Baseball mom shatters gender barrier
“I was a complete tomboy,” said El Dorado Hills mom Edie Thompson as she reflected on a lifetime of either playing baseball or coaching it and how nothing stopped her from thriving in a “man’s” sport. “In hindsight, I never realized it was an option to play softball. Baseball was ingrained in my entire family. It was just who we were.”
The middle of three children and her parents’ only daughter, Edie Rodriguez Thompson, 43, grew up in Campbell, a suburb of San Jose and home to one of the most successful youth baseball programs in the United States. Campbell Little League reached an unprecedented 14 World Series from 1960-1987.
“My oldest brother went to the World Series of Little League twice in the late 1970s,” said Edie. “And I was the first girl to ever play in Campbell Little League.”
Her backyard fence led to a ball field. “I’d hear kids’ names being announced first thing in the morning,” she recalled. “I’d hop the fence and be right on the field, which became a second home to me.”
The man who announced those games for years, author Chuck Hildebrand, chronicled Campbell’s youth baseball dominance in “The Last Baseball Town,” a book that even references the Rodrigues family.
It wasn’t enough to live in the Little League mecca of America growing up, Edie’s “diehard” San Francisco Giants-loving parents Ed and Dee Rodriguez’ enthusiasm for the sport was infectious.
The family’s core values “transcended baseball” according to Edie. “My parents used baseball to teach my brothers and me life lessons about loyalty, teamwork and commitment,” she explained. “Even though they grew up as poor, migrant farm workers and English is their second language, my parents stressed the importance of an education and they used sports to distract us from anything that wasn’t good.”
Edie credits this approach for eventually pulling the Rodriguez children out of poverty in their own adult lives. Edie and husband Dave Thompson are raising three young daughters here. In addition to coaching Little League, Edie owns Trio HR Consulting.
Ed and Dee (Edie’s name is a combination) also let their daughter know being a girl wouldn’t define or limit her. “They wanted me to have the same experiences as my older and younger brothers regardless of my gender,” she said. “Even though I don’t have aspirations of my daughters being in the MLB, as a child I actually thought I’d play for the San Francisco Giants one day.”
Edie was a pitcher and shortstop in the Campbell boys’ league until she was 13 and had just completed the majors division. “Next was move on to Ponies (equivalent to the 50/70 league) and start wearing metal cleats,” she said. “There was a ton of community pressure on my parents. People would say, ‘She could get hurt or even stabbed by the cleats.’ My dad (affectionately known by many to this day as Coach R) would say right back, ‘Well she can stab back!’”
Edie did switch to softball and says today that was probably the best choice, though she would’ve happily kept playing baseball back then. “There is a time when a girl will be physically outmatched on a team with boys,” she said. “I tell my girls when they’re physically outmatched, or when everyone says they have the lowest batting average, it’s time to move on. That is not the point right now. I don’t think my girls even know how they’re blazing that path for girls around here.”
Her oldest daughter, Lake Forest fifth-grader Mia, played AAA for El Dorado Hills Little League last season and was recently selected as the first girl to play on a Hard 90 team. Jenna, 8, will try out for AAA this year and youngest Sylvie, 5, will play T-ball.
“Sylvie practices all the time and would love to try out for single A,” said Edie with pride.
When Edie switched to softball she played varsity as a freshman in high school and was almost instantly picked up by the Strikers, an elite women’s travel team in the San Jose area. “If you made the Strikers, you got a college scholarship,” said Edie, and she did, earning a full catcher softball scholarship to Sacramento State.
“I always told myself I’d stop playing if it ever felt like a job,” said Edie. “And when you’re on a college scholarship they own you. What you wear, when you’ll get up, what classes you’ll take.” After her sophomore year she gave up the scholarship and being on the then-ranked seventh team in the nation to focus on her education and a fresh start at Santa Clara University.
Today Edie says healthy friendships with boys have been a positive lasting effect she credits to baseball and she’s seeing it happen with her own daughters too.
