Our Alexis a winner at SABR conference

Gregory J. Matthews, left and Ben Baumer co-winners of the Contemporary Baseball Analysis Award, along with Alexis Brudnicki, winner of the Contemporary Baseball Commentary award at the fifth annual SABR Analytics Conference in Phoenix, Az.

Gregory J. Matthews, left and Ben Baumer co-winners of the Contemporary Baseball Analysis Award, along with Alexis Brudnicki, winner of the Contemporary Baseball Commentary award at the fifth annual SABR Analytics Conference in Phoenix, Az.

 

Alexis Brudnicki started writing about the game she loves for Baseball America.

From there she joined the Canadian Baseball Network and has written for MLB.com, the Australian Baseball League, Baseball Canada and BlueJays.com to name a few outlets.

Brudnicki has always been profilic and Saturday was honored with Contemporary Baseball Commentary award at the fifth annual SABR Analytics Conference at the Hyatt Regency Phoenix in Phoenix, Az.

Contemporary Baseball Analysis
Benjamin S. Baumer, Shane T. Jensen, Gregory J. Matthews, “OpenWAR: An Open Source System for Evaluating Overall Player Performance in Major League Baseball,” Journal of Quantitative Analysis, Vol. 11, Issue 2, June 2015.
Jonathan Judge, Harry Pavlidis, and Dan Turkenkopf. “Introducing Deserved Runs Average — And All Its Friends,” Baseball Prospectus, April 29, 2015.
Ben Lindbergh, “Among the Power Pitchers: Does Kansas City’s Contact-Heavy Approach Give the Royals a Postseason Edge?” Grantland, Oct. 20, 2015.
Jeff Sullivan, “So You Want An Edge Against Mike Trout,” FanGraphs, Aug. 27, 2015.
Jeff Zimmerman, “Velocity’s Relationship with Pitcher Arm Injuries,” The Hardball Times, April 22, 2015.

Contemporary Baseball Commentary
Alexis Brudnicki, “I’m Different. I’m the Same.” The Hardball Times, Nov. 18, 2015.
Nathaniel Grow, “The MLBPA Has A Problem,” FanGraphs, March 30, 2015.
Dan Rosenheck, “Spring Forward,” The Economist, March 4, 2015.
Meg Rowley, “Post-Moneyball’s Clubability,” Baseball Prospectus, Nov. 4, 2015.
Eno Sarris, “Joey Votto on Aging,” FanGraphs, Sept. 22, 2015.

Historical Analysis/Commentary
Adam Darowski, “The Standards of Today Would Create a Very Different Hall of Fame,” The Hardball Times, Dec. 18, 2015.
Jason Foster, “How One Pitch Might Have Sent John Smoltz on a Path to the Hall of Fame,” The Sporting News, July 24, 2015.
Bryan Grosnick, “Jason Giambi, Patron Saint of the ‘00s,” Beyond the Box Score, Feb. 17, 2015.
John McMurray, “Examining Stolen Base Trends by Decade from the Deadball Era through the 1970s,” SABR Baseball Research Journal, Fall 2015.
Alex Remington, “Anniversary of a Myth: The Knickerbockers’ Most Famous Game,” The Hardball Times, June 19, 2015. 

Voting was conducted online at SABR.org, BaseballProspectus.com, FanGraphs.com, HardballTimes.com and BeyondtheBoxScore.com, with results weighted equally at 20%. 

Brudnicki’s article, “I’m Different. I’m the Same.” was selected as one the winner in the Contemporary Commentary section.


By Alexis Brudnicki
“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.

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.