In her third season on “Sunday Night Baseball,” Jessica Mendoza finds her comfort zone
Jenny Cavnar, who usually appears on Colorado Rockies’ pregame and postgame television shows, recently handled play-by-play duties for one of the team’s games. She became the first woman play-by-play announcer for a major league baseball telecast since Gayle Gardner did a game for ESPN in 1993.
One person hesitant to applaud the Rockies’ move was, surprisingly enough, ESPN broadcaster Jessica Mendoza.
For the record:
12:50 p.m. May 1, 2018An earlier version of this story said this is Jessica Mendoza’s second season as a color analyst for “Sunday Night Baseball”. This is her third season. The earlier version also said Alex Rodriguez is in his second season as a color analyst. This is his first season.
Not that Mendoza was critical of Cavnar’s performance. To the contrary, she went on Twitter to praise her in response to those — mostly men, one can assume even if so many on that platform hide behind fake names — who bashed her because they still can’t get accustomed to hearing a woman’s voice in a sports broadcast booth. It must be difficult to tweet when your knuckles are dragging on the ground.
Mendoza’s question, she said in a phone interview last week from her parents’ home in Moorpark, was whether the Rockies were using Cavnar for promotional reasons.
“If she’s good enough to do one game, why not more?” Mendoza said she asked herself at the time, noting that Cavnar became one of the lead stories on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” that night.
Then Mendoza reconsidered.
“What if young girls who were watching were inspired by Jenny and, in their minds, it opened up new possibilities about what they wanted to do when they grow up?”
Because there were trailblazers for Mendoza, she was in the national broadcast booth at Anaheim on Sunday night for the New York Yankees’ 2-1 victory over the Angels. This is her third season as a color analyst for ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball.” She’s been joined in the booth this season by Alex Rodriguez.
Like so many men broadcasting baseball games on television and radio today, Mendoza, 37, started as a player. Her sport was softball. She is a former Times player of the year at Camarillo High who also starred as an outfielder for Stanford and the U.S. national team (winning Olympic gold and silver medals) and in the National Pro Fastpitch.
Along the way, she began to wonder what her life might be like after softball. When she saw Doris Burke commenting on basketball and later Julie Foudy on soccer, Mendoza knew.
She didn’t immediately advance to ESPN’s national telecast of major league baseball. When she did get there, a lot of viewers, as with Cavnar last week, didn’t tweet her warmly.
Whether you’re in a casual conversation or listening to her on television, it’s clear she’s as knowledgeable as most in her profession about the game.
The complaint here in general about “Sunday Night Baseball” is with the three-person booth. Play-by-play announcer Matt Vasgersian could do most of the necessary commentary by himself. He doesn’t need two color analysts. Less is more.
Fortunately, Mendoza and Rodriguez are increasingly learning when not to speak. Not that they had much choice Sunday night in Anaheim. They would have quickly been hoarse if they had tried to talk over the Yankees fans, who were considerably louder than the home team’s fans.
“Bronx West,” Rodriguez called it.
Mendoza was at somewhat of a disadvantage Sunday night. That’s not because she hadn’t done her homework on the teams. But Rodriguez, as Vasgersian appropriately pointed out, is a special advisor to the Yankees. He has insights into that team that most others don’t.
Considering that, it was odd that the producers assigned the Yankees to Mendoza and the Angels to Rodriguez in the pregame analyses.
Rodriguez was particularly effective in discussing his professional relationship with some of the Yankees, especially in the segment about catcher Gary Sanchez.
It seems as if many viewers, who were almost as critical of Rodriguez last season as they were of Mendoza, have decided they have punished him enough for his performance-enhanced past as a player and are giving him a chance. It’s interesting that there are more cheers for him now and more jeers for Derek Jeter, whose executive and part-ownership roles with the Miami Marlins are not off to a good start.
Mendoza hasn’t noticed as much criticism of her this season, either. One reason is that she is more comfortable now. The other is she isn’t paying as much attention.
“My relationship with Twitter has changed,” she said. “If people criticize me because they don’t like how I break down one of Giancarlo Stanton’s at-bats, OK. If they criticize me because I’m a woman, that’s not OK.”
She increasingly has more company among women sports broadcasters, which is important to her because, among her other responsibilities, she also is president of the Women’s Sports Foundation.
It was another proud moment for the organization last week, when Fox announced it would become the first network worldwide to have a woman, former U.S. national team and Los Angeles Sol player Aly Wagner, do play by play for game coverage of the men’s World Cup this summer in Russia.
If you don’t like women in the broadcast boost, get over it. Or turn off the sound.
The day is fast approaching when news that they’re there won’t lead “SportsCenter.”
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