When I think back to my earliest sports memories there is only one person that keeps coming to my mind. My grandmother. She couldn’t teach me how to throw a curve ball, but she could tell me why you should. My father and brother were always there to try and make me a better athlete but Grandma made me fall in love with baseball. I was lucky enough as a kid during the summertimes of my childhood to go with her to Wrigley Field to catch a glimpse of Dawson, Sandberg, Grace and Girardi. That’s also where I saw my first professional baseball game with her, my cousins and my great Aunt (her sister). I will never forget that…
We gathered up on the platform where the usher greets you and directs you to your seats and it that moment where you just catch a glimpse of the Wrigley ivy against the left field wall, a baseline, guys warming up on the field, the holler of “OLD STYLE, PEANUTS”… I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing. Sure I’ve seen the Cubs play on TV but I always just assumed it was staged like a sitcom, but this was a real as the dirt and grass on the field. With my newly purchased mini-bat and program in hand we all took our seats. My Grandma turned her program to the boxscore sheet and turned my program to the same page and handed me a pencil. “We’re going to keep score today John Ryan..” she said. “But Grandma, don’t they have a big score board so we don’t have to do that?” I asked. “Well if you are going to grow up to be a baseball player, you gotta know how to keep score.” she replied.
Well if the professionals do it, I was on board. I am sure I lost interest with in a 1/2 an inning and we all shuffled our seats through out the game because everyone wanted to sit next to Grandma. If I had a question about a play, she answered it. If everyone was booing she told us not to do that, until the 7th inning when she couldn’t take it anymore either and we joined in on it. My Aunt was the same way. I saddle up next to her as the Cubs were coming up to bat in the bottom of the 9th down by a run and Rob Dibble was coming in for the Reds to try and close it out. I hated Rob Dibble, he was a jerk. In my mind I thought ‘this game is over’ Dwight Smith was coming into pinch hit, Cubs haven’t hit well all day and this guy throws REALLY hard. My Aunt must have read my mind, she leaned over to me and said.. “I get the feeling that Dwight is going to hit a homer into the bleachers” as she pointed to right field. The first pitch Dibble threw, Smith parked it into right field bleachers… tie ball game. I had no idea how to process how that just happened. We were all jumping up and down and like some magic trick I couldn’t figure out how my Aunt just did that. “It’s never over until it’s over!” A lesson that every sports fan learns, but rarely sees in their first example of viewing a live baseball game. It went into extra innings, Dibble came out again in the 10th, loaded the bases and plunked Rey Sánchez…. Cubs win, Cubs win. Every time I think of that moment, I tear up. More on that later..
Why I am telling you this story? Lots of reasons. This is was just one example of many throughout my life that came from influence and knowledge of one women who was a die hard sports fan. My Grandma is traditional in many ways, but she isn’t quiet when it comes to sports. My passion and excitement all came from her. She passed it down to everybody. She didn’t play the game, she wasn’t a professional athlete but she was able to teach me. Not just baseball either, Bears games were even more intense and if the Bulls we were on we were watching. Cricket match? Sure, why not. She is a sports junkie.
Well surprise, surprise… I didn’t become a major league baseball player. But I still love sports from every angle. Analyzing it, being of fan of it and obviously talking about it. My experience in playing sports at a high school level has no relevance when talking about the pro game. An experience mind you that was not offered to the girls that were in my high school. Alternative sports might as well have said ‘STAY OUT UNLESS YOU WANT TO BE THE EQUIPMENT MANAGER.’ So the precedent is already set in a lot of young girls minds that they don’t belong. Never has this been so relevant than what the reaction was by a lot of people to Jessica Mendoza color commentating last night. She was never allowed to play the game that I loved, neither did my Grandma. What Mendoza did do was complete at the highest level of her profession, something me and a bunch of other fat slobs slinging bull over a microphone could never do. And today it seems like they are the ones who are most upset about this.
But where she competed at has nothing to do with her knowledge or anyone’s knowledge of the game. The pro prospective analyst is on it’s way out, at least as in terms of taking every word from an ex-athlete as gospel. There are some who are great at it, but most of them are terrible. Mike Ditka? Mike Milbury? Don Cherry? Tim McCarver? No thank you. Turn on the NFL Network and it’s more of the same: good personality, dumb as rocks. That’s also the way I hear a lot of female sideline reporters get criticized but we surely wouldn’t do that to an ex-athlete or male who “knows the game.” It’s obvious that Mendoza knows what she is talking about and it’s evident by here break down of George Springer’s double last night. Is it her voice? Have you heard Tim Kurkjian or Buster Olney speak? Give me a break. Was she the best color commentator ever? No, she has a ways to go but at least it’s something different and positive for females young or old to look up to and that should be celebrated. The road for a broadcaster is already a hard one, but if you are female its a thousand times harder and that’s probably true of a lot of professions.
Learning something about a sport can come from anywhere and anyone. There are a bunch of young female hockey & baseball writers that I admire and they completely blow away a lot of the beat writers in their respective cities. I am very tired of them having to constantly fight this battle. The perception, the name calling… all of it. I urge the rest of my colleagues (especially the male ones) and every sports fan to call this out as much as possible.
My favorite sports woman of all time is my Grandmother. And if she got told some of things that many woman get told on Twitter when discussing sports, I would want to kill them all. What she taught me about sports was real, what her sister who taught me about sports and passed away too soon from cancer was real. As the Cubs take on the Pirates tonight I am 9 years old again. Praying that one of my favorite people on Earth gets to see something she has never see before her life, the Cubs in a World Series. Just like her sister, she too is battling with cancer and this might be her last chance to see it happen. Without her I am not in broadcasting, I am not as passionate and I am not who I am today. Women have always been an influence in my sports life and I hope that one day they will be apart of everyones without judgement and without bias. It starts with us not saying anything and we cannot let it continue.