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SSTN Interviews Author Jean Ardell

SSTN: Today we are here with award-winning author Jean Hastings Ardell. Jean has written Breaking Into Baseball and Making My Pitch both books about women breaking barriers in baseball. Jean is also a columnist who has published pieces on Reggie Jackson, Mark McGwire, and many others. A college professor, Jean is also a member of the editorial board of NINE: A Journal of Baseball and Culture and SABR.

Thanks for coming to Start Spreading the News. It is great to have this discussion with you.

Thanks for inviting me in.

To begin, please tell us how you became a baseball fan and a writer.

When I was very young, my father took me to the Polo Grounds, where his New York Giants played back then. It’s an often-told story, how a young kid is taken to a gall game by an adult in their life, and something of the experience sticks. I knew the game was important to my dad, and so it became important to me. That was easily done in New York City in the 1950s, with three premier competitive teams.

Breaking Into Baseball was your first book. In this book you chronicle the many ways that women impact the sport of baseball as you look at the sport through a variety of unique lenses. Please tell us about this book.

It was born out of need. I was in a graduate writing program at the University of Southern California and needed a book-length thesis in order to graduate. Out of the blue came the idea to write about the women’s side of the game, all of it. I just wasn’t sure there’d be enough for a whole book. Was I wrong! I fell in love with the stories I found and believed they were worth telling. I mean, how can we call the game the national pastime without including half the country?

Your most recent book, Making My Pitch, tells the true story about Ila Borders. Please share her story with us.

One morning in February of 1994, while working on research for Breaking into Baseball, I picked up the local newspaper and saw a story about a young woman who was starting for a local college team —she was a lefthander on scholarship to play on the men’s team. The game was electrifying – the stands packed, media crews all over, and a 12-1 complete game win for the pony-tailed pitcher. I decided to follow her story for as far as it went. And discovered a great baseball story, about a girl with a dream of playing this men’s game, who was also a born-again Christian and gay. She had to find a way to live authentically. And she has.

How soon do you think it will be before we see women playing Major League Baseball?

I wish I could say “soon,” but for that to happen we need an appreciable number of girls who can play baseball competitively all the way through high school and beyond. People like Justine Siegal are dedicated to making that happen, but there’s still resistance to the idea at the youth baseball level. More likely is the possibility of a woman umpiring in MLB.

Can you tell us of any upcoming book projects you have?

I wish. I’ve always felt that with so many books going out into the world each year, that a story would have to grab me and not let go, and that I’d have to be convinced that I was the right person to write the book. That’s how I felt both about Breaking into Baseball and Making My Pitch. So far, nothing comes to mind. So I’ll be doing articles, profiles, and the like.

You have said, “At its best, baseball brings people together.” Why, do you believe, are people so drawn to baseball and its stories, legends, and people?

A couple of reasons come to mind:

First is the venue. Unlike other major sports, a ballpark by contrast is more peaceable, more conducive to conversation. The pace of the game is slow, which some argue is a detriment in our fast-paced world, but I see it as a respite, which is a good thing.

Also, you can experience the game on various levels – simply the play on the field, or the history of it, or the analytics of it. And as a writer, I’m reminded of the old adage: there are really only two stories we tell: Someone leaves home and has to find their way back; and a stranger comes to town. Baseball lends itself beautifully to that, which is why it’s attracted so many of our finest writers.

There’s a lot of talk about baseball needing to be “fixed.” Is baseball broken? If you were the Commissioner of Baseball what change(s) if any would you make to the current game?

I try to stay away from the politics of the game – it ruins it for me. But here are a couple of thoughts: Pay minor league umpires and players a decent living wage. Encourage more diversity (women and people of color) in the umpiring ranks. That starts at the umpire school[s[. Quit moving clubs around. Baseball at its best is local, integral to the community which is how you build the fan base. The Dodgers and Giants never should’ve left New York. Same thing with the minor league towns.

In looking at the history of the Yankees, or baseball in general, what person or event would you like to see a book written about?

Gee, that’s a tough one. Each year dozens upon dozens of baseball books appear. I’m pressed to think of a subject that hasn’t been covered

In the book and the movie The Natural, the main character wants nothing more than to walk down the street and have people say, “There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was.” Who was the best baseball player you ever saw?

Can’t decide between Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtan

Our final question is really just a collection of short answers…

What was your favorite baseball team growing up?

The New York Yankees

Who was your favorite player?

Mickey Mantle

What is your most prized collectible?

A photo of Jimmie Reese and Babe Ruth, signed by Jimmie: “To Jeanie, A literary master and an envious future.”

Who is your favorite musical group or artist?

Bob Dylan

What is your favorite food (if it is pizza, what is your favorite pizza restaurant)?

Z Pizza, the sausage and mushroom, please.

Please share anything else you’d like with our audience.

Last night we attended our regular Hot Stove League dinner, put on at the Cannery Restaurant in Newport Beach, California, by a devout baseball fan and the restaurant’s owner named Ron Salisbury. (We met Ron in about 2004 on a trip to Cuba with the USC baseball alumni and my husband’s old coach Rod Dedeaux.) Last night we heard from Dino Ebel, third base coach extraordinaire. On a chilly night, the room was packed with people who loved baseball and wanted to hear more about it from Dino.

And to top it off, our 21-year-old grandson joined us. He, too has become a serious fan of the game. What’s better than that?

Thank you Jean. There is nothing better than sharing baseball with family, friends, and loved ones.

I appreciate that you took the time to be with us today. Please keep in touch!

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