Sunday night’s game between the Cubs and Dodgers would have been historic even had Jake Arrieta not thrown a no-hitter and regardless of the circumstances that resulted in Jessica Mendoza being on the air for ESPN alongside Dan Shulman and John Kruk on the network’s signature baseball broadcast.
Simply being in that position, making history as the first woman on that high profile of a production, Mendoza encapsulated the American dream, at a time when the leading candidate for a major political party’s presidential nomination is parading around in a silly hat that says “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” and proposing the erection of a wall to keep out foreigners.
America already is great, which is the reason that people want to come here in the first place. People come to America to find a better life for themselves and better opportunities for future generations of their families.
Mendoza is a second-generation Mexican-American. She has a master’s degree from Stanford, has been president of the Women’s Sports Foundation and wound up making history in a male-dominated profession. No matter what you think of the chain of events that resulted in her being in that booth at Dodger Stadium on Sunday night, the fact she was there should be an inspiration to anyone who loves this country and what it represents.
And for those who say “stick to sports,” well, sports often turns out to be a forum for American culture, going from Jackie Robinson to the Women’s World Cup this summer. So, there absolutely is room in sports to talk both about Schilling’s social media presence and Mendoza popping through a glass ceiling.
As it turned out, Mendoza wasn’t just there. She was excellent. For that matter, so were Shulman and Kruk in calling the no-hitter. It was a broadcast for ESPN to be proud of, all around. If the best advice you can get is “be yourself,” everyone lived up to it. Shulman showed off his play-by-play chops, Kruk thrived making points about the ins and outs of the game without fear of mockery for his sometimes clumsy way of getting to those points and Mendoza expertly broke down inside-the-game elements like pitch sequencing and the science of hitting.
Here she is talking about Dexter Fowler’s single up the middle in the eighth inning: “Fowler just has a good approach. That’s three different pitchers that he’s faced, and all he’s doing is trying to simplify and let this ball get to his back leg. This is something so hard to do as a hitter, because your impatience wants you to get it out in front, but you watch how he lets this ball get back and because of that he’s able to hit it right up the middle. All of his hits tonight coming middle to opposite field.”
Kruk follows up with this: “I think that’s where Dexter Fowler gets in trouble. He gets home run happy, and he tries to pull balls, get out in front of balls and he doesn’t stay back like that. His game to me, even though he has 14 home runs, is get on, create havoc with your legs, hit the ball to all fields.”
This is how a two-analyst setup should work, with the voices complementing each other. In this case, Mendoza has the more cerebral part of the breakdown, while Kruk talks about the mindset required to properly execute those elements of the game. Simply putting a hitter and a pitcher together to “capture both sides of the game” does not get the job done. The voices need to build off of each other, and that is what happened here.
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