I’m Different. I’m the Same.

Alexis speaking at a Toronto Pitch Talks event in February. (Photo courtesy of Pitch Talks)

Alexis speaking at a Toronto Pitch Talks event in February. (Photo courtesy of Pitch Talks)

“You’re different.”

I’ve heard that more times than I can count, and I promise you I am no slouch at math. It’s been said to me as a term of endearment, I’ve heard it as an offhand insult — such instances can be tiresomely common when you work in a “man’s world” — and I’ve been told in a matter-of-fact way. And now I’m starting to realize it might be the reason why I have been able to do everything I’ve done, and why I might not be able to do much more.

When I was growing up in London, Ont., my high school friends at Montcalm Secondary School were the first to point out many of my differences. As a Cougar, I played basketball, soccer and volleyball, and outside of the school walls I played softball all year round until it became too much of a commitment for me to handle. I was a competitive synchronized swimmer. I was a huge fan and avid watcher of Toronto Blue Jays games, I went to almost every Hamilton Tiger Cats matchup at Ivor Wynne Stadium. And I took in what felt like billions of hockey games. I watched my friends on the high school squad as their official timekeeper, went to whatever London Knights games I could finagle free tickets to and took in Colorado Avalanche games with my first boyfriend when they were broadcast in our area.

I had both female friends and male friends, but I spent more time with the guys because that was really where I seemed to fit in better. Sometimes we would play road hockey after school, other times we would throw the football around in the park behind my house, and mostly, we would play euchre in my garage. A lot of times I heard those guys tell people (mostly girls) they were just, “hanging out with the boys,” and when I would say, “I’m RIGHT here,” they would respond matter-of-factly with, “Yeah, but you’re different. It’s not the same thing.” Admittedly, it made me feel a little special.

Occasionally, I would invite my girl friends to join us. The biggest obstacle for them was none of them knew how to play euchre, but I insisted they could come and learn, though I wasn’t offering to be a partner for an inexperienced newbie. When they would ask me if other females would be joining us, and I would say it was just me, I felt insulted when they would say, “That doesn’t count. You’re different.”

In high school, it seemed like a good thing to be different. Montcalm was a small school, and it allowed me to do anything I wanted to do. At a bigger school, I wouldn’t have made so many teams, and I can’t imagine my adolescent life without the confidence, friends and experience I gained from playing sports.

My love for sports, specifically baseball and the Blue Jays, almost always was considered very different. My high school friends accepted it because they didn’t know me any other way. Either that or I just don’t remember any specific incidences when they questioned it, something I am increasingly grateful for. Maybe it’s because, when I went to games with my dad and brother, it made sense to them, or maybe it’s because I spent most of my time loving the Canadian squad during the summer months away from school, but it didn’t seem so extraordinary when I was a teenager.

As I got older, that changed. Forever a tomboy, I would wear jerseys out to the bar when my friends and I turned old enough to venture out and recklessly consume alcohol. At first, I enjoyed it whenever some know-it-all dude would come up to me thinking I must have worn the jersey by accident because I couldn’t possibly know anything about sports, let alone enjoy them, or even the kind of guy who would think he could impress me with Blue Jays knowledge. They were always surprised when I would school them. It was fun until I realized I was just making enemies, shaming dudes in front of their friends. Before I stopped wearing jerseys altogether, I did get smart and began betting beers on my baseball knowledge. If I was going to go down, I was going down swinging. I never made any new friends, but I did get plenty of free beer.

Everyone around me on a regular basis knew and accepted my love for baseball, though they never really understood it. They didn’t have to, and I rarely felt the need to explain. Lifelong friends saw me grow up playing the game, first as one of three girls in the Eager Beaver Baseball Association — two of us played together — then as one of two, and finally as the only one, before my parents decided it would be best for me to move on to playing softball.

