EVERETT — It’s about 5:30 p.m. on a game night as Everett AquaSox athletic trainer Amanda Lee makes her way from the home team’s clubhouse to the football field behind Funko Field at Everett Memorial Stadium. She stops to watch the starting pitchers complete their conditioning drills and the position players run pass routes as they warm up.
Lee stands by the goalpost in an unassuming fashion, the majority of the time with her arms crossed. Every once in awhile, a player or two approaches and she cracks a smile or shadow boxes with them.
Her relaxed demeanor doesn’t suggest anything special or out of the ordinary, but her sheer presence around the Seattle Mariners’ Short Season-A affiliate is monumental.
Lee made history when she was hired by Seattle last December. She is the first female athletic trainer to work in the Mariners’ organization.
It was a landmark hire not only for the Mariners, but for professional baseball in general. There’s only one female athletic trainer in the majors, Nikki Huffman of the Toronto Blue Jays, and Lee is among just a handful of female trainers in the minors.
But breaking down barriers — while a nice perk — was not the driving force in Lee’s serendipitous journey to Everett.
Most of all, she’s fueled by a passion for helping athletes achieve their goals.
“I’m a big set-a-goal-and-work-toward-it kind of person,” Lee said. “I don’t set out to do stuff just so I can be the first female, or that type of thing. That’s not really something I thought of or think about on a daily basis. This is what I love to do and this is where I want to be.”
Rising the ranks
Lee, a native of Glenpool, Oklahoma, grew up with two passions: basketball and baseball. One she loved to play (basketball) and 0ther (baseball) she loved to watch.
Early in her high school career, Lee thought basketball would be her destiny. She was fielding interest from NCAA Division II programs around the South and Midwest until compartment syndrome — an excessive pressure build up inside an enclosed muscle space — in her junior year forced her to undergo surgery on both legs.
That derailed her basketball career.
During her recovery from the surgery, she was watching ESPN when a news report scrolled across the bottom of the screen that Susan Falsone was being hired by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Falsone was the first female athletic trainer to land a job in the “big four” professional sports leagues — MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL.
“Once I saw that roll across the bottom of the ESPN (ticker), I said, ‘I’m going to be the second,’ ” Lee said.
Even before that fateful moment Lee had shown an interest in the health-care field. During her junior year of high school, she enrolled in a vocational program designed to put students on a health-science track. As a senior, she studied sports medicine.
From there, she majored in sports medicine at the University of Tulsa. Lee worked with and shadowed just about every athletic program at the school, except the one she was most passionate about, baseball, which Tulsa dropped in 1980.
But Lee’s obsession with baseball led her to the Tulsa Drillers, the Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“I went to just about every Drillers’ home game during college,” Lee said. “I was always convincing my friends to go.”
She eventually reached out to the Drillers and secured an internship in athletic training for the 2017 season, her final year of college.
During her internship, the Dodgers took notice. When an athletic training position opened at their spring-training complex in Glendale, Arizona, Lee landed her first full-time job in the industry.
“I really felt like that helped me get in a foot in the door,” she said. “I knew what was expected in the organization and I feel like (the Drillers) put in a good word for me.”
Lee was a diehard Texas Rangers fan growing up, but when it comes to athletic training, the Dodgers were a perfect fit. They are one of the most progressive franchises in sports, first hiring Falsone, then adding several other female trainers.
Lee spent a season in the Los Angeles system, but her contract ended at the end of the year. The Dodgers couldn’t promise a full-time position would be available the following season, so Lee began looking for another job. She drew high praise from the Dodgers’ director of player health, Ron Porterfield, who recommended her to several other organizations.
John Walker, the minor-league medical and athletic training coordinator for the Mariners, was one of those who fielded a call from Porterfield and immediately was interested in Lee.
After a preliminary interview in December, Lee was told there would be a second interview in a couple days. As it turned out, the second interview took place just a couple hours later. Walker called Lee while she was watching television in the living room of her mother Renee Burden’s home in Glenpool.
“I answered the phone all confused, and once I realized it was the Mariners, my tone completely changed,” Lee said with a laugh.
After a successful second interview, Lee received another call about a week before Christmas offering her the job in Everett. Again, Lee was with her mother, this time recognizing the phone number and clenching Burden’s wrist in excitement while they were sitting in Burden’s white 2017 Chevy Malibu in the parking lot of a Walmart in Glenpool.
It was a special moment for Lee, but also for her mother.
“She just loves it,” Burden said. “She’s always loved sports and is a detail-oriented and hard-working person.”
Lee was the perfect fit for what the Mariners were looking for, Walker said.
“We welcomed all candidates and resumes and by no means were we going to eliminate someone based on gender,” Walker said. “We found the right person for the job.”
‘A male’s world’
The facilities at Funko Field at Everett Memorial Stadium are similar to most minor-league parks: They were not constructed with the needs of women in mind.
That’s a harsh reality Lee has dealt with in her first season with the AquaSox. Simple things like finding a bathroom or serving up a plate from the postgame spread without traversing through an indecent locker room have presented challenges.
“A lot of the facilities are older facilities and not really made for females,” she said. “I respect the fact that this is a male’s world and I’m just living in it, and they respect the fact that I’m brave enough to deal with them every day. I’m fortunate enough to be with a team like that.”
There was a learning curve for some, but with the majority of the season in the rear-view mirror, Lee has blended into the fabric of the team.
“There hasn’t been a moment since I’ve been here that something seemed different because she’s a female,” said Louis Boyd, who took over as the AquaSox manager on July 23. “She’s not our female trainer. She’s just our trainer. We don’t look at her as anything different. She does a great job of being an athletic trainer for the Everett AquaSox and she does a great job of not letting her gender get in the way of anyone else’s perception of that.”
From the standpoint of athletic training, it was evident early on that Lee and baseball would be a nice fit. After all, the shoulder — one of the most important areas of the body for the sport because of the propensity of injuries related to the shoulder and the overarching lack of mastery in preventing said injuries — was her favorite area of study during college. She loved the mystic and the complexity behind it.
“In school, everyone hated when we got to the shoulder, because it was so hard, nobody really understood it and there are so many muscles we need to remember,” Lee said. “It’s kind of like a puzzle. I like the challenge of it.”
The glass ceiling in athletic training has been broken, but not shattered. There’s still progress to be made to ensure women are better represented in baseball.
According to a report by Baseball Prospectus, 55 percent of the National Athletic Trainer Association’s membership are female. Yet only a handful of jobs in baseball, or other male professional sports for that matter, are awarded to women.
What makes teams so apprehensive?
“When you’re in an all-male environment, I think some organizations — amongst all sports, not just baseball — are very tentative because of the litigation that’s associated with female-male relationships,” Walker said. “It’s just finding the right person.”
For the Mariners, that person is Lee. It remains to be seen whether she’ll rise the ranks in the Mariners’ organization, but Lee has developed an affinity for the Pacific Northwest.
“I keep joking I’m never going to leave here,” she said. “It’s so pretty and the weather is perfect.”
No matter her path, the Mariners plan on assisting her as she works toward her goal of landing a big-league job.
“She has a goal and she’s not shying away from that goal,” Walker said. “She wants to become the next of the few female trainers in the major leagues. If we can provide her a route or help her along that route, that’s great.”