A Conversation With Sandi Kruel

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Sag Harbor Little League’s first female head manager discusses her love for the kids, the game and what it was like to break the gender barrier.

How has your first year as a little league coach been?

It’s been amazing. The kids have been just true troopers playing for me. They’ve worked so hard. It’s one of the biggest highlights of my life today, working with these kids.

Why did you decide to coach this year?

I’ve coached the minors for four years now, but never had the opportunity to coach majors. This year Coach Marienfeld said he didn’t have time to do both the school team and little league. So I called up Rich Decker, the little league president, and told him I wanted to do it. He was 100 percent behind me, but then I had to get voted on by the little league board.

How did that go?

I assume it went fine, because I’m in there. But I wasn’t in the room when they voted.

Did you have any doubt you’d be elected?

It’s a boys club. There was always a doubt. But I knew that the majority of the people that know me on the board, knew I was a pretty big baseball person.

How did you become a big baseball person?

It’s funny. I remember my mother going and throwing with my brother when he played at Pierson. He was Eddie Haye’s catcher. I remember being dragged to the park to all of his high school games when I was eight and nine years old.

Then when my own kids became involved and especially Brandon going up to All Pro and watching the coaches there help him, I just picked it up.

What about before Brandon, were you a baseball fanatic?

I was always into watching it, but I can’t say I was actually playing it. I was into beauty pageants. I never even played softball, but I was always brought up around the sport.

And I remember even being on the school board and as president I would go to watch all of the high school games. I remember watching players like Danny Reiser, Mike Labrozzi and Andrew Meyer all come up through little league. At this point I consider myself a baseball junkie.

So, back to the idea of the boys club. You’re the first female boys coach to be a head manager. How does it feel to break the gender barrier?

I guess it saddens me to think in the year 2008 with Hillary Clinton and Obama running for President that it could still be that big of an issue. But that being said, it’s been a challenge with adults more so than with kids.

Actually before the draft had four kids call me and ask me if at all possible, could I get them in the draft. They knew that I knew so much about baseball. That was a good feeling.

Then someone said I had to prove myself. Like all coaches I knew I had to show I knew enough about the game. For example you could get a kid who wasn’t a great hitter. Some coaches might teach them to bunt a ball. I would take those kids and spend extra time with them, and break down their swings so at least at the end of the season everyone on my team was able to put the ball in play. When you teach kids that anybody can play this game and be successful at it, you gain respect from both the kids and other coaches.

What sort of adversity have you had to run into as a female head coach for a boys team?

When I went to certify all of my players as all-stars, it was at the Flanders Firehouse. It was 32 men and myself. I was asked numerous times if I was the secretary for the league and I would say “no.” They would ask if I was there for my husband and I would say “no.” I would say “I’m a coach” and they said, “Oh, for the girls teams” and I would say “no.”

For them, I guess it was a shock and they just assumed. Well, you should never assume anything.

When I went to call about our shirts, the guy on the phone said “the girls shirts are not in yet.” I said “no, the boys’ shirts.”

There have definitely been some comments that I guess weren’t as positive as I had hoped from members of my community. That being said I hope their children of the parents who made those comments can learn something from this experience.

What are some of the things you learned from the experience?

I’ve learned to never assume I know everything. I’ve learned to surround myself with people that more about the game than I do and to always accept their help.  And I learned that as long as you treat kids with respect and knowledge of the game, they will return that same respect to you.

You not only break the gender barrier, but your All-star team is only the second team to win three games. How does that feel?

It’s a magical feeling when that third out is played. To see the kids’ faces and to know they have played their hearts out and to ser them go to that level is just incredible.

As much as I want to say it’s about my coaching and the people I‘ve brought in to help me, its’ not. These boys are amazing little athletes – -they’re going to be an amazing varsity team. They’re playing to win and they’re playing hard. And they’re playing for themselves.

We had three double plays in the last game. They’re executing in ways 11 and 12-year olds should not be.

I know I’m under the eye, I know people are watching every move I make, what kid I put where in the batting order. But I have to go with my gut and what the other coaches think.

Rich Heynel was an amazing help during the regular season, as was Liz Granite, and Rich Schiavoni with the All-stars. I talk to my coaches about every decision. Usually they go my way, but we’re always in agreement at 5:45 when the game starts.

What is the most important thing that could come from this season?

For me that the kids who played baseball spirit is they to continue to go on to play and that everybody has leaned the love of the game And that they want to play again next year and that they don’t want to go and play lacrosse.

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