This has been another dream year in a fantasy-like career for ESPN sportscaster Chris Fowler. He has called national and international championships in his two favorite sports, college football and tennis, and now is on an assignment for the ages—being behind the mic at the U.S. Open starting today to cover Serena Williams’ quest for tennis’ first singles Grand Slam in 27 years.
“In terms of documenting an achievement, it would be the most amazing thing I’ve seen,” says Fowler, who has spent nearly three decades covering a wide world of sports from high school games to World Cup matches. “Any Grand Slam event is a piece of tennis history. When you add on to it what Serena could achieve and put it in New York in the biggest tennis stadium in the world, it’s hard to imagine anything more. There will be a wild scene—it will be electric.”
Fowler has a chance to help lay down the soundtrack for potential sports history because ESPN is beginning an 11-year deal for start-to-finish coverage of the Open, ending CBS’ 47- year run at the Flushing, N.Y., fortnight. Fowler, who covered early-round Open matches for ESPN the past six years, will be in the booth three additional days (for a total of 10) and call three more matches (18 total) than last year.
But he will break away this weekend for his other big gig, as play-by-play guy on ESPN’s Saturday primetime, college football games on ABC, heading to Arlington, Texas, to cover Alabama vs. Wisconsin.
Fowler then will fly back East to call the Ohio State-Virginia Tech game on ESPN Labor Day evening before returning to New York for the last six days of the Open, including the women’s championship Saturday afternoon, Sept. 12, and the men’s final Sunday afternoon, Sept. 13.
Fowler will skip the Sept. 12 Oregon- Michigan State grid game to be at the Open. “It’s very important for me to call the finals,” he says. “For years I’ve eyeballed that booth, so finally it is kind of a dream to be able to do it.”
Fowler has called two of Williams’ three major tournament wins this year, the Australian Open and Wimbledon. A title in New York, along with her French Open trophy, would make Williams the first singles player to win all four majors in a calendar year—the Grand Slam—since Steffi Graf in 1988.
Fowler built his success as a host but has gradually gravitated back to his first love, play-by-play, which he fell hard for growing up in Rockford, Ill., listening to fabled Chicago sportscasters Lloyd Pettit and Jack Brick-house.
“Calling games always has been my passion, never reading scores or highlights,” he says.
About 95% of his tennis workload now is play-by-play, and although he would like to mix in some hosting at the Open, he’s hesitant to because of the unpredictable length of matches.
Fowler knows all about that. He and analyst Patrick McEnroe called the longest Grand Slam final in history, 5 hours and 53 minutes, between winner Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal at the 2012 Australian Open.
“I’m a little bit claustrophobic,” Fowler says, “so sometimes a tennis booth is not a comfortable place to be unless the action out the window is really fun and exciting. Then you forget about what a small space you’re in.”
Longtime ESPN executive John A. Walsh and other key talent evaluators considered Fowler a keeper early in his career and gave him his big break in 1990, tapping him to host weekly college football pregame show College GameDay.
“It soon became obvious to everyone that he was made for hosting, he was made for college sports, that he understood it all,” says Walsh, who retired this year as ESPN executive editor and senior VP. “Chris is very smart, very contemporary. He’s a student of everything that he does and is in a perpetual state of learning.”
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Lauren Shehadi: Ernie Johnson Is The Model For Studio Hosts
“To me, he’s the greatest in-studio host. What he does best is facilitate greatness.”
In addition to her job at MLB Network being a host on MLB Central, Lauren Shehadi is hosting TBS’s Tuesday night baseball coverage each week with Jimmy Rollins, Curtis Granderson, and Pedro Martinez. The Tuesday night games are new for Turner Sports this year after doing only Sunday games during the regular season in addition to the network’s postseason coverage.
Shehadi was a guest on The Kyle Koster Show this week and she was asked what the goal was for her with the MLB on TBS Tuesday broadcasts. She takes a lot of inspiration from what she sees on Inside The NBA on TNT.
“I always think about Ernie Johnson in the same building. To me, he’s the greatest in-studio host. What he does best is facilitate greatness. He gets the most out of Shaq and Kenny [Smith] and Charles [Barkley]. If there’s no ego involved, it’s all about how the show can be so great.
