MLB.com Columnist

Paul Hagen

Female ump Pawol honored to donate gear to HOF

Baseball veteran gives mask, cap to 'Diamond Dreams' exhibit

Female ump Pawol honored to donate gear to HOF

Jen Pawol is going to have to get a new umpire's mask.

Not because the one she's used since she began calling games professionally 11 years ago is worn out. Because she donated it to the Hall of Fame on Saturday. It will soon be displayed as part of the popular Diamond Dreams exhibit that celebrates women in baseball.

"The cool thing is that that's the only piece of equipment I've had that I haven't changed out," she said. "It's been with me for the entire time I've umpired, this whole trip. I've called every pitch with it. So, sentimentally, it's the most meaningful thing I could give."

Pawol was in the Short-Season Class A New York-Penn League this year. When she made her Minor League debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2016, she became just the seventh woman to be an umpire in organized baseball and the first since Ria Cortesio in 2007. Emma Charlesworth-Seiler joined the GCL staff this season.

Erik Strohl, vice president of exhibitions and collections for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, said the decision to reach out to Pawol was natural, since Diamond Dreams already includes artifacts from Amanda Clement, the first woman to be paid for umpiring men's games in the early part of the 20th century; Bernice Gera, the first to umpire a Minor League game; Pam Postema, the first to make it as high as Triple-A, and Cortesio.

"So it's interesting to us that Jen is continuing to work her way up," Strohl said. "We want to keep that exhibit as fresh as possible to remind people that this is an ongoing story. It's about women trying to make gains in the game of baseball. Being a cultural as well as a sports institution, it's important for us to cover those stories."

Pawol learned of the Hall's interest during an off-day near the end of her season when she got a call from two of her supervisors, Minor League Baseball's vice president of baseball and business operations Tim Brunswick and director of umpire development Dusty Dellinger. 

"They said, 'Jen we have an opportunity that's come along that we think you'll be really excited about,'" Pawol said. "They asked me if I knew what Cooperstown was. I said, 'Yeah, of course.' But they didn't say 'Hall of Fame.' They just said, 'Cooperstown called.' And there are so many shops there, it just kind of went over my head."

Once she realized what they were saying, the reaction was immediate. "Chills went through my body," she said. "I was walking with my [umpiring partner Drew Saluga]. We were in the middle of [New York City], and I had to stop and lean against a building. It was amazing. I'm so grateful to be a part of this and to be asked. It means everything to me. It's insane."

She's also going to donate the cap she wore from her tryout at the MLB Umpire Training School. "It still has the sweat stain on it," she said with a laugh. "I didn't clean it at all. I said, 'You guys wouldn't want me at all if I attended this program and gotten a scholarship and gotten into the system.'"

Said Strohl: "It's cool. We don't have anything like that."

Pawol grew up and still lives around Binghamton, N.Y., about an hour and a half from Cooperstown. Her parents took her to the Hall of Fame when she was around seven years old, and she'd been back a half-dozen times since.

This time she went with a dozen family members and friends and got a guided tour. This visit exceeded every expectation.

"I was very overwhelmed," she said. "I presented the mask. I gave it a kiss before I gave it away. I didn't realize how attached I'd gotten to my gear. I was trying to hold back how I was feeling and look cool. To be accepted into the history of baseball is such an accomplishment, and I'm so thankful for it."

Paul Hagen, a reporter for MLB.com, won the J.G. Taylor Spink Award in 2013 for a lifetime of excellence in baseball writing. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.