but baseball players, especially college seniors didn’t get that opportunity. These”fringe” players may have had their careers come to an abrupt end, especially as Major League Baseball is considering reducing this year’s draft to only five rounds.

So what about Spencer Torkelson? Going back to before last years draft, the Arizona State outfielder was considered the hands down #1 overall pick for 2020. During the MLB season I even saw fans of losing teams hope that their teams would “tank for Torkelson”. Will Torkelson still go #1? Who could have stepped up in 2020 and changed their destiny? No matter who goes #1, I’m excited to hear Rob Manfred say… “with the first pick of the 2020 Major League draft. The Detroit Tigers select…”

Beede Spurns Blue Jays

Ever since the debacle that was Matt Harrington, I’ve been fascinated with baseball players who decide not to sign after being selected in the first round of the MLB draft. So in 2011 when Tyler Beede decided to attend Vanderbilt over signing with the Blue Jays, it instantly piqued my interest and I started to follow his career. Opting not to sign as any draft pick, let alone one selected in the first round, comes with many risks. See Matt Harrington, and even more recently Brady Aiken. Beede gambled on himself, his ability, and his health during his three years with the Commadores; but his gamble paid off.

Beede would have a stellar career at Vandy which led to the San Francisco Giants to select him with the 14th pick overall pick of the 2014 draft. This selection would actually be higher than when the Jays selected him in 2011. Beede’s career was a mixed bag between 2014-2017 when he earned his first promotion to Triple-A Sacramento. There were some setbacks in those first few years but he continued to progress steadily through the Giants’ minor league system.

Beede would start 2018 in Sacramento for his first full season in Triple-A. Although he would make his major league debut, 2018 was nothing short of a nightmare for Tyler. After two starts with the Giants, Beede was sent back to Sacramento and relegated to the bullpen. Tyler’s new role suited him well. His second half showed much more promise as he was used in the middle innings by manager Dave Brundage as a stopper. Beede had appeared to
make a slight adjustment to his delivery and revamped his arsenal. The transition to the bullpen looked like a success. The changes and newfound confidence looked like the Giants had found his niche for 2019 and beyond.

When Opening Day 2019 rolled around, Beede was back in Sacramento and in the starting rotation; he would dominate the Pacific Coast League. Beede’s eventual return to the Giants was disastrous and he would last less than two innings against the Reds. Tyler would go up and down between Sacramento and San Francisco the remainder of the season with mixed outings for the Giants, and continue to dominate the River Cats in Triple-A. Beede would eventually earn his first Major League win on June 17, 2019 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. This was bittersweet for me as I was so excited for Tyler, but I’m also a Dodgers fan.

I was lucky enough to be on hand to see Beede’s final outing of 2019. Beede got the ball on a beautiful sunny afternoon in San Francisco against Nolan Arenado and the Colorado Rockies. It was a big weekend for the San Francisco Giants as they were honoring Bruce Brochy’s retirement at the end of the season. Tyler would make it memorable as he was literally perfect that day.


The dominance he had shown in Sacramento, and the reason he was a two-time first round pick was on full display for all to see; unfortunately something happened after one pitch to Trevor Story to start the fifth. Beede would be pulled from the game because he felt some discomfort. He would later say that it was a precautionary measure, and that with a little rest he would be ready to go for 2020. The Giants had a star who was ready to shine.

The stars were not aligned for Beede in 2020. He would suffer from a strained UCL and a strained flexor in Spring Training. He is potentially looking at Tommy John surgery and will visit Dr. Neal Elattrache on Monday March 9th. 2020 is all but done for Beede; he will return in 2021 at the age of 28 in hopes to regain the dominance he showed in 2019.

Cheers Tyler, you got this!

And now we wait….