Jessica Mendoza is one of the best hitters of the 21st century, but as she sat in the TV booth at Dodger Stadium Aug. 30 for a “Sunday Night Baseball” game between the Cubs and Dodgers, she assumed the worst.
She knew full well the social media fate that usually befalls an unfamiliar female voice on any sports-related program, let alone one as visible as ESPN’s exclusive national showcase.
“I was just ready, going in with my battle armor,” she said.
That proved unnecessary.
Mendoza’s Sunday night debut — the second game of her life as an analyst at a Major League Baseball game — was an immediate, almost universal hit among fans and professional critics alike.
“It did make me feel good that [the reaction] wasn’t as bad as I thought,” she said.
Within days what was supposed to be a one-game fill-in for Curt Schilling turned into a rest-of-the-season assignment. She since has done two more Sunday games and this weekend will be at Citi Field when the Mets host the Yankees in the Subway Series finale.
Mendoza was not surprised she could do the job, but the speed with which all this has unfolded has come as a bit of a shock.
“I feel like there’s been so much support of it, which also helped give me more confidence as well,” she said. “I don’t know if ‘surprised’ is the right word, but it definitely has been not as expected how this entire thing has come about.”
Mendoza, 34, has proved to be a natural communicator, but another key to acceptance is her athletic credentials. She was a softball star at Stanford, won an Olympic gold medal in 2004 and a silver in 2008 and also played professionally before retiring early last year.
She said her ESPN partner, John Kruk, got a text during that Aug. 30 game from recently inducted Hall of Famer John Smoltz asking him who the female voice belonged to.
“He was like, ‘Google her,’ ” Mendoza said. “Five minutes later he got back to him and said like, ‘Wow, OK.’ ”
Hitting softballs and baseballs is not exactly the same thing, of course, but Mendoza said it is less different than one might expect. Her ability to talk baseball was further enhanced by her days playing baseball as a youngster and taking batting practice with the baseball players her father, Gil, coached at a community college near their Southern California home.
“I never changed my swing, so nothing was ever different,” she said. “There are definitely differences with the two games, but the hitting aspect, it really doesn’t change . . . I would see pitches more up in the zone than a baseball hitter would, kind of like I look up versus down, but swing-wise they’re identical.”
Mendoza said she still would be playing and preparing for Rio in 2016 had the IOC not booted softball (and baseball) out of the Olympic Games effective in 2012.
“As much as the worst thing that ever happened was those sports being eliminated from the Olympics, it was a blessing in disguise for me in the sense that I don’t think these [TV] opportunities would have happened later, after my career post-Olympics,” she said.
“As soon as I retired I needed something that was really going to challenge me and I knew this wasn’t going to be easy. It was going to take a lot of work to fill that void I’ve been doing for 25 years on the field.”
So far, so good.
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Peter King: ‘Tom Brady Needs To Study Cris Collinsworth’
“He’ll know that to be good, he has to get out of his comfort zone of all niceties and tell it like it is.”
Peter King dedicated a not-insignificant portion of his “Football Morning in America” column this week to advice for Tom Brady. FOX announced last week that the Buccaneers’ quarterback will become the network’s lead NFL analyst upon his retirement.
Brady’s decision and his reported salary have been the source of much speculation and prediction amongst his soon-to-be colleagues.
King is optimistic that Tom Brady will be entertaining and informative when he makes his FOX debut. He did offer the GOAT a little bit of advice about what he should be doing in the months leading up to calling it quits on his playing days and starting his new career.
“I think what I’d do if I were Brady is study Cris Collinsworth—and honest to goodness, I don’t say that because I work for NBC,” he wrote. “I say it because Collinsworth knows how to talk X’s-and-O’s conversationally, he’s an easy listen, and he can criticize when the time comes.”
Interestingly, last week, Collinsworth says he hears from most former players that are getting ready to make the jump to broadcasting. He was surprised he never heard from Tom Brady before FOX announced their deal.
King had two other suggestions. The first was that Brady watch multiple games from start to finish so that he can hear what the give-and-take between a broadcaster and analyst sounds like. The other is that he has to commit to being interesting and not censoring himself. King has faith that Brady will be able to do that.
“He’ll know that to be good, he has to get out of his comfort zone of all niceties and tell it like it is. On that LeBron James show last year, Brady said, ‘Ninety percent of what I say is not what I’m thinking. There’s a part of me that doesn’t like conflict, so in the end I always just try to play it super-flat.’ That has to end once he’s on TV if he wants to be any good.”
Nick Wright Critical Of ABC Crew As Giannis Antetokounmpo Struggles In Game 7
“He reminded his followers on Twitter that the two-time MVP has put together some amazing performances in this series.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo started hot in Game 7 on Sunday. By the time the game ended though, the Boston Celtics were on their way to Miami for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals and the defending champions were headed back to Milwaukee.
The Celtics’ defense gave the Milwaukee Bucks fits in the second half. The ABC broadcast put a special spotlight on Antetokounmpo, who got multiple drives to the basket that he could not finish.
“The best has got to show up when the best is needed, and Giannis has been disappointing,” said Mark Jackson over a package of highlights of Giannis missing shots. “As great of a player as he is, given credit to the Celtics’ defense, but he has struggled offensively time and time again.”
Nick Wright of FS1 noticed and he didn’t appreciate it. He reminded his followers on Twitter that the two-time MVP has put together some amazing performances in this series.
Mike Been, Mark Jackson, and Jeff Van Gundy were not particularly hard on Giannis. The trio made the typical comments we hear when things aren’t going a great player’s way.
Wright did not harp on the issue beyond the single tweet. The outcome was not in doubt as the clock winded down. He gave credit to the Celtics rather than tweet about the Bucks or Giannis.
Stephanie McMahon: WWE Is A Better Advertising Investment Than Sports
“We can script the buzzer-beater moments, we can script the Hail Marys.”
Everyone knows that professional wrestling is scripted. The storylines, the outcomes of matches, all of it is predetermined. But in the eyes of WWE, that’s what makes their product so different, and better than traditional sports.
WWE Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon told Deadline that when it comes to pitching advertisers, sports entertainment allows room for a range of different approaches to make something work.
“We can script the buzzer-beater moments, we can script the Hail Marys,” she said. “We have a leg up on sports. … You may object to what we do, but you’re never going to be bored.”
McMahon added that WWE has a much easier process in dealing with sponsors. Everything is handled in-house.
“We own all of the IP,” she said. “When brands deal with us, they just deal with us. We create something together.”
WWE is coming off a positive Q1 earnings report, which had the company up 27% in total revenue. Its two weekly primetime shows, Monday Night RAW and Friday Night SmackDown, continue to do well in ratings, and all special and pay-per-view events, in addition to its streaming platform WWE Network, are all housed on Peacock.