I got an early start in being different, though it never occurred to me that I was. If there hadn’t been another girl playing for my first baseball team at McMahon Park, I don’t think I would have realized I was a girl. I forced my mom and dad to sign me up when they were taking my younger brother to play, and it wasn’t strange to them, so why would it be for me? My parents had always been split in signing me up for gender-specific activities, my mother sending me to gymnastics, dance, rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming, and my dad taking me fishing, power skating, to practice archery, and even to the gun range. I thought everyone dressed like a ballerina and put their own bullets together in the basement.

I was naïve then, as I was when I landed in the sports journalism industry as a lost law school candidate who decided to pursue a love of baseball for fear of attending three more years of classes after finishing my undergraduate degree. My naïvete continued as I kept getting a little bit of luck. I was fortunate to get into the one-year post-grad Sports Journalism program at Centennial College, and I was lucky that most of my classmates wanted to delve into sports other than baseball. I was in the right place at the right time when the Blue Jays needed to hire someone as a statistician for the game-day production crew, and I am still grateful my school schedule allowed me to work every home game for the rest of that season.

From there I went to North Carolina, where I completed my education with an internship at Baseball America. It was almost immediately after I had returned home from Durham that Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun contacted me and asked me to be a part of the Canadian Baseball Network, which he curates. Since then, for five years — six Toronto seasons — I’ve been working summers for the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre and spending winters in the Australian Baseball League as press officer and whatever else needs doing. In between, there have been return trips to Durham; vacations to ballparks all around; talking to high schoolers, college players, minor leaguers, indy ballers and major leaguers; one adventure to Japan with Baseball Canada and plenty of Canadian baseball writing for CBN. I started writing for Prep Baseball Report last year, but I’ve been slacking on content lately.

I was rarely around other women, but the acceptance from men into their circles kept me in my cloud of naïvete. My boss with the Blue Jays is a woman, so I wasn’t alone. But when I started, the production crew of about 25 people included roughly 23 men. I might have been the second-ever female intern at BA, but if there was one before me, it was so long ago no one could remember. When Elliot emailed my boss at BA to see if I would be interested in CBN, he thought I was a guy, an assumption based on misreading my name.

The ABL has some women around in a variety of roles, but my knowledge of and passion for the game prevented me from blending in. When I arrived to join the Brisbane Bandits organization, I remember being told girls weren’t allowed in the clubhouse, though I quickly became an exception to the rule because, “You’re different.” Prep Baseball Report is made up of men only, on the writing side at least.

On Baseball, Game Design, and Output Randomness
Considering baseball through the lens of game design.

The one question that really started to force me to realize I might be different, and that the difference was my gender, was the question, “How did you get into baseball?” It seems harmless, really. It is something I ask every Australian player, because rugby, Australian Rules football and cricket are far more popular than the diamond, and I’ve never meant it as an insult. But somewhere along the line, I began to take it as one. It felt like every person I met in the industry would ask me, but it was never something I would ask back. No one wonders how a guy got into sports. That’s a natural fit. I wasn’t.

My world opened up a little bit when I first was invited to speak at a Pitch Talks event, a travelling forum for baseball fans and experts to talk about their favorite pastime. I’ve been invited to several events, I hope because people enjoy my passionate rambling on Canadian baseball, but likely because I’m probably the only woman in the entire country who dedicates her entire time to the sport.

That first Pitch Talks event was probably my best, despite my anxiety, obvious nerves and fast-talking spewing of the random baseball thoughts in my head. It gave me a forum to speak openly and honestly about some of the terrible aspects of being a female in this male-dominated industry, and while I was too afraid to really delve into it then, it was certainly the closest I have ever come and the most open I had ever been.

I was scared because I feel like the fastest way to be pushed out is by asking for change — hoping that women can be seen for the value they bring and not just to meet a requirement, or thinking that my qualifications might actually see me hired over someone with fewer, instead of the opposite — and it already had taken me years to feel like a slight part of the inner circle. I don’t want to lose any of the work I already have, all done either on a contract basis or for free. Easier than change would be to get me out, silence my voice. I was scared because I never had admitted that my dream job isn’t always the fantasy world people think it is and want it to be. I didn’t want to ruin that for them, nor did I want to be seen as “a whiner who can’t hack it with the big boys.” I was scared because my mom was in the audience, and I don’t want her to have to think about some of the things I’ve gone through or worry about me.

