Since 2008, Minor League Baseball has hosted the annual Women in Baseball Leadership Event in December during the league’s Winter Baseball Meetings.
Throughout the years though, the event proved to be a significant cost barrier for many league officials, particularly women. To assist female baseball executives who may not otherwise have the opportunity to attend the Baseball Winter Meetings, the Women in Baseball Leadership Committee launched the inaugural Women in Baseball Leadership Event Scholarship in 2017.
“After the first year, we knew we wanted to grow [the Women in Baseball Leadership Event Scholarship],” said Mary Marandi, MiLB’s assistant director of corporate communications. “Our goal within the committee – and then overall with Minor League Baseball’s Diversity and Inclusion Initiative is to give people opportunities to give them a seat at the table. So just knowing that we could continue to grow this – it’s our overall goal and what we wanted to accomplish.”In 2017, 62 applicants applied for the Women in Baseball Leadership Event Scholarship, with Caitlin Carter of the Visalia Rawhide and Kave Voss of the Peoria Chiefs becoming the first two recipients of the award.
Two years later, nearly 200 applicants have followed, with four women chosen for this year’s scholarship. They include Heather Brunsting of the Toledo Mud Hens; Stephanie Chapman of the Biloxi Shuckers; Cassie Fowler of the Durham Bulls; and Julia McNeil of the Quad Cities River Bandits.
“We always say our past scholarship winners are our best advocates and our best people to help spread the word,” Marandi said. “Hopefully we’ve given them a great experience at these events and they’re already filled with lots of confidence and done great things with their teams. That’s why we select them as scholarship winners, but also we hope to give them the confidence to continue to grow in Minor League Baseball and play an active role in all the great things that we’re doing – both with our teams and then nationally as well.”
To be considered for the scholarship, an individual can nominate herself or be nominated by a supervisor, colleague or counterpart. They also must: currently work as a full-time employee for a MiLB team; have never previously attended the Baseball Winter Meetings or the Women in Baseball Leadership Event; would not otherwise have the opportunity to attend the Baseball Winter Meetings; show exemplary work ethic and a passion to grow and work in the baseball industry.
For Toledo’s Brunsting, her place in Minor League Baseball’s diversity push stands out given her upbringing. Growing up, she told her parents that she wanted to become a teacher. Once she got to high school, she saw her interests gravitate more towards sports; even though she wasn’t a high-school athlete, she loved watching games as a fan.
In college, she shifted her professional goals entirely and began studying sports management – much to the chagrin of her parents. “They didn’t have too much faith in it, but they also didn’t know what working in sports meant,” Brunsting said. “I think they only felt like the athletes and coaches [worked in sports]. They didn’t understand the full scope of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into sporting events.”Since graduating from Grand Valley State University in 2007, Brunsting has seen her sports career spread across two sports: baseball and hockey. In October, she was promoted to fan experience specialist of two Toledo, Oh. based teams: the Mud Hens, the Detroit Tigers AAA-team, and Walleye, the Detroit Red Wings ECHL team.
Brunsting never knew that Mike Keedy, the Mud Hens’ director of strategic planning and projects, nominated her for the Women in Baseball Leadership Event Scholarship. Then one day, she was scheduled to speak with MiLB President Pat O’Connor, who then delivered her the news regarding her nomination.
“To be nominated is enough for me,” Brunsting said. “To know that my peers and my supervisor think that highly of me as a woman in baseball and this organization, but then for Minor League Baseball to also see that – it left me speechless. I still don’t know if it fully sunk in, but it’s just such a great opportunity and I’m so excited about it.”
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Unlike Brunsting, Chapman always saw herself working in sports. While attending both Lewis and Clark Community College and The University of Saint Mary, Chapman played soccer all four years. At Lewis and Clark, she began in the kinesiology program. When she transferred to Saint Mary, it didn’t have that option; instead, she went down the business track.
After graduating college in 2013 with a sports management degree, Chapman’s first job out of school was working as an account executive with the Mobile BayBears, the Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels. After getting her foot in the door in MiLB, she transitioned to the Biloxi Shuckers, the Double-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers.Since joining the Shuckers as their corporate partnerships coordinator, Chapman has not only exceeded her sales goal but has also organized and planned numerous community events and programs for the team. Like Brunsting, she was unknowingly placed on a call with O’Connor by Shuckers General Manager Hunter Reed. Almost immediately, she knew it was O’Connor on the other line – and what was about to come.
“I was kind of in shock at that moment and just so grateful that I had this opportunity,” Chapman said. “One, for my team to nominate me for that scholarship is that I know my team appreciates me. Two, it’s just an awesome experience that Minor League Baseball gives this opportunity to young women in this industry that I would never have the opportunity at this point in my career to go to [Baseball Winter Meetings]. But the fact that they give people that opportunity to go and it’s fully paid for and everything, it’s just an honor.”
Outside of a four-month internship with the MLS’s Columbus Crew, Fowler has dedicated her entire professional sports career to the Durham Bulls. Entering her senior year of college at Ohio Wesleyan University, Fowler worked with the Bulls as their sponsorship trainee, doing everything from event planning to designing flyers and coupons for visitors.
Upon graduating, nothing immediately panned out for Fowler, but she was certain of one thing: she found her passion with the Bulls. Shortly thereafter, she was offered a full-time position with Durham as its group ticket sales consultant.
In four months, she sold over $150,000 in ticket packages to more than 200 clients. In 2015, she generated more than $180,000 in sales – with $50,000 of that being new business – for the 2015 season.
Over time, Fowler has also managed to work up the ranks of the Bulls’ sales departments. She now serves as a senior account executive for group sales, winning multiple employee of the month, salesperson of the month and salesperson of the year awards along the way.Now with her name cemented in the league’s history through the Women In Baseball Leadership Event Scholarship, Fowler sees a strong future for women like her working their way up the ranks of MiLB.
“[Minor League Baseball] has realized that there are women that deserve to have the opportunity to go to Winter Meetings that can’t afford it,” Fowler said. “There’s so much you can gain from it with professional development. I can see that they want this for women in the industry and I know for a fact that it’s going to continue to grow and become an even more welcoming place for women in Minor League Baseball.”
After nearly four years with the Lowell Spinners, McNeil’s next stop was with the Quad Cities River Bandits, the Class A affiliate of the Houston Astros. While she’s been exposed to numerous aspects of Minor League Baseball’s operations, one part of her job has never changed. “When I come to the ballpark every day, I get to say, ‘I go to work at a ballpark.’ It’s fantastic, and it’s opened up so many doors and so many new experiences.”
As the River Bandits’ director of ticketing, McNeil has streamlined organization, maximized data analytics opportunities and tripled year-over-year sales in her department. Now with her Women in Baseball Leadership Event Scholarship nomination, she looks forward to seeing how it’ll help her network and develop her business skills – and what steps Minor League Baseball will be taking to improve diversity in the workplace.
“The more viewpoints you can get, the more well-rounded your team’s going to be,” McNeil said. “I’m appreciative of all of [Minor League Baseball’s] different initiatives and taking all the different levels to become more diverse – it’s only going to make us better.”