Ashley Stephenson was coaching at a children’s baseball clinic run by the Blue Jays Baseball Academy, the arm of the organization responsible for grassroots outreach, when someone noticed her talent.
“You’re really great at explaining things to little kids,” said Geoff Holloway, a friend who works as a software specialist with Jez. Have you ever thought about professional training?
Stevenson politely told him that she had thought about it a lot but didn’t believe it was an option for her. Then there was the part where she didn’t say it out loud: “Yeah, man, but I’m a 40-year-old woman—nobody knocks on the door to hire me.”
Stephenson devoted her life to baseball (she was also a top level hockey player). She started the sport when she was 4 years old when her father volunteered to coach the T-ball team. will continue to become One of the most successful players from Canada, I played for the national team for 15 years, until I retired in 2018, and I collected a lot of equipment along the way. After her playing career, she coached with the women’s national team and would do so forever to stay in the game.
What Stephenson didn’t know at the time of that exchange at the clinic two summers ago was that through a series of fortuitous circumstances, personal connections, and yes, a lot of hard work, she was going to land her dream job.
When blue jays Unveiling their pre-season minor league coaching staff, Stevenson will be a part of as a coach with the club’s affiliate, the Vancouver Canadiens. She becomes the organization’s second female coach, along with Coach Jaime Vieira (now Jaime Lever) and joins a growing number of women — there were 11 in 2022 — with field coaching jobs across majors and minors. This is a number Stephenson hopes she can help continue to grow.
“I know that — and it helps me a bit — if I do a really good job, I’m going to keep opening doors for other women and I don’t take it lightly,” Stephenson said. “If a man is hired and does a terrible job and gets fired, there will be 100 men behind him for a job. If females are hired and do a terrible job, people are probably more shy or reluctant to offer the next female a job and that is the reality of the job now.”
“Do I think things will change? Yes. But I understand that there will be a lot of eyes inside and outside the organization to make sure I do a good job. And I’m OK with that. I’m going to work as hard as I can to do my best. I’m going to do well because I’m not going to let myself fail, basically.”
As a baseball player, Stephenson had a knack for helping her teammates out on the field. She had a sharp baseball IQ and was a natural leader. Her teammates are used to hearing her voice from the left side of the field, telling them about positions or plays.
She said, “Late in my career, everyone I played with used to smile and nod, because they knew exactly what I was going to say before I said it.”
Even if an internship seemed like an ideal career path, Stevenson said “never in a million years” had she expected a job with a major organization. After all, more than a decade ago, it wasn’t unheard of for women to have field coaching jobs, while opportunities in women’s baseball weren’t full-time. So Stephenson pursued teaching instead, becoming a high school physical education teacher, a job she loved and allowed her to coach high school kids while playing for the national team during the summer.
“Honestly, I probably got into teaching because I love coaching,” she said. “It’s very similar. The difference is at the major league or pro level, they’re elite and they’re focused and they probably just have a few goals or some more direction than high school kids.”
Before being hired, Stevenson was no stranger to the Blue Jays’ organization. Born in Mississauga, Ont. She grew up during the golden days of the early 1990s and remembered driving with her mom in their car and honking her horn when the Blue Jays won the World Series. As an adult, she had been a trainer at team-run clinics for at least 10 years, but saw these opportunities as a fun way to earn more money while developing the game, especially among girls, rather than a test for a future position.
In fact, in 2019, Stevenson closed the book mostly about pursuing a career in professional baseball. That year, she attended the Take the Field conference in San Diego, an event designed to get more women involved in field jobs. Stephenson listened to Rachel Palkovic, now a minor league manager with the Yankees Organization, talked about her grueling road to landing with a major league team which included an episode where She slept on a mattress that she found in an Amsterdam rubbish bin.
She marveled at Balkovec’s inspiring perseverance, but also thought to herself: “I’m not doing it.” Stevenson had a career, a home, and a family—and sacrificing all of that for what still seemed like a slim chance at a job wasn’t attractive.
“I felt a little ashamed that I wasn’t willing to sacrifice everything for the chance to do it,” she said. And then whenever I thought about it, I was like, ‘I don’t know many guys who would ever sacrifice everything. “
Two years later, Stephenson was reluctant to attend the convention again, but Elizabeth Bean, director of major league operations for the New York Mets who helps run the event, encouraged Stephenson to attend since it was being held approx. Bean asked the participants to send in a resume and cover letter, so Stephenson quickly got one of them together, something she later felt ashamed of when she informed Bean to the group she was handing out to teams across the league.
“Maybe I should have given more time to that,” Stevenson thought.