But I got feedback from other women there, met other female baseball fans and writers, and found a genuine circle of trust within the industry I’d never felt before. I trust many of the men I’ve worked with and continue to work with on a regular basis, but it always takes more time because I never know if they have ulterior motives. I used to trust everybody until I discovered those occasional ulterior motives, so now I question (in my own head) anyone who tries to help me, or is willing to listen to me, or who takes an interest in what I do — or what I am trying to do — because it really can come from anywhere. I’ve received unwanted or inappropriate comments — or worse — from players, coaches, scouts, other writers, broadcasters, you name it. Pick a category, and I have stories I probably don’t want to share.

I’ve always been a “not all men” kind of person. Maybe it’s because I grew up as one of the boys, or maybe it’s because I like to try to see every side to an argument, but I always have come quickly to the defense of any wrongdoing men. Even after immediately placing all baseball players under the same umbrella when I ventured into the industry, I found myself eventually becoming a hypocrite. I let my guard down and thought, “not all baseball players,” and I even dated one. I resisted at first, fearful of what others might think or how I would be perceived in the industry, but he was persistent, and I rarely meet any human beings outside baseball, so it happened anyway. The relationship ended after about a year and a half, breaking my heart, stripping me of the argument that I would never be with a player, and forever making me one of “those” girls.

With a newfound set of social media friends, who also happen to be females and fans of the game, I started learning. I read more about women in sports, and I read more by women in sports. It was really kind of sad, realizing how few there are, how hard the paths they’ve chosen have been, how much — but really how little — has changed over time, and how blissful my life of naïvete had been compared to the world I’d had my eyes opened to.

They opened wider when I had my first and only chance to live my dream of being a part of Baseball Canada. With help wanted to fill the role of a press officer with the Women’s National Team, I got to join Team Canada, traveling to Vancouver and Japan and experiencing international baseball more closely and more personally than I ever could have asked for. That was fantastic, but being introduced to the hardships of female athletes firsthand was like a pinprick bursting and deflating the cloud I was on and the force of gravity sending me crashing back to earth.

There is no way to overstate the disadvantages women at the highest level of their sport have in comparison to men. Just for starters, every single woman on that team had a full-time obligation outside of baseball. There were doctors, students, teachers, yoga instructors, logging engineers, all using vacation time or falling behind at work or school to live the dream and try to win a gold medal at the World Cup. They didn’t have the sponsorships the men’s teams had, the money, the coverage, the interest, or the support. Most people I’ve talked to about my experience didn’t even know women’s baseball existed.

With my eyes open, I found more questions than answers. Could I ever work hard enough? Was the reason I haven’t been able to find a full-time job in the industry so simple? Would anything change in my lifetime? Things certainly have gotten better, barriers have been broken, and I’m fortunate to be where I am, but will I be forced to put a cap on my ambition? Have I reached my ceiling?

When I have these kinds of thoughts, more often now than when I was living in my ignorant world of bliss, I am discouraged. And more discouraged when faceless, cowardly men, by email or via social media, ask me how many sexual favors I offered in order to achieve what little I have. I think of the hours I’ve logged at the ballpark, in my car on the way to another minor league town, on my computer transcribing and trying to battle writer’s block, checking box scores on my phone, waiting outside a locker room for an interview, watching games, batting practices, scout days, bureau camps. I think of the stock I’ve put in various mediums of acceptance – does this writer follow me on Twitter? Would this person come to me for information on a topic I know the most about? Does this guy in the industry even know I exist? Am I only here to hit the female quota?