“You look at him and you think how can I be like that? You want to be authentic and be yourself, but in the sense of getting the best out of your guys and girls that you talk to every day. That was my goal going in, Be authentic.”
Shehadi said she gets to spend a lot of time with Johnson and the rest of the Turner Sports crew. Tuesday nights tend to be something of a corporate family reunion.
“On Tuesday nights, we all sit in a room and we all watch NBA, MLB, and NHL when it’s on. We get Shaq’s reaction to Sandy Alcantara’s slider in real-time. What we see from Inside The NBA is when they do demos. When they get up and walk and they are casual and they do little bits, that’s what we try to take to our show, but we want it to feel authentic.”
When Shehadi isn’t hosting Turner Sports’ baseball coverage, she is a part of MLB Central every weekday on MLB Network with Robert Flores and Mark DeRosa. On that show, the goal for her is how to make baseball relatable to everyone:
“That’s the sweet spot of MLB Central. No question is silly. Nobody is smarter than the other. We laugh at ourselves. We laugh at each other. It is just a fun 4 hours, grab your coffee, let’s talk the game, let’s laugh because life is short and baseball is fun.”
AT&T Sportsnet’s Kelsey Wingert Shows Off Stitches After Being Drilled Line Drive
“The veteran reporter is expected to get married in June. Doctors are “hoping” the scar doesn’t effect her big day.”
Baseball reporters at the regional level have some of the toughest jobs in all of sports. Not only do they cover each for all 162 games, but there’s always the potential for getting drilled by a foul ball.
While all MLB ball clubs have expanded their netting this season to protect fans sitting close to the field, Rockies sideline reporter Kelsey Wingert suffered a nasty injury via a foul ball earlier this week.
A scary incident took place on Monday’s outing against the Rockies and San Francisco Giants at Coors Field in Denver. In the ninth inning, Giants outfielder Austin Slater hit a foul ball off Daniel Bard, with the ball heading straight to the dugout, right where Wingert was standing while reporting for AT&T Sportsnet.
After getting attended to by the Rockies medical staff and walking it off, giving fans a “thumbs up,” Wingert ended up having to go to the hospital where she received multiple stitches to her forehead.
The 29-year-old reporter took to Twitter on Wednesday to express her gratitude towards the Rockies organization and AT&T Sportsnet general manager David Woodman, who along with his wife Paula, stayed by her side at the hospital.
“I had a CT scan to make sure there was no internal bleeding or fractures and all came back clear. Thank God,” Wingert said on Twitter Wednesday. “The stitches will have to come out in a week. I’m very lucky it wasn’t worse. It was just really scary and bummed me out given the circumstances.”
You would think this was the first time Wingert got hit by a ball but back in 2018 while working for Fox Sports and the Atlanta Braves she was struck by a foul ball while standing near a camera past the Braves dugout, resulting in a fractured eye socket.
Wingert retweeted a photo taken of her black eye after returning home where she made light of what could’ve been an awful occurrence.
While recovering from her wound, Wingert will be taking a few games off. The veteran reporter is expected to get married in June. Doctors are “hoping” the scar doesn’t effect her big day.
Greg Olsen To Partner With Kevin Burkhardt For Super Bowl LVII
“Last season was the first Burkhardt and Olsen worked together. They largely won rave reviews.”
The deal isn’t done yet, but Andrew Marchand of The New York Post reports that Greg Olsen is on his way to joining Kevin Burkhardt in the top NFL booth at FOX. Although Tom Brady will take over that role after he retires and leaves the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Olsen will spend at least this season on FOX’s A-Team.
Last season was the first Burkhardt and Olsen worked together. They largely won rave reviews.
Earlier this year, the former Panther told The Mac Attack on WFNZ in Charlotte that he was disappointed he didn’t get to call a postseason game. He will more than make up for that in 2023. As Burkhardt’s partner, Olsen is in line to be the analyst for Super Bowl LVII.
Marchand writes that we could get a taste of what is to come in February. He speculates that if the Buccaneers are not in the Super Bowl, it is possible Tom Brady could make his FOX debut, either in the booth alongside Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen or as part of the network’s studio show.
Now, FOX has to make a decision about it’s number 2 NFL booth. According to Marchand, Drew Brees is a candidate to be the analyst. Adam Amin and Joe Davis have emerged as candidates for the play-by-play role.