It’s hard to believe, but Melanie Newman, 29, is the first female broadcaster to do play-by-play for the Baltimore Orioles in the team’s history—and only the fourth female in the broadcast booth in all of Major League Baseball. We chatted with Newman over Zoom, where she discussed her unprecedented new role, muting haters on Twitter, and how the human side of sports is her jam.
How did you get into sports?
I grew up around sports. Living in Atlanta, there was just so much going on, especially given that it was the mid ’90s so we had the Olympics and the Braves were on a streak. We lived in the heart of SEC Country when it came to football. So that’s what we did for fun—me, my mom, dad, and sister were just always at different events. I never realized [I was different] until I got older and would watch the way other kids were at sporting events and they would want to get souvenirs or cotton candy and my sister and I were the ones that were plugged into our seats, asking our parents about things that were going on, being in awe of our dad’s [sports knowledge]. It just always stuck with me. And once we started going to baseball games, for whatever reason, my brain just latched onto that 10 times harder and I wanted to know every little detail about the sports. It’s just stuck with me ever since.
Most women who are really into sports either played sports or have a whole lot of brothers. But you just organically came to love it.
I really did. We always joke, I did not inherit the athletic gene in the family. I was a failed tennis player. I had one not great year of running track and field back in high school. Then I did dance and cheerleading and stuff like that. But contact, hand-eye coordination-heavy sports, no. Everybody always thinks, oh you played soft ball. No. I never picked up a bat in my life. But it’s just funny when I look back at it now, I think that’s the reason why I went in the direction of pivoting toward the human interest side of the sport rather than trying to be the person who gets hyper analytical and breaks down the mechanics. I always tell the [players], when they walk out in the hallway of the hotel and see me working at 2, 3 o clock in the morning because I couldn’t get wi-fi in my own room and they just say, “I don’t know how you do it.” And I say “I can do the long hours. Bottom line is, I can’t go out and field ground balls. What you do is harder than what I do.”
So how did you get into sports broadcasting?
I started out as a print journalist. And my college advisor said, “Hey, we want to put you in broadcasting.” And I said, “Okay.” And then they said, “Hey, we want you to do a sideline series.” And I said, “Okay.” I trusted the other people around me who had more experience than me every time they wanted me to go in a different direction. So when it came to the fact that someone said, “Hey, we’re going to put you in the booth,” it was a little nerve wracking—I was like, “What am I going to bring to the table?” But I still trusted it. For lack of a better word, you be a yes man until you get to that point [of confidence]. I do mostly play-by-play [in the booth]. Any color analysis that I do is more of a human background to kind of flesh out the athlete as a whole versus breaking down why they did a certain play. I’m never going to pretend I have the athlete mind to say, “Oh yeah, he should’ve broken left instead of right.” That’s getting out of what I know and that’s when people see through that—when you start making up stuff. [Laughs]
After working in the minors for many years, you got called up to the “bigs” with the Orioles. And you have a very unique role with the team.
In my years in this industry, people have asked, “Do you like play-by-play or do you like sidelines?” Well, I don’t really prefer one of them—they’re so different, I like them both. And everybody said you have to choose at some point. So when the Orioles came to me and said we want you to do both, I was like this is it. I’m done. I’m sold. That’s all the convincing that I need. They made everything that I never even thought possible happen. I feel really lucky.
It must’ve been hard to get to know the players in the midst of a pandemic.
I only knew three of the guys [from the minor leagues] so when the season got shut down, I was like, “Crap! How do I play catch up and learn about the team when the whole team has just been sent home?” So we launched a digital show for Orioles Instagram called “The Grind” where I would sit down and just have coffee virtually with a player once a week. They’ve all been really kind and gracious about doing that.
We see a fair number of female reporters on the sidelines, but so few in the broadcast booth. Why do you think that is?
I just think it’s one of those things where, for so long, and not through anyone’s fault, it was normalized. Where women kind of congregated toward the sideline role. There was a feeling of, it’s always been that way so that’s the way it always will be. I still remember when I was brought into the booth in 2014. It’s not that I was opposed to it or thought negatively of it, or told that I couldn’t do it—it just never entered my head space that that was a place that I could be in. People often say to me, “How does it feel to be a female [broadcaster]?” Well, I’ve been a female my whole life so I haven’t walked around thinking, “Oh, I’m a female doing these things!” I exist as I am—my family’s always been supportive of it. I never felt weird or out of place.
But there must also be a feeling of pride?
When you step away and you do look at the big picture, and you see messages from parents of young girls who are getting that exposure at an early age, that knowledge that they can do whatever they feel like doing—that’s huge. And I really think it’s not just for women but for little boys, too. I think we inadvertently create gender roles for interests and activities and we have to start taking that away.
Have you met any resistance?
Honestly, if there has been any, I haven’t seen much of it and that’s mostly credit to the fact that social media now lets you filter out certain words. I’m sure people have said things I just don’t see it.
Ha! What words have you filtered?
It’s a book! There are words that shouldn’t be said to humans ever. The truth is, I’ve developed a thicker skin over the years. Things that people used to say would just derail me entirely and what I’ve learned now is that if there are hateful comments they are usually based from a place of ignorance.Honestly, most of what I’ve seen has been, “You know, I wasn’t really sure when they announced a female how I really felt, but I’ve come around to it.” They admit they did have a pre-judgement solely based on my gender, but I’ve taken that as an opportunity to change their mind and hopefully give them a more open mind.
How do you like working for the Orioles so far?
Everybody I’ve gotten to be around has been so wonderful. The fact that I’m the only female on a 19-person broadcast staff, they’ve all been absolutely amazing. It feels like a giant family.