ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — For the assembled crowd at Phil Welch Stadium the highlight of the night came in the fourth inning of a non-league game for the St. Joseph Mustangs on Tuesday, July 3.
Friends, family, classmates, teammates and neighbors were on hand to witness history, the first female athlete to play for a M.I.N.K League team.
Regan Nash stood by the first-base dugout during the warmups after the third frame. When the Mustangs manager Johnny Coy called time and inserted the North Platte graduate and current University of Missouri senior into the lineup the loudest cheer of the night bellowed from the stands, even louder than the exuberance following the grand finale of the Mustangs postgame fireworks show.
“It was awesome,” Nash said. “It was so much fun. It’s sinking in (the accomplishment.) Even the little girls and boys who have come up to me today, I’ve seen what kind of an impact it’s had on them and it’s really special to me.”
Nash, who plays left field for the Tigers ran to the outfield grass once roamed by Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, a history displayed proudly at the 80-year-old stadium.
The move to baseball was a big adjustment for Nash who made her name as a speedster for the Panthers, catching the eye of the coaching staff at Mizzou.
“It’s an adjustment, Nash said. “Everything is different, it’s longer between home and first, the pitcher’s mound is further there is a lot more room to cover in the outfield which I like because I’m not always running into a wall after running 10 steps.”
Her hard work in the classroom led to an All-SEC Honor Roll this last year and landed her an internship with the Mustangs, who are celebrating their 10th season in St. Joseph this year.
Nash has done it all for the Mustangs as an intern, from running the teams social media accounts during games, a task left up to a fellow intern on the eve of Independence Day, grounds crew and on the promotions team which is responsible for all of the between-innings giveaways like the lucky dice roll which features four-foot dice being rolled down the netting which protects the stands from foul balls, to the hot dog race, and many more.
“What don’t I do,” Nash joked. “I do grounds crew, social media and promotions. I do it all.”
The idea for Nash to suit up came a couple of weeks before, when during a game the Mustangs owner Dan Gerson, called his intern to a picnic table down the right field line and asked if she would like to become the first female to suit up in the league, which was founded in 1910 and has featured collegiate athletes since 1913.
Nash gave the idea some thought and eventually decided to go for it. She signed a one-game contract and was set to play in the Mustangs annual alumni game which features players who have played for the team over its history who return to play the current team. That game was scrubbed from the schedule after rains came on Saturday, June 30, leading to a Tuesday debut for Nash against the Ban Johnson League’s All-Star team.
“At first I was excited to make history and then I just thought ‘What do I want from this,’” Nash said. “We could start a movement. A few weeks ago, I was thinking about. ‘This isn’t a thing in softball. This would be amazing. They get so much more playing time than we do, and they actually get reps in the summer.”
For the countless kids who came up to the only player with a ponytail following the game for pictures or an autograph, Nash hopes she could provide some inspiration.
Though her time on the field was brief, she made an impact on the history books with her appearance for a team she watched as a student at North Platte.
For Regan, the game became about making a point. Her goal was to make contact, a lofty aspiration having never faced live pitching, wearing the team’s smallest uniform which still has sleeves that went past her elbows and facing a team of all-stars instead of an exhibition game.
There is not a league for women’s softball players to partake in like there is for men on the baseball team. Even to stay sharp in the summer she plays with men in an adult men’s fast-pitch league in St. Joseph.
Nash is studying sports management at Mizzou and will play her senior season next spring.