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1 year ago
How Female Baseball Commentator Jessica Mendoza Shuts Out Sexist Haters

Jessica Mendoza has never actually visited the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, but now she'll have to make the trip: Reps from the organization asked for her signed scorecard from the American League Wild Card Game on October 6—the game that made her the first woman ever to call a nationally televised playoff game on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball—and plan to display it there. 

Jessica, who's won Olympic gold and silver medals in softball and is now a sportscaster, filled in for suspended analyst Curt Shilling. 

"People came up to me right before the game and asked, 'Is it okay if we have your signed scorecard when the game is over? We want to put it in the Hall of Fame.' I was like 'What?! That is so cool! But why?!'” Jessica told WomensHealthMag.com during the recent espnW Women + Sports Summit, a three-day conference designed to bring sports-industry leaders and top female athletes together. “I was so shocked," she says. "They had to tell me, 'Well, this is history."

When Jessica Mendoza filled in for suspended analyst Curt Shilling, she became the first woman ever to call a nationally televised MLB playoff game on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball.

Though women haven't been allowed to play ball—not since the A League of Their Own days from 1943 to 1954—Jessica's reputation as one of the country's best hitters makes her more the than qualified for the job.

“I felt pressure because I knew that I was the first and other women were counting on me," she says. "There was this idea of...being responsible for the future. ... But I didn't realize how big a deal this was until I saw how everyone reacted after the game.”

Jessica received plenty of #BroadcastLikeAGirl love, especially from her colleagues. “She knows hitting better than any of our other analysts—no offense to any of those guys,” says fellow Stanford softball alumnae Ramona Shelburne, a sportswriter and on-air analyst for ESPN (she tag-teamed a talk with Jessica at the summit). A male ESPN executive shared Ramona's sentiment at the event: “It wasn't courageous of ESPN to put Jessica Mendoza on Sunday Night Baseball,” says John Kosner, general manager of ESPN digital and print media. “It was just common sense. She was hired because she was the best person for the job.”

"I didn't realize how big a deal this was until I saw how everyone reacted after the game."

Overwhelmingly positive reviews for Jessica weren't confined to the network. Family, friends, fans, and media outlets—including The New York Times and Good Morning America—celebrated her regardless of a few critics, specifically one inappropriate radio host in Atlanta who used this opportunity to stand on top of his sexist soapbox. Jessica, however, refused to bat an eye at the tirade.

“I wanted to enjoy the moment the way I experienced it and the way that people who matter in my life experienced it,” she says. “When someone sent me the link to the Yahoo Sports article, 'Atlanta radio jock launches ugly Twitter attack...', I thought to myself, 'Why click on it? Is there anything good that can come from this?' Not in my opinion. If those words had reached me, then in a way, he wins—and that's ultimately what he wanted to do or create the attention. So I was like, 'You know, I don't need to.'”

Since then, Jessica has tried to stay focused on her performance, not what other people may or may not think of her gender. “As soon as I see that the criticism starts the same way, 'Why is a woman...' then I stop," she says. "I don't need to finish their sentence." But that doesn't mean she only reads glowing reviews. “I don't want to let the overly positive make me think that I am better than I am. I know where I'm at, and I want to stay here and continue to get better on my own.” Getting in the booth was the hard part. Staying there is the new goal. “I want to continue to do work in the booth and get better," she says. "That's my biggest goal next year.”

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