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Bigger Than Baseball: Kelly Rodman's Lasting Legacy

07/20/2023 8:22 PM

Article By: Mikayla Moskowitz

Kelly Rodman was a champion for the game of baseball. She was an even bigger champion for people.

Wholeheartedly ambitious and fearlessly dedicated, Rodman was a Northeast scout for the New York Yankees organization for six years. While her purpose as a scout was to build the foundation of future major league rosters, she harmoniously laid a foundation that transcended the game of baseball: a foundation built upon unconditional respect that inspired every player, coach, and person she met.

Her life and legacy, kept alive through her partner Jen Mead, The Kelly Rodman Baseball Foundation, and the numerous lives she touched, is a story of unwavering commitment and passion for her craft.

A Girl From Wallingford

From an early age, Kelly Rodman displayed an undeniable love for baseball.

Her grandmother, Dorothy Piteo, served as one of her greatest inspirations and role models throughout her life. Raising Rodman into the person she became, Piteo encouraged her granddaughter to chase the things that filled her with immense joy and purpose.

For Rodman, it was the feeling of being on the diamond.

She began playing softball in middle school and continued playing in college at Eastern Connecticut State University. After her collegiate journey, Piteo showed Rodman an advertisement regarding tryouts for a semi-professional women’s baseball league in New England.

She would go on to make the All-Star team.

During her 12-year playing career in the New England Women’s Baseball League, Rodman took advantage of the opportunity to grow her skills and travel the world. Simultaneously, she embraced the ability to share the field and connect with women over their admiration for the game.

“She was a people person,” said Mead.

Throughout her life, Rodman remained humbly curious.

Recording a collection of 1,500 books, ranging from player autobiographies to books on the mental aspect of the game, Rodman never stopped becoming a student of the game.

“She loved to learn,” said Mead. “She was always reading books, highlighting books, and always taking notes on the players.”

The desire to pursue knowledge made her a better professional. However, at the end of the day, she was just a devotee of the game.

“She was a baseball fan,” said Mead. “She was a collector of all things baseball.”

Even after it was time for Rodman to hang up the cleats as a player, her work in the ballpark would just be getting started.

Swinging For the Fences

Rodman attended scout school in the fall of 2013.

In the summer of 2014, Matt Hyde was scouting an exhibition game with Northeast High School players against the Orleans Firebirds.

Rodman and Mead were enjoying a vacation in Maine.

Hyde, who for the past 18 years has worked as a Northeast scout for the New York Yankees, has roots that run deep within the Cape Cod Baseball League. From a bat boy for Chatham, to a bullpen catcher for Orleans, and an eventual coach in Chatham, Brewster, and Falmouth, Hyde knew when he saw something special on the Cape.

Rodman knew how to go after what she wanted.

“I remember we were on vacation when Kelly said that we had to leave for a little bit,” Mead said. “We drove to the Cape so she could meet Matt in Orleans.”

Hyde and Rodman’s paths would forever be intertwined on that pivotal day at Eldredge Park.

“Right off the bat, she just had a really great way and energy about her. She was very professional,” Hyde said. “Sometimes when you meet people, they give that first impression right away that they’re legit. That was her.”

Rodman then bet on herself.

“She asked if she could help out. She wanted to get into scouting,” Hyde said.

Hyde was going to be traveling for the East Coast Pro Showcase and the Area Code games and asked Rodman if she would be willing to help organize some of the scout days in the fall, in New England, as her first assignment.

“She not only did that to the top level, but she endeared herself to all these college coaches,” Hyde said.

That same year, Rodman became a Northeast associate scout for the New York Yankees. 

A League of Her Own

The work Kelly Rodman did in her field exceeded far beyond what was in her job description.

“Kelly did an amazing job of really building relationships with players, their families, and their coaches,” said Hyde.

Rodman had a knack for cultivating deep connections that made people feel seen and understood.

“She made people feel like they mattered,” Mead said.

A present-day notable recipient of Rodman’s mastery is Yankees shortstop Anthony Volpe.

Rodman played an integral role not only in his signing, but helping the Volpe family adjust to the big leagues. She turned an uncertain time into a smooth transition for the young ball player.

“She provided a wonderful welcome that reassured a high school kid diving into professional baseball that he was going to be okay,” said Hyde.

Throughout her career, Rodman exhibited a special gift of showing players the utmost humility.

“She had an incredible compassion for how hard the game is to play. She had this understanding of when players fail, that's part of it,” said Hyde. “You don't be a front-runner and just walk away from the guy, but maybe you give him a pat on the back or a word of encouragement. She could do that in a way that left an incredible representation of the Yankees and all these players that she crossed paths with.”

Players knew that at the end of the day, Rodman would be cheering them on no matter what.

“They knew she wasn't just behind the top guy. She was behind everybody,” Hyde said. “That's a special trait and it's rare.”

The relationships she developed through baseball are what Mead believes Rodman loved most about her work.

“I think that's the part she enjoyed the most,” Mead said. “It’s fun to travel around and see games, but she really enjoyed the personal aspect of it.”

Her ability to effortlessly create, foster, and maintain strong relationships were a testament to her deep admiration for not only players' talents, but for them as human beings.

“She made people feel important,” Hyde said. “That was probably one of her greatest gifts, because she could go and talk to the first-round draft pick and she could go and talk to the kid who may not get drafted. She would treat both of them the exact same way.”

Baseball was the common factor that united them.

“They loved baseball and she had such a love of baseball. They were already connected and they were already friends,” said Hyde. “That was probably her superpower.”

