Alaska Baseball League’s first female referee wants to show girls they can be a part of hardball, too

Alaska Baseball League’s first female referee Natola Hawthorne before the start of a game at Mulcahy Stadium in Anchorage on July 15, 2021. (Casey Grove / Alaska Public Media)

The Alaska Baseball League’s first-ever female umpire finished her tenure with the Collegiate Summer League last week.

Natola Hawthorne returned home to Atlanta on Friday and her main job as a school secretary. But she spent most of the summer enjoying Alaska and honing her craft as a referee, as one of the very few women involved in the male-dominated sport.

Hawthorne was fitted with pads and a face mask Thursday night at Mulcahy Stadium in Anchorage for a game between the Mat-Su Miners and the Anchorage Bucs, where, as the plate umpire, she called balls and strikes and didn’t make too many fan jokes.

But being a female referee is more than just a game for Hawthorne, who wants to show girls that they can be a game of baseball, too.

Still, she admits, she didn’t really know she was the Alaska Baseball League’s first female umpire until she got here.

Natola Hawthorne, the Alaska Baseball League’s first female referee, behind the plate during a game between the Mat-Su Miners and Anchorage Bucs at Mulcahy Stadium in Anchorage on July 15, 2021 (Casey Grove / Alaska Public Media)

Read a full transcript with slight edits for clarity:

Natola Hawthorne: So when he first invited me, he just said, “I want you to come so you can grow up and get better.

And then when I got here he said, “By the way, you’re the first woman.”

That’s when it kind of hit me, “Wow, the magnitude of what I’m doing isn’t just for me, but it sets the stage for other women who may have the opportunity now. Because I was the first to do it.

Casey Grove: How important do you think this is for the ABL itself?

Natola Hawthorne: This diversity and inclusion, with everything that is going on, lets everyone know that “Hey, they’re part of the movement too.” They have no problem kissing anyone who wants to be a part of the sport.

Casey Grove: Why aren’t there more female umpires in baseball?

Natola Hawthorne: One, we don’t like the weather [laughs].

It’s pretty tough – fans can be a little harsh. We are emotional creatures. So you have to have thick skin, you have to know when to exercise and when to be less present. And I think it’s a bit hard.

Even for me, I have times where I’m like, “Hey, you’re not a girl over there. You are a civil servant. So make sure you react that way.

Casey Grove: I guess when you put on the uniform maybe it helps remind you that you are the referee or you are the referee.

Natola Hawthorne: What I do is say “action” at the start of each game.

It’s like I’m putting on a show for the next three hours, and I need to be signed up and have a character. So that’s my point of view.

Casey Grove: So there is also something about baseball: it has always been a men’s sport, a little different from other sports. People saw a female referee in the NFL and stuff like that. Do you think that’s part of it too?

Natola Hawthorne: I do. And it is also with other sports that affect women because there are more women in this field. In my hallway in Georgia, I know there are only three in the whole state.

That’s why I’m so convinced to be there, to let them know, “Hey, here I am. We are here and I will help you. So every little girl that I see in the park, I try to stop and tell them, you can do it. Or if a mother stops me and says, “Oh my God, we’ve never seen a female referee”. And I’m just saying, “Well, I hope I made you proud.”

So I hope they take those moments back to their communities and say, “Hey, softball player, your career doesn’t have to end. You can now turn it over and be a referee. That’s my goal.

Casey Grove: Do you think people treat you differently?

Natola Hawthorne: They do.

My first experience here, I don’t think the fans knew there would be a female referee. So when they first saw me everyone was a little bit impressed and the coaches didn’t know how to approach me because I’m not a guy.

I heard the fans were having a debate. They came and went. It’s a female ? Nah, he’s a man. Nah, it’s a female. And then finally, in the fifth inning, they said they were able to say it because I put my hand on my hips. So for me that’s a compliment, because it meant I was doing my job, and they didn’t have to wonder what my gender was.

Casey Grove: If you could sum up your experience here in Alaska. Have you ever been to Alaska?

Natola Hawthorne: This is my first time and of course people were like, “Why would you go to Alaska to call baseball when there are plenty of them here”. Ask yourself this question: who wouldn’t come to a place they’ve never been to do what they love to do. This is the reason why I am here.

Alaska is beautiful. The landscape, the people. I told people back home. If everyone was like the people of Alaska this would be a better place.

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