MATT DIRKSEN

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  • In April, Jenny Cavnar became the first woman in 25 years to call play-by-play on a MLB telecast.
By Scooby Axson
May 18, 2018

And that ball is shot into left field. Fire up the fountains! She gone!”

“Trevor Story sends that one deep to left field. And the fountains are gonna get fired again.”

On any other day, those home run calls from a baseball announcer wouldn’t have gotten any traction. Every play-by-play announcer has their own signature call, a voice inflection that captures the audience’s attention and, if the announcer is lucky, become iconic among a fanbase.

But during the first inning of an April 23 game between the Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres, the play-by-play voice that television audiences heard that night was confident, knowledgeable, and, most importantly, female. 

Both calls came from AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain reporter Jenny Cavnar, the Rockies’ 35-year-old broadcaster with a dozen years of broadcasting experience. In April, she became the first woman since 1993 to do play-by-play on a big league broadcast.

“She studies film, she pays attention to the game and I think you can develop a knowledge of the game by watching her,” All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado said. “It's good for the game. It brings a different flavor and I think that's what's important.”

Cavnar can now put her name beside pioneers such as Beth Mowins, Gayle Gardner and Suzyn Waldman as barrier-breaking women who knocked down silly stereotypes and championed others in a quest for equality. Usually Cavnar is the host of the Rockies’ pregame and postgame shows on the Rockies’ regional sports network broadcast and does the occasional sideline reporting on the network. 

Cavnar’s story starts in Aurora, Colo., where the self-proclaimed “sports geek” who played basketball, softball, lacrosse in high school dreamed of trolling the sidelines of “Monday Night Football.”

“I remember sitting on the couch with my dad and watching Melissa Stark on Monday Night Football and that’s when I knew I really wanted to be a sports reporter,” she said. “It was just love of sports.  It really didn’t click with me until I saw someone that looked like me.”

Even though she comes from a baseball family (her father Steve Cavnar, is a Colorado High School Baseball coaching legend), she never dreamed of reporting on baseball. Her journey features years filled with tears, self-doubt, and jobs at Starbucks, $12-an-hour secretary work for her brother and coaching lacrosse at UCLA after graduating from Colorado State in 2004. Cavnar earned stints at CSTV (now CBS Sports Network) as a college football sideline reporter, at WJRT in Flint, Michigan, and ESPN commentating on cheerleading championships. None of those jobs adequately paid the bills—nor were they fulfilling.

“I wasn't a cheerleader. I have no idea, knew nothing about cheerleading,” she admits. “So, I would fly to Orlando and do this TV thing for ESPN once a month on a weekend, thinking ‘This is like really great.’ And then I'm flying back and I can barely afford to get my laundry done.”

After what she calls a rededication to her career by shedding some workload that had nothing to do with her dreams, Cavnar finally got the opportunity to move forward in her career when she was hired to host the Padres pregame and postgame shows in 2007 before moving back to Colorado to work in her current position in 2012.

During a spring training game in 2017, Cavnar called a game as an analyst, following that up with a chance to call play-by-play during spring this year, which featured an all-female crew with veteran game producer Alison Vigil and Erica Ferrero, who also directed that 2017 spring training game.

“We talked about it for a while about getting her involved, and anytime you are trying to do something different it is going to get a lot of judgment,” said Vigil, who directed the historic game last month.

“I know that she’s qualified. Of course, I felt nervous for her, because I know she wanted to do this for so long. It’s a testament to our group. We make sure people are well prepared for the broadcast. She is good enough to do this all the time.”

Her historic shot at a regular-season game came with far less notice: She was told the day before to get her voice ready to call and to lead a broadcast, filling in for Drew Goodman, the usual play-by-play commentator.

Her two counterparts in the booth that night, former major leaguers Ryan Spilborghs and Jeff Huson, served as color analysts.

 “I think we were all having nervous surgery but in a good way because we knew there was more to it than just a baseball game,” Spilborghs said.

For the broadcast itself, Spilborghs and Huson let Canvar know that it was her show.

****

Canvar says no moment is too big and no criticism, outside the constructive evaluation from her superiors, is listened to. She knows with the spotlight, the good and certainly the bad comes with that kind of exposure can get even the most hardened people down.

Even though the historic context of Cavnar’s game was well-received, most of her colleagues wondered what the big deal was.

“I went home and I talked with my wife and I said maybe I don't see this as being such a big deal,” Huson said. "And my wife said, 'Why not? Because she's a woman?’ To me, she's Jenny. She knows baseball. And I told Jenny that the next day and I said I'm sorry if I didn't recognize it for what it was."

Spillborghs said he heard from people praising the accomplishment and watching baseball for the first time with their daughters, to the all too common computer trolls who exist seemingly to degrade women’s existence in sports.

“It's the part that really bothers me. I have a daughter. I've listened to Jenny. She knows baseball more than probably a majority of men,” he said. “And I think we've gotten to the point where from an analyst standpoint, why can't somebody that maybe never played the game be able to describe what's going on. Why does it always have to be somebody that played? Does it always have to be somebody that's a man that's gone to college for it? Why can't it be just entertainment?”

The Rockies were blown out that night, but her call got some unexpected attention from admirers—and those who have no interest in having a female voice on any broadcast.

“I heard from so many people and especially in the baseball world, people that I respect and admire. From current players, former players, managers and some really talented broadcasters that have been encouraging me along the way,” Cavnar said during a trip to New York for Colorado’s three-game set against the Mets last weekend. “But Billie Jean King tweeted with my name in it and I felt like I had to stop because she's the G.O.A.T.”

When asked what she thought about the impact the game made, Cavnar stops short of singing her own praises.

Barrier-breaker? “No.” Role model? “Maybe.”

“To have fans say they watched the game with their daughters for the first time and knowing how special that bond was to me and my dad. That was the cool part.

“But, really, I’m just Jenny.”

And not one to hold her tongue, Cavnar also has a message for those who still don’t get it or question her credentials.

“I was made to do this,” she said.

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