What began as a high school dream became a groundbreaking reality on July 2, 2015, when Jenny Cavnar stepped into the 850 KOA booth, and in the process became the first woman to ever broadcast a National League game live on the radio.
The significance of her accomplishment should not be understated. And yet, Cavnar's dream was far simpler than images of shattered glass ceilings. Her aspirations are no different than yours or mine.
"I'm not trying to be a pioneer," Cavnar said. But a pioneer she is, whether intended or not.
"The fact that [being the first woman on the radio] is a part of this is humbling," she said. "It's very special." Cavnar's voyage began with an epiphany in front of her family's television screen in Colorado. It was immediately embraced by her father.
"Monday Night Football," she remembered, "My dad and I were watching Melissa Stark, who was a sideline reporter at the time, and I was like ‘Dad, that's what I want to do.'"
With sincerity -- not solely as a proud and encouraging father -- Jenny said that her father Steve Cavnar replied, without skipping a beat, "You could do that."
"That was the moment," she reflected.
Everything from then on became a quest for a career in sports broadcast journalism. Her professional life now had a singular focus.
Sarah Ford recently chronicled Cavnar's early career. Cavnar started out in other sports that took her through Michigan and California. Serendipity returned her home to Colorado -- and to baseball -- to carve her name into the record books by the innocuous act of growing in her job.
Cavnar's drive resembles the athletes she covers: a work ethic that insists upon perpetual betterment. That work ethic was the foundation for her radio debut on July 2 in Phoenix, Ariz.
"If you're never dreaming bigger, you're not making yourself better," Cavnar stated plainly.
We all aim to grow in what we do, and Cavnar's relentless self-improvement resulted in an organic decision to identify herself as the most qualified person to step in when needed.
A quick Google search reveals a few one-off appearances by women in NL broadcasting booths but it is clear that these were guest appearances. The difference with Cavnar is that she has a standing position with Rockies media that is expected to continue.
"I was really flattered," Cavnar said about first being approached. "And it wasn't a gimmick thing." Based on my conversations, nobody even brought up her gender in the first meeting. 850 KOA needed a knowledgeable baseball person, and Cavnar more than qualified.
After my long conversation with Cavnar, I sat down with 850 KOA regulars Jack Corrigan and Jerry Schemmel in the dining area flanking the Coors Field press box to discuss her journey and performance.
Corrigan, who has 30 years of MLB broadcasting experience and 13 with the Rockies, didn't hesitate to mention her name when searching for a temporary partner. "I told her that I thought she would be a good replacement opening day in Milwaukee," he said. It didn't happen then, but the idea was put on everyone's radar early. It took just the right circumstances for this whole thing to come together. "There was some necessity in that we're looking [for a fill in] and when we go on the road there are some logistical realities that we have to go through, and she was going to be on that trip," Corrigan continued. "So it made a lot of sense to make it happen then."
Even so, baseball acumen was of primary concern. In fact, someone else almost filled in that night, but Corrigan saw an alignment of stars. He wasn't going to let this opportunity pass again.
"First of all, this was all Jack's idea," Jerry Schemmel said, who has shared the booth with Corrigan ever since retiring as one of the most highly regarded Denver Nuggets broadcasters of all time. "When he mentioned it I thought, ‘Oh what a great idea' . . . but I had nothing to do with it."
Schemmel joked that this meant Corrigan should receive credit if Cavnar turned out to be good and blame if she didn't, noting that the latter was unlikely to be the case.
Corrigan added: "I knew Jenny's background and I knew her dad, Steve, and it was pretty simple to see that she could hold her own." Schemmel concurred: "When she starting doing TV, we'd just talk baseball. I knew her dad from before, knew he was a very successful coach and she played softball. I had a pretty good idea that she knew baseball. But then just talking to her off the air, on the plane, or on the bus, it became clear she knew the game very, very well."
In Ford's piece, she discussed the symbiotic teaching relationship she has developed with former-Rockies-turned-broadcasters like Cory Sullivan, Ryan Spilborghs, and Jason Hirsh. They bring insights of being ex-professionals along with the confidence and respect that rightfully comes from having achieved so much inside the game of baseball. But each understands they have plenty to learn about media and Cavnar has more experience in that domain.
The mutual respect that came out of this process provided an environment where Cavnar and the former ballplayers could alternate between teacher and student roles which necessitated an understanding that she knows some things about this game that even they do not.