“A lot of girls never interact with a boy until junior high and then suddenly they’re dating!” she said. “Boys used to come to my door and ask: ‘Can Edie play baseball? Can Edie play tackle football?’ We’d jump the fence and play sandlot baseball … that was my childhood. I love to see my girls having real friendships with boys and not falling in love with the first boy who talks to them.”
Several of the boys Edie played Little League with are still her good friends to this day and even helped her meet her future husband while she was still in college. Dentist Dave Thompson owns Thompson Family Dentistry in El Dorado Hills and Edie said, “He’s always been supportive. Dave knows me and he knows baseball’s my gig.”
Still, others don’t understand and Edie said some people who don’t know her think it’s strange she coaches baseball instead of softball.
“The reason is simple: I know baseball much better,” she explained. “I may switch to coaching softball someday, but my girls aren’t ready just yet. Every year I give them the option and ask them if it’s time to move to softball and so far they’ve been saying no. I just tell them they have to play a sport. I don’t care what it is. This is their journey now, not mine.”
Last season Edie coached all three of her daughters’ teams, which included more than 60 games and 120 practices. “People would see me literally changing in parking lots from my Marlins jersey to my Rangers jersey to my Nationals jersey,” she said. “It was craziness at its peak but I did it because my kids love to play and I love to see them.”
Through Mia’s team, Edie’s followed the same group of boys since they were in T-ball and now they’re 10 years old. Last summer she hand selected many of them to be on her travel SWAT baseball team (Starts With Attitude and Toughness and also named after its founders, former Little League buddies Shane, Wally and Thompson.) The team was born of another business the self-described entrepreneur owns in Oklahoma City.
“My HR work led me to Oklahoma, football land, and I decided I wanted to bring them California baseball,” she said. So five years ago Edie created the S.W.A.T. Academy in Oklahoma City. “At SWAT we have a passion for training athletes and delivering baseball in a way that teaches character and life lessons for 7- to 18-year-olds,” she said. “I want it to be the place for kids to go, just like jumping the fence in my backyard was for me.”
On Feb. 1 the successful business, which Edie likened to Hard 90, moved to a much larger, 20,000-square-foot facility.
Edie said she stands out because she coaches with “old values,” ones that are now “almost politically incorrect.”
“She begins each year with a meeting for team parents to stress that the players will not only be taught the fundamentals of baseball but also respect for the game, teammates, opponents, coaches and even the umpires,” said Matt Dwyer, who has coached with Edie and whose 10-year-old son is one who’s been with her almost the entire time he’s played baseball, including as a player on her SWAT team last summer.
Edie is a stickler for conduct, but she’s a fierce competitor too. “She is highly driven and super competitive out on the field,” said Jason Rhoades, another El Dorado Hills father and Little League coach. “There are definitely people who think her girls should be playing softball and there are guys who probably resent her being out there coaching. I think it’s very few people, but they are out there. I think it’s great her girls play baseball and hope they play as long as they want and Edie coaches as long as she wants.”
Edie said there are key reasons she always has competitive teams and she attracts good families. “Whether you are coaching soccer, baseball, anything, you cannot have a breakthrough with a child and build their confidence and character until they trust you,” she explained.
Father of four Don Brown coached the SWAT team with Edie last summer and has known the Thompsons since their children started baseball together. “Once we had an 11-year-old who’d never played before,” he said. “Edie coached him up and by the end of the season he was doing crazy good. Edie instills that: If you work hard you can do it. Her girls are a prime example of that.”
“As much as baseball taught me as a kid, and as much as it’s taught my daughters, baseball’s taught me even more as an adult,” Edie said. “Just about people, kids, families and even how far off things have gotten. There’s much more of an attitude of ‘My kid’s going to be the next professional baseball player,’ and the kid is 7. We’ve lost those old values.”
Instead Edie hopes young people see baseball as a journey, explaining, “Playing baseball is not about the game or the score but the experiences and the laughs and the running laps together. I tell my players, ‘Remember the stories, not the score.’”