ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — You might know Tricia Whitaker as the reporter for Tampa Bay Rays baseball telecasts on the Bally Sports Sun network and interviewing players and coaches after a Rays’ win on network television.
I know her as my former Indiana University adjunct professor, a role model and a friend.
I took the liberty of spending an extra semester at Indiana to wrap up some courses before graduating in December of 2020. Tricia’s sports broadcasting course was the last media class I took as a student at Indiana — and it happened to be the most influential.
On the first day of class, Tricia — she never made us call her Professor Whitaker — walked into the classroom in a sleek, professional outfit with confidence that made me want to be just like her. She looked like a famous reporter straight off the set, and she was standing right there in front of me.
As soon as I heard her talk, I wanted to know more about her background and how she ended up as the Rays reporter on network television, a dream of many media students‚ not just at Indiana, but across the world.
Two years later as a full-time reporter myself, my work took me to St. Petersburg, Fla. in mid-July, and I knew I had to stop in and see Tricia. I also knew she’d agree to an interview because she truly loves her students and wants to see all of us thrive.
From talking to her in class, researching her sports path and many phone calls regarding sports mentoring, I already knew the bulk of Tricia’s career journey, but I wanted our readers to know her roots and how she got to be the confident, well-spoken, prominent reporter she is today.
“I grew up in Bloomington, Indiana, so I first discovered my love for sports watching IU basketball,” Tricia said. “Big Bobby Knight girl when I was younger.”
Tricia also liked football, although not as much. She enjoyed watching baseball growing up, and the Chicago Cubs were her team. She played basketball throughout school, and when she got to college at Indiana, she immersed herself in all things sports, even the ones she had never played or watched.
“What did I not do?” Tricia asked. “I remember my first event I covered at IU was shooting a tennis game. I knew nothing about tennis, but I went out and shot it for the student television station, and then I got an audition for their show Hoosier Sports Nite, which I think still exists.”
For the record, it does exist.
After her student television debut, Tricia started covering Hoosier football and basketball, and also earned internships with the Indiana Pacers NBA team as a web reporter as well as an internship at WTHR-TV Channel 13 in Indianapolis.
“I fell in love with it,” Whitaker said. “I like to talk. I love sports, and I don’t mind being on camera necessarily. I did a little bit of everything, which I really think helped, and I always try to encourage all my students in Bloomington to do everything.”
Whitaker graduated from Indiana in 2012 and landed a local TV job with WBAY-TV in January of 2013 in Green Bay, Wis.
“I was so not ready for that job, but I took it, and they had faith I could do it, and I had a great sports director," Tricia said. "He kind of walked me through everything. When I say everything, I mean the good and the bad.”
She said her sports director would rip apart what wasn’t good enough to go on air, and it was the best thing to ever happen to her. The frigid Green Bay air probably wasn’t, but like any determined reporter, Tricia layered up and awaited less violent winters in her next market.
In December 2014, after covering the NFL's Green Bay Packers for two seasons as well as a handful of high school sports, Tricia took the next step up in her career, landing at WTTV-TV, Channel 4 in Indianapolis. She jumped from the country's 68th-ranked market to No. 27.
She was also back home in a busy time for sports, with the Colts, Pacers, Indiana and Purdue college sports and the Indianapolis 500.
“I covered the whole Andrew Luck saga, which was something else,” Tricia said of the former Colts quarterback's sudden retirement.
She worked at WTTV for four years. Tricia, a go-getter also with a talent for teaching, started as an IU Media School adjunct professor for various sports broadcasting classes in the fall of 2017 while still working full time at CBS.
One night, Tricia was out with her fellow reporter friends when one mentioned to her that there was a job opening as the Rays’ sideline reporter.
“I applied, and it took two months of auditioning and phone interviews and Skype interviews and in-person interviews, and finally they offered me the job," Tricia said. "Here I am four years later, and I love it. This is the job I’ve always wanted, and I’m just really happy.”
Tricia has been with the Rays since the 2019 season and especially likes interviewing the hilarious Harold Ramírez, a new outfielder and first baseman for Tampa Bay. Tricia said he’s a great personality, and the way he approaches the game is awesome. She also enjoys talking to outfielder Brett Phillips when given the chance, and she was sad when he was traded last week because he was a local kid very much engrained in the Tampa Bay community.
Tricia is clearly no stranger to busy schedules given her past jobs, but network TV has proven to be even more time-consuming.
“You’re here every single day, so not only is it a time commitment away from your personal life, but you have to challenge yourself to come up with new, fresh stories every single day, and it’s not always easy.”
Whitaker covers almost all of the Rays' 162 regular-season games, plus all the spring training and postseason storylines. She normally gets one day off every few weeks. She also has started reporting national TV games for Apple TV this season as well, expanding her national exposure.
When the baseball season ends, she finds her way back home to Bloomington, Ind. still teaching the next generation of sports broadcasting dreamers like I once was and still kind of am.
The year I had Tricia as my professor, she was late for school because the Rays made a long postseason run all the way to the 2020 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, who ended up winning the series in six games. It was worth the wait for her and I both.
“That’s literally my heart,” Tricia said. “I love teaching students. I love seeing them succeed. It kind of renews your passion, because sometimes you get in the grind of things and you forget how special this job is, but I love seeing how excited they get just to go cover a softball game or something.”
Tricia said the IU Media School is the best, and she’s very protective over her students in the industry. It’s a competitive one, especially for women.
“I had a lot of people come before me to blaze the trail, but there’s definitely still some people who think you don’t belong here, or they’re judgmental.”
That doesn’t affect Tricia though. She shakes those people off like a fly on a hot day without any problem staying focused on what’s important.
“I’m going to tell you one thing,” she said. “I ignore them. I don’t put any weight into what they think or feel, and I don’t care what they think. I just put my head down, do my work and pay attention to the people who do support me. This team is very supportive, and that’s the thing that matters the most.”
Yes, Tricia is a talented sports broadcaster who has worked her tail off to get to where she is today, but she’s also a daughter, a teacher and a mentor. Most importantly, she's still a friend and, yes, still a Hoosier.
Her best advice to all the sports hopefuls?
“You’re never quite ready until you do it,” Tricia said. “You just have to throw yourself into the fire.”