Growing up in New Jersey, Jennifer Hughes was mesmerized by all the bridges and buildings in New York City and reckoned that she’d build some herself someday.
So she became an engineer and has now spent the past six years as Oswego’s public works director/village engineer.
Playing baseball for the first time as an 8-year-old, Hughes was the proverbial kid picking dandelions and daydreaming in right field. Her team was lousy, its only win coming in the season finale because the other team didn’t bother to show up. Hughes literally didn’t hit the ball that year, her only contact coming on a lone foul ball. Although she thought about quitting, her dad convinced her to try baseball for one more year. Thank God that she did.
“My dad always told me whatever I should do, I should do,” Hughes said. “There aren’t too many female public works directors or in baseball. I’m one of the very few, but I’m used to that, but there’s no reason why others can’t do it.”
Hughes, who resides in Oswego, is a baseball player, umpire and avid fan who spent a good chunk of January enjoying warm weather while umpiring the Boston Red Sox Women’s Fantasy Camp. She then donned the uniform of her beloved Mets in the New York Mets Fantasy Camp in Port St. Lucie, playing for a team coached by former big-leaguers Chad Krueter and Mookie Wilson.
Wilson, as you might recall, is remembered most for hitting the ground ball that rolled between Bill Buckner’s legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. That’s also the last time the Mets won the World Series.
Hughes’ baseball résumé wouldn’t fit on the back of a standard old Topps baseball card, and fellow diehard fans of the game undoubtedly would be jealous to learn all the places she’s been to because of a sport that she nearly gave up on after one season.
“I’m somebody that can recite so many stories, but I’m all about just playing the game,” she said. “I’d rather be on the field in a pickup game than sit and watch it, and umpiring has brought a whole new facet of the game. It’s challenging and exciting, and it’s been fun to learn it.”
This summer, Hughes will play in a game at Citi Field in New York. She’s already played at Miller Park in Milwaukee, the old Tiger Stadium in Detroit, the SkyDome (Rogers Centre now) in Toronto and at Field of Dreams in Iowa. She won a national title playing for the Chicago Storm in 2003 and was the starting left fielder for the U.S. during the Women’s World Series in Australia in 2003.
Having played in a half dozen Mets fantasy camps, she’s had the chance to socialize and/or play with former Mets, including Gary Carter, Doc Gooden, Mike Piazza, Darryl Strawberry, Ron Swoboda and Pat Mahomes, whose son was MVP of Super Bowl 54 after rallying the Kansas City Chiefs to victory. She’s been Nelson Figueroa’s battery mate, catching 90-mph sliders. She can count on one hand which MLB stadiums she hasn’t visited yet.
Oswego Village President Troy Parlier gave Hughes a book about Roberto Clemente and when she was in Florida, she had a chance to meet some of Clemente’s former teammates and those who played against him.
“Bobby Wine (shortstop mainly with the Phillies in the 60s) lived right down the hill from Roberto, and Buzz Capra was in the bullpen when Hank Aaron hit the home run (No. 715),” she said. “It’s been incredible to hear from the players’ perspective so that has been really exciting.”
Although she’s 54, Hughes intends on playing the game for several more years and knows she can be a part of it even longer as an umpire. Once again, she’ll play for the Chicago Storm Women’s Baseball Club, as well as in the Northern Illinois Men’s Baseball League and the Chicago North Men’s Senior Baseball League this summer.
She’s already been a part of an all-female umpiring crew at fantasy camp, officiated with Kelly Dine, last year’s home plate umpire in the Little League World Series, is scheduled to work a youth tournament in Maryland this summer and has more 30 assignments booked.
“As an umpire, I can stay in the game longer and get on the field to see things,” she said. “I get asked to do so some things that guys don’t because I’m a woman. But at the same time, there’s other crap to put up with, so there’s the tradeoff. But the experience to travel has been so incredible with the people I’ve met. I get to live my life through baseball.”