So, when it came time for her big moment, Cavnar had a player responsible for one of the Rockies Top 5 moments of all time firmly in her corner. "Spilly has always been such an [advocate] of getting me a bigger platform," she said.
Nothing like an assist from a teammate.
So with the confidence of Corrigan, Schemmel, Spilborghs, and others, Cavnar's high school dream shifted sharply into focus. All that hard work, though it was a labor of love, had paid off.
A New Chapter
For Cavnar, the day began a little differently.
"It was fun. A couple of players came up to me in the clubhouse that day [to say congratulations]; and then Jack grabbed me and put me in a couple interviews, and that's when it set in: I have a different role tonight."
One small step for her -- and one decent-sized leap for female broadcasters -- and Jenny Cavnar took her place in the booth. "Let's do this!" she recalls thinking.
She described several moments as though they flashed by in a surrealist rush: "Getting into the radio both ... the second we hit air . . . that first pitch . . . and then all of a sudden you're just locked in."
She sounds like a pitcher.
Jenny Cavnar's Instagram
Her voice was the percussion and timbre of jazz when we spoke, and I imagine the pace of the broadcast booth zooming along the same way, especially on day one. As she speaks, for the first time in years, I thought of my days as a short-distance hurdler. The anticipation builds in seconds that last forever, and in a blink it's over.
"The first game I did, the first five innings flew by," she said. "It was just me getting adjusted and trying to catch up to the speed and get a chemistry level with Jack." Team chemistry is a concept familiar to anyone who follows sports closely, and this dynamic is no less important to the broadcasters who cover our favorite teams. "Anytime you work with somebody different, you're working on finding the rhythm," Corrigan said. "She caught the rhythm early."
But as soon as she did the game took a drastic turn, because the baseball gods insist on torturing everyone involved.
"And suddenly the Diamondbacks started scoring all these runs and the game got really long and [so the mood switched to] trying to keep the energy going with the Rockies down so much," Cavnar said. It became clear what both the biggest surprise and learning point would be for Cavnar -- this job can be emotionally taxing. Baseball games are long and there are a lot of them.
"Jack and Jerry and Drew [Goodman] and Jeff [Huson] -- these guys are in every pitch in every game -- you are seeing the game unfold in real time. You have to be into every pitch and the game is not easy." And the job is not easy.
I've experienced but a fraction of the emotional toll that covering baseball can take. At the end of a long day -- a double-header at Coors Field against the Los Angeles Dodgers -- when Alex Guerrero hit a grand slam to put the visitors up by one after the Rockies were a strike away from winning, I felt like I'd been hit in the chest with a ton of bricks. It wasn't the loss, or even the way they lost, but the long walk down the stairwell into what I knew would be the most somber post-game clubhouse I'd ever experienced. I couldn't just turn the TV off and forget this one. I couldn't just wash it down with a drink and turn my attention to something else. I had to look into the faces of Charlie Blackmon who just missed robbing the game-winning home run, Walt Weiss who was positively beside himself, and Troy Tulowitzki who hates losing more than anyone I've ever met.
It was almost midnight and I'd been there since 11 a.m. (which was a little late) and I was exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally. My body ached and my brain hurt. And I didn't really do anything. That was one day. Cavnar, Corrigan, Schemmel and the rest do this nearly every day of the summer. I would be a bowl of soup by the end of the season.
"I told Jerry last night on air ‘Hat's off to you guys,'" Cavnar said. She might as well have directed her next statement straight at me. "For fans who want to be so critical out there, they need to walk a day in their shoes. You are really in it for three to three-and-a-half-hours."
And after you've walked that day in their shoes, walk another 161.
The Postgame Report
Like a utility baseball player or a young prospect that's just been called up into a bench role, it can be difficult to showcase what you can do given limited chances. Cavnar couldn't be more gracious about her time on ROOT but those who only got to see her there, saw a mere fraction of what she can do.
"In a half-hour show every day, you can't show all the knowledge you have," Cavnar said. "Now you have the whole game for your rundown."
She admits to wanting to be "over prepared" for her first time and having to slow herself down a bit -- again not unlike a debuting ballplayer.
To extend the analogy further, the work she had already done in the "minors" was invaluable.
"She already had the preparation in place," Corrigan said. "I think what happens most of the time when we work with inexperienced people, they either do no preparation or too much preparation and don't know how to incorporate it in the framework. We tell broadcasting students all the time that they are only going to use 10 percent of what they prepare but you still have to do 100 percent of the work. She already knew that."