Her resume landed him with Blue Jays assistant general manager Joe Sheehan and came with a recommendation from Benn, who had also crossed paths with Stevenson while growing up playing baseball in Toronto. Within days, TJ Burton, the Blue Jays’ director of amateur baseball, mentioned Stevenson as a strong coaching candidate after getting to know her through clinics. It was two unconnected signals at once. So Sheehan learned more about the expert candidate — and Canadian — who has so far been operating under his nose unnoticed.
Sheehan reached out to Stevenson, who at first couldn’t believe her phone rang. Maybe her friend Holloway was cheating on her, she thought. But he was actually a Blue Jays executive on the phone. She was frank with Sheehan, explaining that she would love a chance, “But I can’t turn my whole life upside down unless it’s perfect.” Sheehan stayed in touch and soon after, began talking to more people in the organization, including Director of Player Development, Joe Sclafani.
“What sets her apart is her growth mindset, how humble she is, she’s accomplished a lot in the game and she’s obviously very passionate about it and you can feel that on the phone and a lot of the staff felt that too,” said Sclafani. “He was asking a lot of questions, really smart questions.”
The talks eventually led to Stephenson being invited to spend a week at the Player Development Complex in Dunedin, Florida, working with the Florida Complex League Blue Jays at the junior level. It was kind of a down to earth encounter. Meanwhile, Stevenson wanted to know if it was right for her, too.
Last July, Stephenson managed the women’s national team through a series of friendly exhibitions against the United States, and a few days later she headed to Dunedin. She absorbed as much as she could about working with a minor league team, often sitting next to manager Jose Mayorga during games to gain as much knowledge as possible.
“Anything I could do for the week, I did, and it was great. That’s just kind of cemented it for me,” she said. “Fear of the unknown. I was like, I don’t know, I think I like baseball, but if it’s all I do, do I love it the same way? I don’t know. I haven’t had a chance to do that. Then I go down there, and I’m like, ‘Wow, this Amazing – that’s exactly what I want to do.”
That was good news for the Blue Jays family.
Said Sklafani: “As we debriefed afterwards with our staff who are here, it became clear very quickly that she made a really positive impression, was very bright and was a good cultural occasion for us.”
The club put her at the top of their list of potential hires, and by the fall Stephenson had joined the fold and was assigned to Vancouver, a level the club thought would be a good challenge, with their needs met. Geographically speaking, it is also an ideal place to allow her to stay in Canada. It’s still an important cross-country move for her, her partner, and their dogs, but her friends and family are already planning their West Coast vacations.
She will join Brent Lavallee’s staff as the Canadiens’ fourth head coach, and while her responsibilities are still winding down, Stephenson expects to help out on defense, base hitting, and coach first base, along with everything else that’s needed.
While coaching young professional players through a 132-game season will be a new challenge, Stephenson has years of experience coaching high school baseball, field hockey, and field hockey—boys and girls—along with time spent in the classroom.
Those who coached alongside Stephenson with the women’s national team said she brings strength to the job but is calm under pressure. Patricia Landry, an assistant coach, noted that Stephenson is an easy collaborator, open to feedback and always looking to improve. Her communication skills, especially when speaking to players, stand out, said assistant coach Kate Psota, who noted that Stephenson knows when to press, when to hold back, and when to break the “teacher’s voice”.
“The best thing about Ash is that she won’t dress anything for you, but she’ll be honest with you, and I think the players can really respect that as well,” said Psota, a former national team player who knew Stevenson better than that. from 20 years old. “She doesn’t say everything she wants to hear, but she does say what she wants to hear.”
Stephenson will not coach the national program in 2023 but hasn’t ruled that out in the future. Although her teammates will miss her, they are happy to see her get this long deserved opportunity and be able to continue to advance the game for women.
“Ash will be a great host for that…not just for myself and the people we all play for within the National Program but beyond,” said Hannah Martensen, assistant coach. “I think that really extends broadly to the broader community, and if you can see it, you can be some kind of thing. Kids go to a Vancouver Canadiens game, and they see Ash out there on the field, I think that says a lot.”
As for Stevenson, she said she believes her passion, communication and work ethic will set her up for success with the Canadians.
“I know I’m going to work hard,” Stevenson said. “I’ve always worked hard and I want to be good – I want to be a good coach. I want to go out there and prove myself and make sure the Jays are proud of the person they hired and the guys know I want the best for them and I know I really want to help them get where they want to be.”
Her last teaching day will be in early February, and then she will fly to Dunedin for spring training. She was naturally nervous about the career change, but recently, those who are excited have mostly been replaced. She said that’s how you know she’s ready.
“I don’t expect it to be easy in any way, but coaching is never easy,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what you coach, it’s never going to be easy. So there will be some bumps in the road, I’m sure of that, but I’m confident I can be an asset to the team and the organization as long as I stick to who I am and what I’m good at and the things I believe in.” “.
(Photo courtesy of the Toronto Blue Jays.)