Robin Wallace tried to leave baseball, on more than one occasion. Yet she couldn't help but come back to it. Despite the heartache the game had given her over the years, her love and passion for the national pastime kept pulling her back, like a magnet to metal.
"It's a theme in my life: I leave and come back to baseball every time," Wallace said. "I should know better than to leave."
Hired by the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau as an amateur scout in New England, Wallace became the only woman employed as a full-time scout. It appears that she's found a home, one that she isn't going to desert any time soon.
"I couldn't be happier," Wallace said. "It's a great organization to work for, with wonderful support and wonderful people. I know I want to be in baseball. I've learned my lesson by now. I'm best in baseball and I'm happiest in baseball. I believe it's where I can contribute the most. I'm happy where I am right now."
It took a while for Wallace, 37, to find her happy place, as she has spent most of her life flirting with baseball. She started playing baseball at age 5, and as she advanced through Little League in Mobile, Ala., she was the only girl playing, ignoring the calls to play softball instead.
Wallace ended up on the mound, making a transition to the "girls" sport even tougher. The first girl to play baseball at her middle school, she wanted to keep going in high school. That turned out to be easier said than done. She tried softball her freshman year, but in Alabama at the time, high school softball was still slow pitch.
"That really didn't do it for me," Wallace said.
Wallace tried to play baseball for her high school, but they wouldn't let her. So she transferred and played her senior year. Arm troubles made Wallace think her relationship with the game was over, and she headed to Tulane on an academic scholarship. But Wallace wasn't done, not by a long shot. She had shoulder surgery to repair her rotator cuff and eventually moved to a conservative Division III school to play baseball for a year.
"I got death threats and wasn't really welcome," Wallace said.
So it was back to Tulane to finish school and play club baseball, where she blew out her knee. That would be a signal to most that it was time to walk away, and Wallace tried. She was set to go to law school, but after playing in a semi-pro league in the Boston area for a summer, she deferred for a year. She continued that summer tradition even while attending law school.
Wallace's work in baseball since has been far-ranging. Back in 2004, she played for the U.S. National Women's team that took home gold in the International Baseball Federation Women's Baseball World Cup in Canada. Not everything was that glamorous. She was part of a cleaning crew for a men's team -- "We called ourselves sanitation engineers," she quipped. Wallace has been employed as an assistant general manager for one independent league team and then a GM for another. From 2003-09, she was the executive director of the North American Women's Baseball League.
Once again, Wallace was ready to leave baseball, and she began her own law practice in 2011, though she was still peripherally involved in the game she couldn't get out of her system. A year later, she received an invitation from Frank Marcos, the senior director of MLB's Scouting Bureau, to attend Scout School. Wallace paid her own way to go, and the rest, as they say, is history.
"I didn't know where it would take me," Wallace admitted. "I never thought of being a scout. I didn't really know that was a job.
"It was a lot of hard work, but I loved it. I worked my tail off and did surprisingly well. I had no idea what it was all about, what it was going to take. It was an amazing experience. For the first time in several years, I was thinking, 'I feel alive again. I'm happy again and I want to be back in baseball. If this is something, if I can find an opportunity here, this is where I think I belong.'"
Marcos and the Bureau were thinking the same thing. It took a while to get it done, but after seeing Wallace perform as one of the best students in her Scout School class, she was hired as an amateur scout covering the New England region. This summer, she's had coverage of the Cape Cod League and the New England Collegiate Baseball League as well as the recently completed East Coast Professional Showcase in Syracuse, N.Y., which featured some of the best high school talent east of the Mississippi.
"She's been around the game as long, if not longer, and in more roles, than many of her counterparts," Marcos said. "She has a tremendous background in the game. Comparing her to the others I'd consider for a position, she is as qualified if not more so than the gentlemen.
"The big concern is can anyone, male or female, handle the rigors of scouting. There was no doubt in my mind she can do it."
Wallace isn't the only woman employed by the Scouting Bureau. Christie Stancil Wood, the East Coast video technician, was the first female hired by the Bureau, back in 2000. In both instances, Marcos was convinced by the qualifications and work ethic of the candidates, while understanding the ground-breaking nature of the hirings.
"It was a matter of finding someone who had all the skills and the passion to do it," Marcos said. "It's nice to say, "We hired a woman scout.' I like the fact I can say, 'I hired a quality scout.' The fact she is a woman scout in a very male-dominated business, it is exciting for her and exciting for the Bureau.
"When people see her work, they see she's not afraid to jump right in and be one of the scouts that are there. What's been really good is the way the scouts have accepted her. Yes, some may give her a look, but at the end of the day, they see her work and they offer support. That's what is so encouraging. It's encouraging the industry is recognizing it. I wish there were more opportunities for women."
Wallace is aware of this part of her current gig, though at no point in her life did she seek out the life of a pioneer. She doesn't shrink from that responsibility, though, and if her pursuing a life in the game she could never quite leave behind helps others do the same, that's a nice byproduct.
"I love the game, I'm passionate about the game," said Wallace, who also spoke positively about the reception she's received from other scouts. "It seems to work for me. It's something I can succeed at and do well at. I find satisfaction and also can give something back to the game. I am aware of it and I am happy that in the process of pursuing my goals and dreams that I might open the doors for other women."