As it turned out, everyone involved -- including Cavnar -- knew what they were doing. Sometimes there is a reason the hot prospect comes with all the hype.
"I thought she was great," Schemmel chimed in. "For having done it for the first time -- and again she has been around baseball and the business for a long enough that I knew she would fit -- but I thought she was just terrific. The stuff she said was good but the way she said it, too," Schemmel continued. "She had energy, which a lot of new people on the radio don't have. They think they have the energy and when they listen back [realize] they don't. She had the enthusiasm and she made great points at great times with me. I was thoroughly impressed."
That was the second day.
Make no mistake: There is a world of difference between being a bat off the bench and being put in the middle of the order.
"It was a quick realization for me to remember I need to train my brain on the job," Cavnar said. "On TV, I'm used to us taking shots of the pitcher up close, the catcher and where he is setting up, the defensive shifting. And now I'm the one that has to tell people about all those things. There's no [visuals] for people to follow along, it's me -- and Jack and Jerry -- creating that, trying to paint that picture."
Cavnar's first few innings were a bit shaky (if judging by internet comments) but near universal praise began to pour in as she got into a rhythm. Opinions of the masses aside, Corrigan and Schemmel found her to be among the most polished rookies they've ever worked with -- maybe the most. That's high praise from two individuals who have been broadcasting professional sports for a long time.
Corrigan offered a possible explanation for why she took so well to the job so early: "I think her experience as a broadcaster and doing things on the fly -- as scripted as pregame and post-game shows are, there are still times you have to improvise -- she had that already in place."
Not to mention the fact that hardcore Rockies fans all know Jenny Cavnar at this point. And she knows us. "That can be a challenge for people new to the spot," Corrigan said. "They get so worried about getting information out that they forget who their talking to. She knows this audience."
So she nailed the style. But what about the substance?
"She played it a little safe," Schemmel admitted. "She wasn't going to do more analyzing than she needed to and that was her game plan going in." Like a rookie ballplayer taking a few pitches as opposed to swinging for the fences, I say. "Exactly right, and I thought that was wise on her part." Cavnar stuck with what she knows. She played to her strengths.
"All the stories I shared are things I would normally do," she said. "I talk to players all the time and am finding out new information all the time and I'm storing all that in my brain. So it was really just a new avenue to let that all out."
Schemmel said that "She had a good feel for when to talk and when not to. She fell right into that very easily. She wasn't analyzing every single pitch, she focused on doing the basics really well." Knowing when not to talk is just as important as knowing when to. But still, none of that matters if what you say once you open your mouth isn't very interesting. What Cavnar proved in just her first few days is that she can harness what she knows into an entertaining narrative.
Jenny Cavnar's Instagram
"I think her greatest strength is that she has already learned how to be a storyteller," Corrigan said. "We'll get into statistical analysis -- a lot of the things that Purple Row writes about we do the same thing, maybe not to the depth that you do -- but she can do that and still weave stories."
And there it is. Cavnar represents the best of two worlds that are far too often at odds with one another: Heavy-duty statistical analysis and storytelling. This, in my estimation, is why she will achieve even higher success in her career. It's one thing to carve out a place for women in sports, but Cavnar is also blazing the trail for the analytical storyteller.
"You're hoping to tell stories as you're describing the action," Corrigan said. "But in those multiple holes of no action, somebody who is well-versed, humorous, comfortable in their own skin, and [has the ability to be] a storyteller, they will fit right in. And she's got all those roles. She learned how to do that at an early age."
Cavnar returned to the booth for the Diamondbacks series in August, proving again that this will be a regular occurrence as long as she remains with Rockies media. It tells us that 2015 is the beginning of Cavnar's story and not the end.
A Broken Glass Ceiling
"This doesn't have anything to do with me [specifically] but it opened a lot of peoples eyes -- wow, really it's 2015 and no women have been in the booth? -- but I would credit Suzyn Waldman for being the one in baseball in general breaking that barrier, being a long-sustaining voice, and doing a good job," Cavnar said.
But again, let us not minimize the fact that right now, Cavnar is the only female voice in a broadcast booth of any kind in the National League.
While I've never believed there has been some grand scheme holding Cavnar back before her big moment, it would be criminally naive to believe she is the first woman to have ever been qualified for the position she currently holds. Nor is she just the second after Waldman.
