Her Retirement Job? Ball Girl for the Nats

At home games, you’ll often find Tanya Schneider fielding balls along the first or third baseline.
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Nats ball girl Tanya Schneider (Photo courtesy of Washington Nationals Baseball Club)

After cheering the Washington Nationals to a 2019 World Series victory, Tanya Schneider went online to buy a package of tickets for the following spring. A phrase caught her attention: “Join our team.”

“Maybe I could be one of the racing presidents,” she thought, envisioning the iconic mascots of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, who provide comic relief during the fourth inning. Then she saw the posting for ball girl. She applied.

Schneider knows the game. In high school in Fairfield, Texas, she was the statistician and manager for the boy’s baseball team, keeping the books for the pitchers, carrying gear, making sure everything was set up just right. In college at the Coast Guard Academy, she played softball. 

Once she had kids, she coached her sons’ teams—baseball, basketball, “or whatever they wanted to play.” She mentioned all those experiences in her job application and got a call, inviting her to tryouts.

Soon, Schneider found herself with a dozen other hopefuls at Nats Park. Candidates were grilled on their knowledge of the game and the team. They fielded ground balls. They answered questions from a panel of interviewers. 

How do you keep your focus if the game goes into extra innings? She had a good answer for that one. “I coached Kid Pitch Little League,” she said. “If you can pay attention during a Kid Pitch Little League game, you can stay focused on a pro game.”

“If you can pay attention during a Kid Pitch Little League game, you can stay focused on a pro game.”

A short time later, she got another call inviting her to The Show. In spring of 2020, she became an official ball girl for the Nats, joining a team of young women, most of whom are in their 20s. 

Schneider, now retired from a career in the U.S. Coast Guard, is—as she says with a smile—“not in my 20s.” (She’s 50.) But she’s a natural. At home games, you’ll often find her along the first or third baseline, though she prefers third, where there’s more action. She interacts with the crowd, fielding foul balls and tossing them to the clamoring kids in the stands. Sometimes, she’ll catch the first pitch.

Ball skills are a necessary part of the job, “but what’s most important is people skills,” says the Arlington resident. Her favorite part? “Every time I field a ground ball and give it to a kid, especially when they’re not expecting it. The looks on their faces are spectacular. I get to make that happen two to nine times a day.”

Growing up in the Lone Star State, Schneider was a Rangers fan. She later lived in Boston for a bit and followed the Red Sox. She’ll still cheer for the Dallas Cowboys in football (don’t judge), but in baseball, she says, “it’s the Nats, all the way.” 

MLB gig aside, Schneider also serves as a substitute teacher in Arlington and as a volunteer for the Arlington Food Assistance Center. She’s lived in Highland Park-Overlee Knolls for the past decade with her husband, Doug, a social studies teacher at Oakton High School, and their sons, who attend Yorktown High and Swanson Middle School.

For the record, her kids are fans but have not received any of the balls she fields for the Nationals. “How would that look?” she says. “If they want a ball, they need to go to a game when someone else is working.”

Schneider often works weekday games, reporting for duty in her uniform of a jersey and shorts or sweats. If the Nats make the playoffs come fall, she’ll wear a pitchers’ jacket. 

She seldom interacts with the players on the field. “They have a job to do and I have a job to do,” she says plainly. But she does enjoy having a close-up view of the action. Her favorite players “are the ones who look like they’re having a good time. That makes it fun for me, too.” (Last season, that group included shortstop CJ Abrams and infielder Ildemaro Vargas.)

“Tanya has been a fantastic addition to the Nationals’ entertainment team,” says John Wagner, manager, Nationals Mascots & Entertainment. “She brings so much enthusiasm to every game and goes out of her way to make sure our fans have a great experience. She’s an excellent example of what it means to have Natitude.”

Now well into her third season on the field, Schneider has found her groove. “I’m not a rookie anymore,” she says. “It doesn’t take me to the fourth or fifth inning to be calm.” As a part-time employee, she’s paid by the hour, “though I think it’s fair to say I’d do it for free.”

What’s her idea of a perfect game, besides a Nats win? “When the number of kids in the stands matches the number of foul balls I get. And if I have a clean game—if nothing gets past me and goes into the outfield.” 

Superstitions being a part of the sport, she has just this one: “If it’s a cloudy day, you never, ever say the word rain.”

Madelyn Rosenberg is the author of a dozen children’s books, including One Small Hop. She lives in Arlington, where she also works for an affordable housing and community development nonprofit. 

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