Mendoza blazing trails for women broadcasters on ESPN

Written by: Matt Rothenberg

On Sunday, April 3, baseball fans in Kansas City were treated to a scene some 30 years in the making: The raising of the Royals’ 2015 World Series championship banner. When baseball resumed with the Mets playing the Royals – just like in the 2015 Fall Classic – fans watching at home were treated to analysis from one of ESPN’s rising stars in baseball broadcasting.

Jessica Mendoza, a former Stanford University softball player and a star for the United States’ softball team in international competition, was seated alongside play-by-play man Dan Shulman and fellow analyst and former major leaguer Aaron Boone as another season of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball kicked off from Kauffman Stadium.

Mendoza and Boone are taking over on the Sunday night broadcast for former Phillies teammates Curt Schilling and John Kruk, who will join other programs on ESPN’s lineup of baseball broadcasts.

For Mendoza, however, being the first woman to have a full-time baseball analyst’s role at ESPN is the culmination of years of work in the broadcast booth. The two-time Olympic medalist joined ESPN in 2007 and provided color commentary during the Women’s College World Series – in which Mendoza played while at Stanford – for several years. She also served as a sideline reporter for ESPNU.

Upon the January announcement of her latest assignment, the native of Camarillo, Calif., expressed her amazement to the Associated Press regarding how fast this has all come about.

“It’s just crazy when I look back, and literally less than six months ago I had no idea what was going to happen after the Monday night games,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza became the first in-booth female broadcaster to call a Major League Baseball game on Monday, Aug. 24, 2015, when she sat in with Dave O’Brien and Dallas Braden for a game between the Cardinals and Diamondbacks. She gained even more renown when she filled in for Schilling for the Sunday night game between the Cubs and Dodgers on August 30th. While Chicago’s Jake Arrieta made his own history that evening by tossing a no-hitter, Mendoza’s performance on air allowed her to spend the remainder of the 2015 regular season as a part of ESPN’s Sunday night broadcast.

It would be really cool to just get to the point where people think, ‘Oh wow, she knows her stuff. And he knows his stuff.’ It should be common knowledge that women and men can talk about sports."

ESPN broadcaster Jessica Mendoza

Mendoza was given the opportunity in 2014 to become an analyst on Baseball Tonight, the network’s main baseball studio program, and she also appeared on telecasts of the 2015 College World Series. Being the first woman to broadcast the NCAA Division I baseball championships catapulted her further into the public eye. But it also gave her hope that women could be on a level playing field with men while serving as an analyst for men’s sports.

“The attention it got was awesome,” she told Allure magazine in 2015. “It would also be really cool to just get to the point where people think, ‘Oh wow, she knows her stuff. And he knows his stuff.’ It should be common knowledge that women and men can talk about sports.”

On October 6, 2015, Mendoza added a MLB playoff game to her credentials as she became the first female analyst to provide color commentary for a nationally televised postseason game, calling the Yankees-Astros American League Wild Card game. The scorecard Mendoza kept for that game now resides at the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Library in Cooperstown – more testimony to the inroads women continue to make in baseball.

ESPN Baseball Tonight broadcasters (from left) Karl Ravech, Buster Olney, Jessica Mendoza and Tim Kurkjian talk on set the day before Game 1 of the 2015 World Series on Oct. 26, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. (Jean Fruth / National Baseball Hall of Fame)

As the 2016 season progresses, there might not be any analyst – male or female – who will be as prepared as Mendoza. She has reviewed her own games, received advice and opinions from those around her, and she has even shadowed ESPN’s Monday Night Football team, Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden.

While there are still many roles within baseball – and sports, in general – where women have yet to break through, Mendoza told Yahoo! Sports she believes the attitudes of the current generation of major leaguers have made it easier to take on her present role.

“I think it’s a generation thing and maybe I’m being naïve,” she said in a January 2016 podcast. “But I feel like we’re all in this generation where we grew up understanding that inclusion on all aspects is the way we live…We include people for who they are.

“If she’s going to talk hitting to me, I’m not going to go ‘She’s a woman, I’m going to walk away.’ … “I really feel like the players of today have been just, ‘Hey, I’m going to listen.’ We have these conversations and not once has one of them gave me a look like ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about’ or walked away. Nothing. If anything, they’ve been more open, curious like ‘What does she have to say?’ And that’s been cool.”

Matt Rothenberg is the manager of the Giamatti Research Center at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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