The significance of being known as one of the only female scouts in Major League Baseball may have been overwhelming for some. While Rodman recognized the gravity of the position she was in, she never let it consume her.

“She never wanted to be known as a female scout or a trailblazer,” said Hyde. “She just wanted to be a great scout for the New York Yankees.”

Rodman recognized herself not as a pioneer, but as someone propelled by her love for baseball and aspirations to make a difference in the lives of others. Simultaneously, she created a standard of excellence that elevated those around her.

“I don't think she ever realized truthfully the impact that she had,” said Mead.

Rodman’s career as a professional scout was just beginning to blossom when life would throw her an unexpected curveball.

Bigger Than Baseball

Cancer couldn’t keep Kelly Rodham away from the things she loved most.

Despite her illness, she continued to exhibit the level of diligence and dedication she had always displayed.

The baseball community cheered her on every step of the way.

“I learned so quickly, before, during and after Kelly's battle, how incredible that baseball world is,” said Mead. “From players to parents, to GMs to scouts, they just really supported her and I think they gave her that confidence and the courage to continue this battle.”

While Rodman’s circle respected and understood the sensitivity of what she was going through, they never treated her differently.

Mead said that the sense of normalcy in performing her job was what kept her engaged, motivated, and inspired to keep fighting.

“I think that was the best thing for her,” said Mead. “She was still calling players, still going to see games, and still doing her reports. She felt like she was still making a difference and still having an impact.”

Hyde witnessed firsthand Rodman battle her illness while maintaining the same level of professionalism and enthusiasm she had always put forth on the job.

“Despite getting this horrible hand to deal with, she never let on that she was discouraged or she was down about it,” said Hyde. “She kept a smile on her face. It was really remarkable to see how she handled the worst break that you could have ever given.”

Kelly Rodman passed away in March of 2020.

Extra Innings

Today, The Kelly Rodman Baseball Foundation celebrates the life and work of a beloved baseball scout.

“Kelly loved helping people, whether it be by mentoring them or being an advocate for them,” said Mead. “One of the main purposes of the foundation is to really help those that want to work in baseball and be a part of baseball in any facility.”

The foundation is impacting the lives of those here on Cape Cod. As part of a partnership with the Cape Cod Baseball League, every scout liaison received a stipend to cover some costs of living on the Cape. Through the scout liaison position, aspiring scouts develop the skills they need for the job.

Will Thompson, a scout liaison for the Cotuit Kettlers, is spending his third summer on the Cape.

“There's no other experience like it for anyone that wants to work in baseball,” Thompson said. “The ability to pick the brains of scouts and front office execs who have been around the game for decades is something you truly can’t get anywhere else.”

Thompson appreciates the well-rounded experience he is receiving through the opportunity.

“I think the scout liaison position gives a taste of both player development and working with individual teams and amateur scouting and learning how to scout,” Thompson said.

Thompson admires the work Rodman did in the field and hopes to follow along a similar journey.

“I think we’re all just aspiring to be like her while getting a similar start she did,” Thompson said. “It’s definitely uplifting to hear about how she got her start just being around the game and scouts and learning how to scout, very similar to what I’m trying to do as a liaison.”

Thompson is indebted to the contributions of The Kelly Rodman Baseball Foundation for helping support him this summer.

“It’s just cool to know how she got her start and how similar it is to a lot of us and how her foundation is helping us in that way,” Thompson said.

The partnership with the league is one that Mead knows Rodman would be proud of.

“I know how much this would mean to her and how much the Cape meant to her,” Mead said. “From all of the scouting she did there and the relationships that she had with so many coaches and people in the community.”

Mead is appreciative of the league’s shared mission and efforts to carry on Rodman’s legacy.

“It’s all about relationships,” Mead said. “That’s what I enjoy now about my relationship with the Cape Cod Baseball League through the foundation, so we can continue to do the work that Kelly would be proud of.”

The foundation work isn’t slowing down anytime soon, and will continue to honor what Rodman was the most passionate about: baseball and people.

In August, the annual Summer Rivalry Classic Kelly Rodman Memorial Game will be played between the Yankees and Red Sox Northeast scout teams.

Rodman’s community outreach work with Baseball Miracles, an organization that brings the game of baseball to underprivileged youth, will be carried on through Mead’s involvement with Next Level Boston.

Mead hopes that through the lives of others, Rodman’s legacy can continue to flourish.

“There’s always a baseball story,” said Mead. “Kelly’s story was cut too soon, but it’s not over. Through the foundation, we are continuing her story and the impact she had.”

The Epitome of Greatness

Matt Hyde carries a coin in his pocket that says “Be great today.”

Those three simple, yet profound words, is the motto of the foundation and the motto Rodman lived by.

“The essence of being great today is just be the best person they can be, be the best version of yourself that you can be. Hold yourself to a high standard. Hold all the things you do with care. Be passionate about it. Do a good job. Do your best job,” said Hyde. “I think that was the real message she wanted to leave everybody with. Do your best.”

Hyde says Rodman would want others to remember to have some fun along the way.

“She loved to laugh,” Hyde said.

A woman, partner, philanthropist, ball player, scout, friend, and a person who made everyone feel like they deserved the time of day, Rodman impacted the world with her baseball intelligence and transformative kindness. She left a lasting impression on everyone that had the privilege of being under her companionship and guidance.

Although Rodman is no longer sitting front row cheering on players, no matter where they were in the depth chart, she left behind lessons that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

“Kelly really made a huge impact in those years. Be great today reflects on that,” said Mead. “She didn't waste any time. She was committed and dedicated from the beginning to the end.”