HUDSON, N.Y. — In the spring of 2021, Beth Greenwood became the first American woman to catch in an NCAA men’s baseball game. Now she’s the only woman playing in the Hudson River Collegiate Baseball League.
Do not, under any circumstances, talk about softball with her.
Coaches have been unsuccessfully pushing Greenwood, 22, toward softball for years. But baseball is her life. Anything else is an underhanded attempt to sabotage her pursuit of happiness. Softball, she says, is a different game.
Joe Reina, her future baseball coach at the University of Rochester, tried to mention it in a meeting before her freshman year of college. He couldn’t even get the “soft” out of his mouth before she shut him down faster than a laser throw to second base.
”She had her mind made up and knew what she wanted,” says Reina.
Her baseball journey is a profile in persistence. Although she was cut in her first year at Rochester, the mechanical engineering major came back and made the practice squad and then the varsity. She flied out to center field in her only college at bat, against Clarkson on April 17, 2021.
“I just didn’t want to strike out,” she says. “I wanted to hit the ball hard.”
There have been three female catchers in NCAA history. Canadian-born Marika Lyszczyk was the first in 2020 when she played for Rivier University in Nashua, N.H. Alexia Jorge played this past spring for St. Elizabeth University in Morristown, N.J.
This summer is exciting for Greenwood, who just graduated with honors. The ponytailed catcher still has eligibility in the collegiate summer league and then hopes to play for the US women’s national team, which will compete in a Friendship Series against Canada in Thunder Bay starting July 28.
In August, she will report to the Philadelphia Phillies on an MLB Diversity Fellowship, working with their research and development team doing biomechanics technology. Last summer at All-Star Sporting Goods in Shirley, she tested backswings on catcher’s masks and helmets to prevent concussions.
“She is the full package,” said Justine Siegal, founder of Baseball for All and the first woman to coach for a major league organization (Oakland, 2015), in an email. “Works incredibly hard, knows the game, can perform under pressure and is just a kind person.”
Greenwood joined Baseball for All, a support program that provides girls with opportunities to play and coach the game, at age 11. She still mentors girls for leadership roles in baseball up and down the East Coast.
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 will not let this ball go by you. You will catch it,’ " Greenwood says.
Last year, she was a paid adviser to teach baseball to the actors for the upcoming “A League of Their Own” Amazon Prime TV series. She also makes a cameo appearance on the field. Recently she attended the series premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in New York. The series begins airing Aug. 12.
Greenwood, who knows there is no crying in baseball, became emotional when Blair announced at age 95 that she is a lesbian.
“I was kind of crying,” she says, “because I’m gay, and feeling like someone who you’ve looked up to your whole life can finally really be themselves, I was like, wow, it was such a big moment.”
Hurdles at every step
Greenwood grew up in Amherst, N.H., and was sandwiched in age between two brothers. She fell in love with baseball at age 5 and has never played an inning of softball. But she was constantly pushed in that direction, like thousands of other girls who’ve been told that baseball is for boys and softball is for girls, period.
She’s only 5 feet 5 inches and 140 pounds “on a good day, dripping wet.” Not exactly your typical catcher profile.
Her battle against the baseball police began when she was 8 and her coach didn’t want girls playing baseball. There were only two girls in the league.
Greenwood recalls one hard-throwing New Hampshire boy whom no one wanted to catch “so I volunteered to catch because I just wanted to play,” she says. “And from that moment on, catching has kind of just always been my thing.”
When she became the first girl to make the Amherst Middle School baseball team in her second try, the pressure to switch to softball intensified. Boys were getting bigger and stronger and she was told she he wouldn’t be able to compete.
“So I had a chip on my shoulder,” she says. “Kind of like, ‘Watch me do it.’ ”
She was called up to the varsity of the Souhegan High School baseball team in 2016 and was part of a state championship winner.
In 2017, she played in a summer tournament in Danville, Va., on a team made up of both boys and Australian girls. At game time, they said that the female players weren’t going to be allowed to play. The boys wanted to walk away but the coach wouldn’t let them. Perry Barber, the famous female umpire/musician (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 field and a bunch of other crap,” says Greenwood. “It was heartbreaking.”
She says she has never had problems with teammates — although some have been distant — but she heard a lot of trash talk playing high school ball in New Hampshire.
“I’m a catcher, so I’m close to the dugout,” she says. “I can hear what you’re saying and talking [expletive] about. Like, ‘She must be hooking up with every guy in the team, or doing this and doing that. And that’s why she’s getting playing time here.’ ”
She also understands why Little League World Series hero Mo’ne Davis switched to softball.
“I just wish that she would have continued with more baseball exposure,” Greenwood says, “but I totally understand. Sometimes you get so sick of it that you just are going to go pursue the other opportunities that have more money or whatever.”
Hard work, not glamour
Before an early summer collegiate game with her new team, the Storm, Greenwood lets her hair down about her difficult journey.
“It’s frustrating and it sucks and you feel so alone,” she says. “I think that was the hardest part. And that’s why things like Baseball For All was huge and changed my life because I met other girls. Nobody else in the world understands what we have to go through.”
She pauses to let her words sink in.
“But when you actually get to play the game and you actually get to take away the BS, that’s why I do it,” she says. “I love playing the game. I love the game itself.”
On this night, she goes 0 for 3 with three strikeouts and a hit by pitch. But her team wins and she is satisfied.
“I can hit,” she says, despite being hitless in her first three games. The next morning, she’s at the gym pumping 115-pound weights.
Jason Sosa, 20, a first baseman from Dominican College, initially thought it was going to be awkward having a female teammate, but he says he was wrong.
“She’s honestly 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 the Storm coach, says having Greenwood on the team is a non-issue.
“As far as I’m concerned, she’s just another one of the players on the team,” DuPont said. “If things don’t go right, she comes out, and if things go well, she stays in.”
A little girl named Elizabeth comes to every game and even got an autographed baseball from Greenwood. DuPont loves the way Elizabeth looks up to her.
“It’s very cool that now Elizabeth can have the same dream, too,” he says.
Greenwood hopes to help develop a woman’s professional baseball league. But for now, her biggest challenge is to not portray her story as a fairy tale. Her dressing room is often a funky bathroom stall or the women’s lacrosse team locker room. Sometimes there’s even a quick wardrobe change on a metal bench.
She knows she’s not going to be the first woman to play in the majors. But she wants to help that person get there.
She says the media do not 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 has given up 14 runs.
“There’s so few women that do reach that level that we try to glamorize their path to get there and tell these kids that it’s going to be easy,” says Greenwood. “There is nothing glamorous about it. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. I would do everything I did all over again in a heartbeat.”
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.