Softball Path Helps Tina Whitlock Land Role In MLB
As the NFL and NBA make strides to include more women coaches among the staffs of their teams, MLB has had a slower process in hiring women to fill coaching roles.
But, the St. Louis Cardinals are one of a few teams throughout MLB with a woman coach within their organization. Tina Whitlock, who previously served as a volunteer assistant coach for the University of South Carolina’s softball team, was hired by St. Louis as a fourth coach for a minor league affiliate ahead of the 2020 season. And while the 2020 MiLB season was canceled due to COVID-19, Whitlock's accomplishment is still something to marvel at.
Before Whitlock was granted her groundbreaking role with the Cardinals, she was a two-time softball All-American at South Carolina. During the 1995 season, the catcher led her team in batting average, hits, doubles, triples and total bases. Then, in 1997, she led South Carolina in at-bats, triples, total bases, slugging percentage and RBI.
Whitlock's 1997 season was when she was named an All-American, while also helping the Gamecocks win the SEC regular season and tournament championships. The team later advanced to the Women’s College World Series.
"It was a dream season," Whitlock said in an interview with the University of South Carolina athletics. "I remember after my first year, we got to the NCAA regional but couldn't get past it. That was frustrating, and I thought about going back home. I wanted to win big.
"I prayed about it, and the conviction I had was that if these are the things I wanted to do, then I need to stay and be a difference-maker. We got better every year, and it showed our senior year. It was a collective effort of everyone on the team."
Whitlock went on to play for the U.S. national team as well as in the professional softball ranks. With her playing career winding down, she continued to stay in the game and moved on to coaching. Her first coaching position was as an assistant at USC Upstate before spending six seasons at the high school level. She then went on to take her first head coaching position at Le Moyne College.
The combination of her playing time and coaching positions led to a few possible opportunities with major league teams. After a coaching stint with the British national softball team, networking opportunities led to conversations with the Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals and an interview with the Chicago Cubs. Then, the Cardinals called.
Whitlock, whose position with the Cardinals was specifically created to train prospective major league coaches and scouts, became one of five women coaches in the minors with her role. She was the Cardinals' second woman hire, and was set to become the organization's first woman on-field coach before the pandemic hit.
Beverly Smith, South Carolina’s head softball coach, spoke highly of Whitlock.
“I’m not surprised at all that she will be one of the first women coaching in MLB,” Smith said through an emailed statement. “This will open the doors for many more women to come and maybe even some of our current players. I think this is a really cool opportunity for Tina and we’re proud of her and what she’s doing.”