I have found myself wondering more lately if it is all worth it. Sure, on the surface, I get to watch baseball games for a living, but below sea level, that living isn’t enough to survive. I work 81 days a year for the Blue Jays, none of those days guaranteed to me as a contractor. I write about Canadian baseball because I am most passionate about that topic, but passion doesn’t pay the bills. I love going to Australia and working in a growing league, but what growth really means is that I’ve lost money with every trip I’ve taken to “work” for the circuit. The money I have made, I’ve spent on trips to new ballparks I haven’t seen before, those ventures usually centered on trying to write about Canadian players or some obscure connection to baseball in Canada.

So, is it worth it? Financially, no. I have no future if I keep going the way I’m going, and I’m not sure how much longer I can pursue my passion. But in every other sense of the word, yes. It is worth it, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for change and growth and development. It is worth the insults, the discouragement, the lack of support, the gatekeeping, the thought that things might never really change because people think they’ve improved enough, but that doesn’t make those necessary evils. It’s worth it all because I love baseball.

Baseball is my passion, and it has become my life. I’ve made friends in the sport who I will have forever. I’ve been to weddings and funerals and championships, and I’ve traveled the world because of baseball. I’ve had countless conversations and interviews that have changed my views on the game and the people in it. I am learning every day and getting better. My natural curiosity and genuine interest in baseball and in the others who, like me, have decided somewhere along the line to dedicate all of their time to a game we all love, keeps me armed with questions.

Every different viewpoint ensures I will never run out of ways to be interested or people to learn from: from the young player looking forward to his draft year, to the guy getting the collegiate baseball experience, to the fresh-faced minor leaguer, to the salty indy ball vet, to the rookie, to the major leaguer who has seen it all, to the scout who signed him, to the front office executive who put him on the board, to the broadcaster whose voice somehow remains intact all year, to the communications team that keeps and hands out information, to the writers, bloggers and television personalities, to the fans…. And in that respect, I’m the same as a lot of other people I’ve come across in this sport.

I’m the same.


A competitive baseball player growing up, Alexis Budnicki has worked for the Toronto Blue Jays, and written for Baseball America, the Australian Baseball League and Canadian Baseball Network, among others. Follow her on Twitter @baseballexis.
newest oldest most voted
Carl
Guest
Carl

For the last 6-7 years I’ve rooted for Kim Ng to become a GM. After reading this, I’m now adding you to my front office rooting interest.

Alexis Brudnicki
Guest
Alexis Brudnicki

Thanks very much! It would be great to see more women in various levels of baseball and I am certainly rooting for more as well.

AK
Guest
AK

Go Lex go! We’re rooting for you too.

Alexis Brudnicki
Guest
Alexis Brudnicki

Thanks so much!

Frank Jackson
Guest
Frank Jackson

As far as “passion doesn’t pay bills”…no kidding. For my part, I found it preferable to hold down a “real” job that requires just 40 hours a week but provides me enough money to indulge my passions (in addition to baseball, movies, craft beer, reading, writing, travel) during the rest of my waking hours. Sad to say it, but there’s great job security in drudgery. It also helps if you remain single, as you will have more time and money to devote to your passions…or your indulgences.

Alexis Brudnicki
Guest
Alexis Brudnicki

I definitely agree, but I strongly hope that there is balance somewhere. It would be nice to continue to work at something I am passionate about, because it doesn’t feel like work, but what doesn’t feel like work doesn’t bring in the money that “real” work would, I suppose. It would be nice just to be able to get by sometimes.

Theresa gardiner
Guest
Theresa gardiner

Thank you for writing this. It gives me and many others an insight of all you have accomplished. Keep breaking that glass ceiling. In the end it will all be worth it.

Alexis Brudnicki
Guest
Alexis Brudnicki

Thank you. I hope that if nothing else, it helped some others feel as though they are not alone.

RADAR
Guest
RADAR

Thanks for writing this.
Fantastic read.

Alexis Brudnicki
Guest
Alexis Brudnicki

Thank you! And you are very welcome.

