Umpire Pawol Baseball

Umpire Jen Pawol, front right, works with students during MLB baseball umpire camp in 2022. Pawol has been given a full-time big league spring training schedule and is on track to become the first female umpire in major league history. Eva Russo/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP

After nearly a decade climbing through the minor leagues, Jen Pawol is poised to break the umpiring gender barrier.

“I’ve put the gas to full throttle and we are going for it. Full speed – full speed ahead,” she said Monday after she was among 24 minor league umpires assigned full-time as fill-ins at big league spring training.

A 47-year-old from New Jersey, Pawol is set to work her first major league exhibition game on Feb. 24 when Houston plays Washington at West Palm Beach, Florida. She also was promoted to a minor league crew chief and is on the verge of a regular season big league debut.

“As a hitter, a longtime athlete, it was a big deal to hit over .300,” the former college softball player said. “But as an umpire, we have to hit 1.000 every night, and the challenge of that is absolutely riveting.”

Twenty-six umpires were assigned full spring training schedules last year, and 21 of those were assigned to the in-season call-up list. Pawol was informed of her bump up in a phone call on Feb. 5 from director of umpire development Rich Rieker and supervisor Cris Jones.

“I was like: Yessssss!” Pawol recalled.

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MLB’s move comes 27 years after the gender barrier for game officials was broken in the NBA, nine years after it ended the NFL and two years after soccer’s World Cup employed a female referee.

Pawol has been a minor league ump since 2016 and worked her way up to the highest minor level last year, when she was behind the plate for the Triple-A Championship game.

MLB has 76 full-time staff umpires and uses fill-ins on crews for openings created by injuries and vacations.

Pawol is among a small group of women who have umpired minor league games, among them Bernice Gera (1972), Christine Wren (1975-77), Pam Postema (1977-89) and Ria Cortesio (1999-2007). Nine women are scheduled to work in the minor leagues this season.

Cortesio was the last woman to work a big league spring training game, in 2007. Pawol has been texting with Postema and Cortesio.

“They are pretty fired up,” Pawol said.

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Pawol became an all-state softball and soccer player in New Jersey for three seasons in each sport at West Milford High School, where she was a 1995 graduate and was inducted into its Athletic Hall of Fame in 2022. Pawol went to Hofstra on a softball scholarship and became a three-time all-conference pick, hitting .332 with 15 homers, 102 RBIs and 22 stolen bases in 161 games from 1996-98. She was on the USA Baseball women’s national baseball team in 2001.

Pawol got a master’s degree and was living in the Binghamton area of New York and taking teacher certification classes at Elmira College while still playing on the side.

“I wasn’t really satisfied,” she said. “Coming off of a huge competitive career, just playing locally, I wasn’t getting my fix. And I remember looking at the umpire and being like, I think that’s it. I got to go for that.”

• Jeff Nelson and Ed Hickox are retiring as umpires and were replaced on the major league staff by Ryan Wills and Clint Vondrak.

Nelson, 58, made his big league debut in 1997, was added to the National League staff two years later and worked the World Series in 2005, 2009, 2014 and 2018.

Hickox, 61, umpired for 19 big league seasons. He made his major league debut in 1990, quit in 1999 as part of a failed mass resignation strategy, returned as a reserve umpire in 2005 and regained a staff job two years later.

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Wills and Vondrak have been fill-in big league umpires since 2020. The 36-year-old Wills has been a minor league umpire since 2011 and had worked 402 major league games. Vondrak, 34, has been a minor league umpire since 2012 and worked 286 big league games.

PIRATES: Pittsburgh is adding two-time All-Star catcher Yasmani Grandal, a person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press.

The club and the 35-year-old Grandal have agreed to terms on a one-year contract worth $2.5 million, according to the person who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the deal is pending Grandal passing a physical.

Pittsburgh is searching for depth at catcher with Endy Rodríguez – who started 57 games in 2023 as a rookie – ruled out for 2024 after Tommy John surgery in December. He got injured while playing winter ball in his native Dominican Republic.

Grandal would join a catching situation that includes former No. 1 overall pick Henry Davis, Jason Delay and Ali Sánchez. Grandal is a career .237 hitter while playing for four teams across 12 seasons, including the last four years with the Chicago White Sox. Grandal hit .234 with eight home runs and 33 RBI in 118 games with the White Sox in 2023.

The Pirates have remained bullish that Davis can become an everyday catcher even though he spent the vast majority of his rookie season playing right field. Adding Grandal gives the Pirates a little bit of flexibility as Davis continues to refine his work defensively.

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Grandal provided power at the plate during his prime. He’s topped 20 home runs in a season five times, most recently with Chicago in 2021. He made a pair of All-Star teams earlier in his career, first in 2015 while playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers and again in 2019 while with the Milwaukee Brewers.

PADRES: Free agent Jurickson Profar and San Diego have agreed to a $1 million, one-year contract that gives the 30-year-old outfielder the chance to make another $1.5 million in perftrmance bonuses based on plate appearances, two people familiar with the deal said.

The deal will give the Padres a full complement of outfielders. They currently have only two outfielders on their active roster, Platinum Glove Award-winning right fielder Fernando Tatis Jr. and Jose Azocar.

Profar primarily played left field with the Padres from 2020-22 and again when he rejoined them late last season, although he played some at the other outfield positions as well as in the infield and as the designated hitter.


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