Fresh air

To borrow – and mangle – a phrase from a friend: I love women. I love baseball. I love women baseball announcers.

At least, I did last night, when the 2015 MLB playoffs began with the AL wild card game between the Yankees and the Astros. Two-time Olympic softball gold medalist Jessica Mendoza made history as the first woman to announce a nationally televised baseball playoff game. I found Mendoza’s commentary knowledgeable and insightful, such as when she broke down for viewers just how Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka’s slider wasn’t sliding. Soon after, that lack of control burned Tanaka as Carlos Gomez homered for the second run in Houston’s 3-0 victory.

Mendoza is no stranger to the airwaves. She stepped in when Curt Schilling’s ill-advised tweeting habits got him booted from Sunday Night Baseball, and she is also familiar to viewers of ESPN’s College Softball World Series coverage. (To be honest, I sometimes found her clunky in that role, especially when she was sent to interview hell to talk to a family member during the game or do some other ESPN-ish dreck designed to entertain people who are not all that interested in the actual game.) But her transition to the bright diamond spotlight has been smooth. Sure, she stumbled over a word or two on Tuesday, and at times seemed to be searching for moments to share her thoughts, but all in all, she did a good job – best measured by one commenter on a New York Times article who said he didn’t notice a woman was calling the game.

 Of course, plenty of others didn’t share that enlightened view. Shock jocks had some troglodyte fun, and Twitter had its share of put-upon males suffering through nine innings of estrogen-tainted baseball. “Woman announcer” was a frequently used phrase – as in “This woman announcer is making it impossible for me to listen to the game.” Well, in truth, she was probably hard to hear over your mother telling you, for the 18th time, to pick up your socks from the basement stairs and GET A JOB.

Mendoza’s work, coupled with a visit from Tampa Bay ace Chris Archer, made for some of the freshest, most memorable sports broadcasting in recent memory. Archer, sporting sockless loafers and spectacularly springy hair, stopped by Baseball Tonight’s pregame coverage before joining the boys and girl in the broadcast booth, where he was simply fantastic. Bubbling over with eloquent enthusiasm, Archer shared his been-there, know-that insights with an attractive eagerness. He came across as someone wanting to impart his knowledge for the betterment of his listeners’ experience, not – as so many before him – as someone whose ex-Show status made him a tiresome expert, befitted with a pedestal from which to lecture the know-nothings tuning in to catch a scrap of wisdom. (Looking at – and still, in my nightmares, hearing – you, Tim McCarver).

Twitter rightly lost its mind over Archer, praising his on-point and on time explanation of how a catcher presenting a pitch can make a big difference in getting a strike call and lamenting his inevitable exit – which he staved off by asking to please stay another inning. Personally, I hope TBS has him call in to do a few innings in tonight’s NL wild card game, and I’d recommend anyone impressed by his performance do some reading about the myriad ways this self-possessed young man and Roberto Clemente Award nominee helps the youth in his community.

For someone who has, more than once, turned down the TV sound in favor of the radio – two-second lag and all – to escape the evil twin tandem of McCarver and Joe Buck, Tuesday represented a welcome new season. To those who can’t stomach the idea of a woman treading on sacred ground, you’ll get over it. That whole right to vote thing eventually stopped chaffing (as much).  

One does wonder how long it would have taken Mendoza, or a similarly qualified woman, to get such a chance if Schilling hadn’t proven to be an ignorant racist, but for now, let’s not quibble. Progress is inevitable. Adapt or die.

And play ball.