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Jenny Cavnar’s TV debut highlights need for more female voices in baseball

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Cavnar was unsurprisingly great in her TV debut

As baseball confronts a declining fan base, the league needs to reconsider its relationship with female fans. To understand just how much it the league needs to act, it’s helpful to turn to Box Score’s Mary Craig and her view on women and baseball:

And at a time when there are still no female MLB executives, no female players, and one female commentator — and women wake up every day knowing they are led by a person who boasts about abusing them — it is not good enough for teams to continue to ignore the passion and knowledge female fans exude. Whether Major League Baseball is understood as a form of escapism or as an integral aspect of American identity, it has failed its female fans.

That “one female commentator” would be ESPN’s Jessica Mendoza. (Although generally praised for her work, she encountered some backlash. For more on issues of inclusion for MLB reporters and broadcasters, see this article.) Working as umpires or broadcasters would be obvious ways for more women to become involved in baseball, but that form of inclusion is happening frustratingly slow.

Enter Jenny Cavnar, who did the play by play for AT&T Sportsnet/Rocky Mountain in Friday’s Rockies-Reds game. And I, for one, am so here for it. Cavnar knows baseball, and broadcasts like this one may help bring more female viewers to the sport.

Cavnar typically does the Rockies Pregame Report and Toyota Postgame Show with some sideline reporting. That said, Cavnar’s knowledge of baseball is unquestioned. (Don’t believe me? Listen to her on the Barstool Sports podcast.) And in this broadcast, she got to show it. In addition, her relationship with the players was clear, as she told behind-the-scenes anecdotes and interviewed Kyle Freeland after he’d finished pitching (“a lot of first-pitch strikes for you, really pounding the zone”).

None of Cavnar’s sentences began with “When I was playing….” (although she did reference her husband’s minor league play), and that was fine. She didn’t hesitate to ask her fellow broadcasters, Jeff Huson and Cory Sullivan, to draw on their experience (just like Drew Goodman does), but the game was hers to call. Her booth-mates were clearly helping her feel more comfortable. Take this example from a big Rockies fourth inning:

Cavnar: CarGo! He’s gonna follow that one up with a homerun of his own. Back-to-back homeruns for Nolan and Cargo.

Huson: There you go. You rolled right into that.

Sullivan: Well done, Jenny, well done.

Cavnar: Carlos Gonzalez with his first homerun of spring training. And I believe that’s his first RBI as well.

There were also some “dad jokes” thrown in. What’s not to like?

After the game, MLB.com’s Thomas Harding spoke to Cavnar about her broadcast: ”Today was a lot of fun. . . . Our group brings a lot of versatility to a broadcast. We’ve been wanting to try something where it wasn’t necessarily traditional. For Cory and myself, we don’t get the chance to get to be in the booth quite often.”

Cavnar added:

”For me, taking the lead on play-by-play -- a first for me -- was definitely fun, just to get to talk baseball with those guys. . . . But the real credit goes to who was in the truck -- Alison Vigil was our producer, Erica Ferrero was directing and Krista Madrill was doing chyron [on-screen graphics]. I look around and I’m starting to see more familiar faces in this business, people that look like me rather than working with all guys all the time.

”It’s cool not because they’re female. It’s cool because they’re all really good at their jobs. For the next generation of women that are growing up, I’m often asked how did I get my job, ‘I want to be a sideline reporter. I want to be on TV.’ But to note, there are so many jobs in baseball -- male or female. It’s really neat that we all got the opportunity as females on our staff to do a broadcast together.”

If baseball is serious about bringing in additional fans, encouraging women to do more than host pre- and post-game shows is an important step. One study estimates that 44 percent of baseball fans are women. Allowing women to call games is a way to speak to that audience and possibly build on it.

I’d add that the sport tends to be clouded with a nostalgia of fathers and sons playing the game, but that narrative needs to expand to include girls who play catch with their fathers and mothers. Although women aren't allowed to play professional baseball, their doing the play-by-play literally foregrounds the female voice, and that’s important and necessary.

I’ve been an advocate for addressing pace-of-play issues and reconsidering the role of technology in baseball, but I’d like to add one more suggestion: Let more women into the broadcast booth, and let’s hope this becomes a regular job for Cavnar.

Jenny, you go, girl!

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You can come say hi to Jenny on April 6, as she’ll be attending the Purple Row Opening Day Breakfast. You can ask you about her approach to play by play yourself!