Jessica Mendoza Making History In The World Of Broadcasting

By David Barron Houston Chronicle

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) As one of the top softball athletes in the world, Jessica Mendoza has been empowering women in sports for years. Now the Olympic medalist is doing the same for women in the world of broadcasting. This year she will be one of the few women in sports calling men's baseball games for a major network. (ESPN)

Houston Chronicle

There will come a time when Jessica Mendoza will come to town to do ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball" and we can focus strictly on baseball.

But now is not the time. This is Mendoza's first full season in the booth as one of the few women to receive an opportunity to call men's games for a major network, and she's working a beat that is generally considered to be the most insular of all the major U.S. sports.

Mendoza, however, has a lot going for her in her rookie big-league season, which continues with Red Sox-Astros on Sunday night from Minute Maid Park alongside Dan Shulman and Aaron Boone.

As a two-time Olympic softball medalist who grew up around and played for baseball coaches, Mendoza can talk hitting with anyone. And as she prepared for her first full season on ESPN, she made the round of major league camps during spring training without a camera crew, getting to know players and managers and talking about the game.

"The guys were great," she said. "Spring training was huge for me to be able to come in with no agenda, without a camera and not shooting anything. I just went on my own and hung out and talked hitting. I picked up a bat in some camps and hit, and I tried to be on their level and not so much coming in with questions but letting them get to know me.

"I did play, and I do understand hitting, talking with Jose Altuve about staying inside the ball. It happened immediately with the Astros. They were like, 'Hey, you played?' and we were able to talk."

As a Stanford graduate, Mendoza also played the Cardinal card with Astros manager A.J. Hinch.

"That helped," she said. "I came in new last year and didn't know anybody and (her Stanford connections) helped. It was something to bring up initially, talking about things like where did you live your freshman year and then easing into talking baseball."

Mendoza worked as a softball analyst for ESPN for several years before she began doing baseball studio work in 2014 and landed her first game assignment last year. She hasn't visited Minute Maid Park but called the Astros' wild card win over the Yankees last October.

"The Yankees were all business in that game, and the Astros were unbelievably loose, enjoying the moment. You never would have guessed that most of that team had never been in that situation. They have talent, but you also hear about their chemistry, which is why I'm not worried (about their slow start)."

Chemistry in the booth is a key to that game as well, and Mendoza said she is encouraged by the on-screen exchanges with Boone and Schulman and the willingness of ESPN producers to try new things with their new on-air team.

"We're doing things a little differently, bringing in technology and animation," she said. "'Sunday Night Baseball' has changed. Not that the game needs it, but it's going to make the broadcast more enjoyable for more viewers. Each week we get a chance to reach unique viewers."

Mendoza said she hopes to be recognized for her unique perspective on the game, not for the unique nature of being one of the few women in baseball booth broadcasting.

"My perspective is different," she said. "I want to try something new, and we're willing to think outside the box."

This is the Astros' first Sunday night game in years, but their success last year at least puts them in position for another appearance or two this season if they break out of their season-opening slump. If that happens, we'll have things next time to discuss with Mendoza other than her role as the first woman in the ESPN Sunday baseball booth.

"It's going to happen. I would love for that to happen now," she said. "We're not there yet. We're not close to being there. To me, it's more just listening and stop judging that 'she's female' and 'did she play the game?'

"All I ask is for people to listen, not just to me, but to somebody like Tom Verducci and Tim Kurkjian and Keith Law. They didn't play (in the major leagues). Just listen to them. If you disagree with them, you can do that but don't judge their background or their gender or their race."

Other than the 2013 American League opener against the Rangers, this is the Astros' first Sunday night game since a Sept. 23, 2007 game against the Cardinals. Presuming they can break out of their early-season slump, perhaps their success last year has put them on the radar for another appearance or two this season.

If and when that happens, we'll have things next time to discuss with Mendoza other than her role as the first woman in the ESPN Sunday baseball booth (and her role replacing Curt Schilling, who was fired this week by ESPN for what the company described a "unacceptable" social commentary on social media).

"It's going to happen. I would love for that to happen now," she said. "We're not there yet. We're not close to being there. To me, it's more just listening and stop judging that 'she's female' and 'did she play the game?'

"All I ask is for people to listen, not just to me, but to somebody like Tom Verducci and Tim Kurkjian and Keith Law. They didn't play (in the major leagues). Just listen to them. If you disagree with them, you can do that but don't judge their background or their gender or their race."

 

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