Bob
Guest
Bob

I came to one of those Pitchtalks events not knowing who you were at all. (I didn’t really know many of the speakers the first time)

But I think you are probably my favourite speaker at the event. To the point where I make special efforts to read or see you to support you – someone I hope “makes it”

Good luck. Please keep trying.

Alexis Brudnicki
Guest
Alexis Brudnicki

That is great to hear! I really appreciate it. I am very grateful for the support as well!

bucdaddy
Guest
bucdaddy

You play euchre!?! Go home, girl! That in itself is pretty cool. I’m going to send a link to this to a young woman of my acquaintance who has some familiarity with what you’ve been through. She got out of sportswriting mainly because of a bad atmosphere at her office (where, ironically, the top supervisors are women), which is unfortunate because she was really good at it and enjoyed it and cared about the kids she covered. She liked being out of the office; she hated being in it. So I know vicariously a little of what it’s been like… Read more »

Alexis Brudnicki
Guest
Alexis Brudnicki

If nothing else, I do hope that it can help others know they’re not alone. I know there have been a lot of times when I felt as though I was, and I’m certain that isn’t the case. It is comforting and disappointing to know how many others feel similarly and have gone through the same things that I have. I hope this helps the woman you sent it to.

AJ Richard
Guest

You go girl! GREAT article! I will be sharing it widely! I’m trying to bust into baseball at age 44 because I didn’t realize it was even a remote possibility earlier. Women like you have inspired me. I started #womenbelonginbaseball to unite the support women in ALL facets of baseball need and deserve. Please join us! We are all about women being players, journalists, umpires, coaches, leading the front office, broadcasting, etc. Spread the word! #womenbelonginbaseball https://www.facebook.com/Womenbelonginbaseball-1870579023166715/?ref=bookmarks

AJ Richard

Alexis Brudnicki
Guest
Alexis Brudnicki

Thank you very much for reading and for your support. I would love to see more women in the sport, most definitely.

Well-Beered Englishman
Guest
Well-Beered Englishman

This is a joy to read, but it’s also hard to read. Hard because, as a baseball fan, it pains me to read about the ways our sport still keeps barriers up against women, and the many ways that baseball can be discouraging or disheartening. But a joy because your story gives me hope that future women (and men) can change baseball for the better.

Alexis Brudnicki
Guest
Alexis Brudnicki

Thank you very much, and I feel similarly. It is comforting to get a positive response but disappointing because I am learning that so many others have gone through so many of the same things, and it just continues to happen. I wasn’t even sure about writing this, but pretending everything is fine all the time doesn’t make for change. I certainly hope it can get better.

Stephen Dymalla
Guest
Stephen Dymalla

A brave and exposing write…..from the heart of someone couragous enough to live her passion. The hard times and set-backs don’t equate to any amount of loss…but to growth. We could all do with a little of that stuff.

Alexis Brudnicki
Guest
Alexis Brudnicki

Thank you! I know that you work in baseball out of your passion for the game as well and it is the people like you who help to motivate me, and I appreciate it, and am most definitely grateful for your support.

Bradley Fauteux
Guest
Bradley Fauteux

Opening up here and in other venues and telling this part of your story is important for both men and women. The gender equity journey is a long one and I am so proud and honoured to have worked with you for those years in the control room for the Blue Jays. Pioneering is hard work, but I look forward to better days and more lucrative ones for you ahead.

Alexis Brudnicki
Guest
Alexis Brudnicki

I am so appreciative of your support and to have worked with you and others like you who didn’t see a gender difference really at all. I was very afraid to write this but the support has been overwhelming and I am glad that I was given the chance.

Sheilah Hawkins
Guest
Sheilah Hawkins

After meeting you for the first time this summer during Pan Am games I witnessed first hand the long, long hours you put in in a day and the dedication and passion you have for the sport of baseball! You always get the ‘inside scoop’ and the real life stories of all the players you write about at the same time making those players feel a little bit special they are being written about. Your writing captures our attention from beginning to end!! So well done Alexis! I only see good things for you in the future!

