Photo by Matt Dirksen
The club is a small one, but Jenny Cavnar hopes it doesn’t stay that way much longer. Two weeks ago, Cavnar became the first woman in 22 years to call TV play-by-play in a regular-season Major League Baseball game, joining Suzyn Waldman, who called New York Yankees games on WPIX in 1996; Gayle Gardner, who filled in on a Colorado Rockies broadcast in 1993; and Pam Boucher, who did play-by-play in 36 games for Yankees TV in 1977. Cavnar called the Rockies’ 13-5 loss to the San Diego Padres on April 23.
Bleacher Report caught up with Cavnar to talk about her historic broadcast, how she came up with her home run call and her play-by-play aspirations after her debut.
Bleacher Report: Where did your dream of becoming a sports broadcaster start?
Jenny Cavnar: I was in high school. It was probably 1999, and I remember watching Monday Night Football with my dad. Melissa Stark came on as a sideline reporter, and it was really kind of the first time that I saw someone that looked like me and talked like me and enjoyed talking about sports. That was the first moment it really clicked. That this was a job I could do. I just told everyone I wanted to be a sideline reporter because that’s what you saw, you know?
B/R: When did you envision play-by-play as something you could do?
Cavnar: Really the play-by-play thing was never on my radar. Ryan Spilborghs and Cory Sullivan, who both played in the big leagues, are two of our analysts at our network, and they’ve really been pushing me towards it, like, “It would be so fun for us all to call a game and do it kind of non-traditionally.” So for the last two years, we’ve been talking about the idea of it. Then at spring training, Drew Goodman, who typically does our play-by-play, had to take a last-minute game off, and they said, “Well, let’s do it. Let’s try it.” And so that was my first go.
Colorado Rockies @RockiesWe are extremely proud of @jennycavnar who tonight becomes among the first women ever to call play-by-play for a @MLB broadcast. https://t.co/Y8aQhARnnn
B/R: What role, if any, did the support and encouragement from Spilborghs and Sullivan play in all this?
Cavnar: I go back to that Billie Jean King tweet. She had the hashtag on there #HeForShe. It’s nice for women to say we want to be in these positions, but sometimes a lot of males making the decisions don’t want women in those positions. And I really do believe it takes a group effort of thinking and saying, “Let’s do this, let’s try this.” And to be honest, one of our producers is a female, Alison Vigil, and she’s been producing Major League Baseball games for the last three years. She’s been instrumental in making sure that the people in the position to make decisions are looking at me. And then having your colleagues’ respect, and for them to say: “You can do this. We love talking baseball with you, and we want to do that on a bigger scale.” It means a lot to have that support.
B/R: How did you prepare for your historic regular-season play-by-play opportunity?
Cavnar: After I found out Sunday I was doing the game, that night I went home and my husband’s like, “How about I play MLB The Show, and I’ll play the Padres and the Rockies. You can call the video game.” Besides spring training games I had done, I had minimal preparation.
B/R: What was going through your head when you were calling the game?
Cavnar: It was such a surreal experience. … So exciting, so nerve-wracking, all the things that come with it. Before the game, I turned to Jeff Huson, and I was like, “Man, I’m nervous, I’m excited, I’m anxious. I have so many feelings.” And he said, “Jenny, that’s how you feel when you make your major league debut. That’s exactly what a player is feeling.” So it was kind of cool in that regard. I mean, I’m obviously not stepping in the batter’s box by any stretch of the imagination, but just to understand all the emotions those guys go through…
Jake Shapiro @ShapaliciousFire up the fountains! @jennycavnar’s first home run call during a regular season Rockies game on TV. Nolan cuts it to 4-2 Padres. https://t.co/dP1ZYrYwKl
B/R: Was there a specific moment during the broadcast where something surprised you and you had to adjust on the fly?
Cavnar: Going in, I knew what my home run call was going to be: “Fire up the fountains.” The first home run [by a Rockies player, Nolan Arenado] was in the bottom of the first. When he hit the home run, it wasn’t a no-doubter. It was pretty much a line drive, and I was freaking out in my mind. I had a quick second of, “Do I just go for it, or do I wait until it gets out? What if it stays in and I made it a home run call?” I’m going through all this stuff, then finally, I was like, you got to pull the trigger. That ball is going over. So that was kind of a fun moment.
B/R: There’s been a ton of reaction after your play-by-play debut. What has been the coolest thing that has come out of all of this?
Cavnar: Hopefully there were some little girls out there watching that maybe they have the dream to be a play-by-play person or to be able to be an analyst during a game, because they saw and heard something that represented them. I felt like that was the coolest moment. I also got some amusing tweets and texts and emails from managers and big league players, and Billie Jean King sent a tweet the other day, which blew my mind, that she was talking about the job that I did.
Billie Jean King @BillieJeanKingWelcome girls onto baseball teams. Have them listen to @jessmendoza & @jennycavnar calling games. And if you’re a man in power @MLB, work hard to bring women out from back offices & into visible positions. You have to see it to be it. #HeForShe #equality https://t.co/xrE24Qxwgg
Jessica Mendoza @jessmendozaCongrats @jennycavnar. Just keep doing your thing 👊🏽🙌🏽💪🏽 https://t.co/uge7eU51Pd
B/R: Would you like to continue doing play-by-play full time at some point, or do you have big career aspirations beyond that?
Cavnar: We have an amazing play-by-play voice in Drew Goodman, and he takes 10 games off a year, and if a couple of those opportunities are thrown my way, I’ll be pumped to try and get better and to try new play-by-play and keep doing it. But long-term, I don’t know. I want to stay relevant in baseball, and I think that this is another way to do that.
B/R: What does it mean to you to have made history as one of the first women to do play-by-play on an MLB TV broadcast?
Cavnar: It’s crazy. I think it’s really cool, but I also think there’s a lot of pioneers out there for women that I’m so grateful for. I’d never be in this position had Claire Smith not been an amazing baseball writer and worked her butt off and had all these other women starting back in the ’60s not fought for their rights to get into a locker room to cover the game the same way their male counterparts do. I look back to when people used the word “pioneer” or “breaking the glass ceiling”—I feel like that’s been done by some really amazing women that I would like to call pioneers. I just believe that I have the opportunity because of women like that.
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