Therefore, it would be negligent -- borderline journalistic malpractice -- to underestimate the profound impact Cavnar's continued success could have on how sports sound. "This is so weird," Cavnar recalled, thinking as the reality of her historical achievement set in. "I don't think of it that way. At one point I had 50 text messages on my phone and that's when I realized it was a big deal."
But during the game, Carvnar had a job to focus on.
"It really didn't sink in until afterwards," she said. "I had a correspondence with [Waldman] who does the games for the Yankees. She was great. And then out of the blue I got an email from Lesley Visser who is known as a pioneer for women in sports broadcasting, so for them to reach out to me probably meant more than anything. And for my colleagues -- my counterparts on other teams -- being so supportive and encouraging and just super-pumped for me it felt like we had this sorority that was fired up for each other."
Why the party? "Radio has always been the boys club," Jack Corrigan said.
But that didn't stop him, or really in any way affect him, when it came to Jenny Cavnar. Corrigan refused to let symbolism or the "distractions" that come with the added hoopla often associated with historical achievement deter him from what he intrinsically knows.
"My mother taught me how to read the sports papers. I have four sisters who are all fans," he said. "I never thought there was an issue with gender. What matters is what you know."
But -- countless people on the internet argue -- she never played the game! How can she be a good color-man if she was never a pro?
Jerry Schemmel wasn't buying it.
"I've never really been one in any sport who said you have to have a former player doing color commentary if you know the game," he said. "Jack and I do color for each other every game. I never played at that level and I think we are both adequate doing color for each other. Maybe on TV [being a former player] might help get a wider audience, but on radio I don't think it makes any difference if you know the game. And she knows the game."
In the relatively short time I've been doing this, I've been critiqued in many, many ways -- some of which are brimming with legitimacy and some couldn't be more baseless -- but not once, not ever, has my lack of professional experience in the game (or anything resembling it) been the source of contention.
The existence of Bill James, Matt Vasgersian, and Brian Kenny -- among many others -- renders such thinking transparently gendered.
"I've worked a number of games with Doris Burke" Schemmel said. Burke is easily one of the best in the business, he says, so when he first heard about Cavnar, his only reaction was "Great idea. She's knows the game, she's with us, she is a part of the team already." Smart plays. Talent plays. And it helps to have colleagues who are focused on just those two things.
Cavnar hopes that, while the radio might sound different with her on it, "What they are hearing isn't different information, they're still just hearing baseball information like they would any other night."
And that's what this really all should be about: baseball information.
Jack Corrigan just cares that she nailed it. He put it succinctly without being dismissive, he wanted to give a shot to a person he thinks can be very good at this job. As for the barrier breaking: "It was a cool bonus."
As for Cavnar, she learned as much about herself as she did her new job in those first few days: "I'm not a former player; I'm not going to bring that to the table. I've never stood in the batter's box and seen a 100-mph pitch come at me. I'm not calling play-by-play but I felt like I had a place there and I hope that showed in the broadcast. There's maybe not a traditional role for that but I feel like that is what I learned. There is a place for that voice."
The word "inspiration" gets thrown around a lot. But Cavnar is just that in a world where 88 percent of the voices are men.
Anyone who enjoys a solid baseball broadcast should do themselves a favor and bookmark her next appearance. Every parent of a young girl who loves sports should be tuning in to every Cavnar game. And so should every Rockies fan who happens to enjoy entertaining and insightful commentary about their favorite team.
It's amazing how many parallels there are between Cavnar and the players she covers. They find themselves at or near the height of a very competitive profession. Their jobs are both far easier to critique than to do. Hard work, natural talent, and passion win out -- sometimes even over the most deeply rooted traditions.
"We had to let management know that we thought it would work and we were very confident that she could do the job," Corrigan said. "They've seen her on TV but they don't interact with her like we do. We said, ‘This is going to be seamless,' and it was."
I've been fortunate enough to have a handful of conversations with Cavnar down at Coors Field and we don't talk about gender. We talk about Jon Gray's innings limit. We talk about defensive metrics. She tells baseball stories and encourages her colleagues to do the same.
While there are times one can't help but notice that -- in 2015 -- most days she is still the only woman in the press box, there is absolutely no mistaking what Schemmel put with such simple elegance.
Jenny Cavnar is an indispensable part of the team.