June 8, 2023Print | PDF
Following a glittering sports career in Canadian baseball and hockey, former Wilfrid Laurier University Golden Hawk star Ashley Stephenson (BA ’05) is blazing a trail for women within professional baseball.
There are few female professional baseball coaches, but the Toronto Blue Jays boast two within their ranks, including Stephenson, who serves as position coach with the Vancouver Canadians, the Blue Jays’ High-A affiliate. The Baseball Canada hall of famer says that five years ago she didn’t even think there was a possibility of working as a coach within the Blue Jays organization, or with any Major League Baseball club.
Then, after starting to coach for Baseball Ontario and Baseball Canada in 2019, Stephenson started to see changes within the sport.
“When I started coaching, I started looking at more opportunities and there were more women who were getting hired,” says Stephenson. “Major League Baseball also had conferences like ‘Take the Field’ — its whole purpose is to get more women networking and involved, hopefully leading to work opportunities in baseball. I was able to go to that conference in 2019 and then it was virtual in 2021 because of the MLB lockout. It allowed me to network. It's nice when you meet other people like you who you can have conversations with, who you can share some of your thoughts with.”
Before these moments of hope, Stephenson says she had to push through a series of doubts.
“Baseball is a male-dominated sport and that is a huge hurdle for us to overcome,” says Stephenson. “You think of all the people involved in baseball and there's maybe a handful of women. I just never looked in the mirror and thought, ‘I'm going to be one of those women.’ And, as a Canadian, it’s also harder in an American-dominated sport.
“Take the Field was an opportunity for me to start talking to some people and an opportunity for me to maybe consider that this was an option.”
A phys-ed teacher, Stephenson has taken a leave of absence from her high school in Burlington, Ont. until September. She moved to British Columbia this spring to follow her dream, taking up her current coaching job with the Vancouver Canadians.
“Coming out of COVID, I just felt like I needed a bit of a change,” says Stephenson. “I started to look at other opportunities.”
As Vancouver’s position coach, Stephenson works on defence and baserunning with outfielders and infielders, and serves as first-base coach during games.
“It’s been really incredible. I'm learning a ton,” says Stephenson. “The other coaches have been awesome and it’s been quite a welcoming environment with lots of work. So I can try this out and go back to teaching in the fall. If this goes well, if this is something I'd like to continue to pursue, then I'll talk to the school board about some options moving forward. It’s a win-win scenario.”
The two-sport star has experienced plenty of win-win scenarios over the years. Her most coveted achievement in baseball was winning the silver medal as a member of the women’s national team at the 2015 Pan Am Games. Also a skilled hockey player, Stephenson was part of Laurier’s championship team in 2004, which claimed the women’s Canadian university title in Montreal by defeating the powerful University of Alberta in the final.
“That was awesome because it was after four years of hard work,” says Stephenson. “A lot of us rookies came in together. I think seven of us were still there in our last year when we won and upset ‘Big Alberta,’ who hadn't lost in years. So that was amazing.”
During her time at university, Stephenson says she felt a deep connection to Laurier’s purple and gold pride as a student on the Waterloo campus.
“You were locked into everything Laurier. I always felt respected, valued and like my education mattered,” says Stephenson. “And I really love school. That's one of the reasons I became a teacher. There were many profs who were just awesome and you were able to talk to them as people. They also knew and understood that I was a varsity athlete and that I had dreams and goals that I wanted to accomplish.”
After achieving many of her dreams and goals, Stephenson continues to serve as a role model for the next generation of athletes and coaches.