Alexis Brudnicki
Guest
Alexis Brudnicki

Thank you so much! I appreciate everything you and your family have done for me and without your help I wouldn’t have been able to do some of the best things I have done in my career! I truly appreciate the help and hope that some day I might not have to ask so many people for help.

Leo
Guest
Leo

Great read. I have 2 daughters that have a great passion for the game of baseball. Your article gave me some insight on what you have to go through but also the joys of it. Thank you so much for it and I will be sharing this with them. Keep up the hard work. In the end it will be worth it.

Alexis Brudnicki
Guest
Alexis Brudnicki

Thanks very much! I hope if your daughters pursue careers in sports that their journeys are easier than mine, but that they can enjoy them even almost as much. I certainly love the things I’ve been able to do and have been fortunate in many ways.

a2colin
Guest
a2colin

Hang in there Alexis. The only way things change is by people like you not giving up. It’s a long way back, but Galileo was nearly exterminated for his scientific beliefs but in the end he won. Hopefully this time it won’t take several hundred years. The only person to have won two Nobel Prizes in science was a woman. I’m cheering for you.

Alexis Brudnicki
Guest
Alexis Brudnicki

Thank you very much! I hope that things eventually change, no matter how long it takes.

cowtown_doc
Guest
cowtown_doc

A challenging and excellent read. Career choices are always difficult, but I hope that you are able to continue working in baseball journalism.

I look forward to more stories at your next Pitch Talks!

Alexis Brudnicki
Guest
Alexis Brudnicki

Thank you! I hope so too!

Nikki Thomas
Guest

Such an open and honest article. It’s both heartening and saddening to see how much our mutual journeys are the same (and also different). I’ve also dabbled in sports media but turned away from it after facing many of the same challenges… Mostly because I didn’t want those discouraging moments to reduce the passion for the game I love so much. Perhaps I’ll revisit my decision – you’re a trailblazer, and perhaps your journey will make my own just a little bit easier.

Alexis Brudnicki
Guest
Alexis Brudnicki

I’ve felt the same way many, many times. I was afraid that if I centred my life around the one thing that I was passionate about and could use as an escape from everything, it could easily leave me with nowhere else to turn. So far, there have definitely been some times when I feel as though that’s true, like the time that I wrote this and I was ready to quit altogether and get out of the game and go back to being a pure fan. But there have also been times to make it all worth it because… Read more »

JB
Guest
JB

Great article. My daughter is much the same when it comes to baseball passion. Played baseball with the boys from age 5 til 14 before playing on one of the few bantam all girls teams in Ontario, then on to a women’s team. She never did care much for fast pitch. She then went on to get a job as an usher with the Jays, what better way to see your favourite team 81 times a year and get paid to do it! We’ve been to spring training 3 years in a row now. Unfortunately she had to get a… Read more »

Alexis Brudnicki
Guest
Alexis Brudnicki

Thanks very much for reading! It is unfortunate to hear that she had to get a full-time job outside of the game but it is the reality. I hope that I am not forced out of the game, but it is a definite possibility.

Martha. s
Guest

Stay the course and follow your dream.

Alexis Brudnicki
Guest
Alexis Brudnicki

I’ll do my best!

Kevin
Guest
Kevin

Great article. Not everyone can live their dream but I hope you get to continue to live yours!!

Alexis Brudnicki
Guest
Alexis Brudnicki

Thank you! I hope so too!

Oldgoat_MN
Guest
Oldgoat_MN

If your writing is always this good you are unstoppable.

Alexis Brudnicki
Guest
Alexis Brudnicki

Thank you! I really appreciate that.

Tom Lucia
Guest
Tom Lucia

I hope you go as far as you want to go, because I have a little girl who is two, and I want her to have dreams and love for the things she wants to do. I hope when she get’s older she will love baseball like you.

Grant Elson
Guest
Grant Elson

Great article and congratulations on the scouting sponsorship from the Blue Jays. Best of luck in your future endeavours.