By: RoseAnn Sapia
"Keep knocking on the door.”
That’s how Melanie Newman said she's navigated her way through the sports broadcasting industry. Because, as reason would have it, if you keep knocking, eventually the door will open.
For Newman, another door did open. She saw an opening for the number two broadcaster with the Frisco RoughRiders, the Texas Rangers’ Double-A affiliate, last November, and decided to apply. Now, she’s getting ready to make her broadcast debut with the team on April 5th.
“I teared up”, says Newman of her first reaction when she was notified that she’d gotten the job around Christmas. The Newman family has roots in Texas on her father’s side, and Newman had previously worked with the Texas Collegiate League in 2014. However, it was the inviting nature of the RoughRiders’ organization that inspired her to accept the position, without hesitation.
Newman will be doing play-by-play and color commentary, alongside lead broadcaster Ryan Rouillard; additionally, she’ll contribute human interest features, and video content for the 2018 season. Although her favorite part of this role is the human interest side, it’s her joining the broadcast team that’s made headlines.
Newman is one of just three women in minor league baseball working in the booth doing play-by-play or color analysis, joining Kristen Karbach (Phillies A+ affiliate-Clearwater) and Emma Tidemann (Royals A+ affiliate-Lexington).
Although the “unorthodox” nature of her position didn’t start to set in until the Dallas News ran an article about it this week, Newman thinks it’ll finally hit her once the guys return to Frisco for workouts and Media Day early next week. “I’m not nervous, I’m excited”, said Newman.
Her gig with the RoughRiders will have her engaged with the team for the entire season, something she describes as a “big weight off.” This is just the reaction you would expect from someone who’s been grinding it out in this industry for quite some time.
Newman's been involved in the sports industry for a decade in a multitude of ways. She’s freelanced, covered various sports aside from baseball including swimming, diving, and tennis; she’s also done sales, media relations, emceed, operated the pitch clock, and has even been a mascot, just to name a few. She also bartends and teaches as a way to help pay bills.
All of these positions have been little steps on the trail leading her to Frisco. “You either fall in love with the grind, or you can’t stand it,” she stated.
Listening to her, its clear that she does love the grind.
Covering a new team means getting to know a new bunch of players, coaches, fans, and colleagues. That’s why Spring Training isn’t just important for the players.
Newman spent the entirety of Spring Training on the back fields getting to know some of these players. She studied three player bios for three days, googling all of the guys’ names in an attempt to find human interest stories.
“You gotta be a nerd, and be okay with it” is the mantra she lives by, and rightfully so. She originally had no desire to report from the sidelines, thinking it added no value, and didn’t like the questions reporters asked. When she was offered an opportunity to do sideline reporting for Atlantic Sun Conference baseball while in college, she almost turned it down. It was her father that convinced her to give it a try, telling her that she could change what she didn’t like.
Now, Newman prides herself on bringing fans the best content that’ll leave them with more knowledge, and an emotional connection. There’s no better way to do that than to know these guys inside and out.
This knowledge especially comes in handy when interviewing players. Being around the team, both on and off the field, allows Newman to really know who’s who, and tailor questions towards them. She knows she has asked a “Golden Question” when her interviewee is talking more than she is. She considers reporting to be one of the most selfless jobs. The occupation may seem flashy, but it’s all about giving the player the spotlight, and providing them with a way to connect with fans.
She sees her career as being similar to that of a Minor Leaguer. “It’s not always the easiest route, but you wouldn’t change it,” she said.
For someone who’s so passionate about what she does, one would think this was the job Newman always saw herself having. Turns out, that’s not the case.
“I was morbidly shy growing up”, she said. Young Melanie was a book-worm, although she always loved sports. Growing up in suburban Atlanta, Melanie watched a lot of Braves baseball and SEC football.
She originally envisioned a career as a veterinarian. That all changed when she had to dissect a shark in the fifth grade. “I threw that out the window faster than I ran away from the shark,” Newman said.
She latched on to writing and photography in high school, which eventually led to her involvement with her school’s baseball program. She photographed moments during the game, kept the scorebook, and traveled with the team to do so.
She entered college wanting to be a writer, at a time when “writing was dying” before outlets discovered that written content could be digital. It wasn’t until she transferred to Troy University in Alabama that she would fall into broadcast “haphazardly”, or so she thought.
When returning home for Christmas break her junior year, Newman found old tapes of herself using a Talkgirl, which allowed her to make an interesting discovery.
“When I was four years old, I would run around my house doing play-by-play of my family.” Seems like Newman was really supposed to wind up as a broadcaster after all.
But why baseball?
While at Troy, Newman would do play-by-play for women’s volleyball, softball, and baseball. “I would always come back to baseball,” she said.
Part of that is just her nature, as she said, she was always “intellectually drawn to baseball”. The other part comes from the guidance of mentors.
Newman names Ricky Hazel, whom she worked with at Troy; Justin Baker, whom she’s known since 2010, and later worked with in 2014 with the Mobile Baybears; Steve Berthiaume, who does play-by-play for the Arizona Diamondbacks, and his wife Cindy Brunson; as well as Bob Rathbun, who does play-by-play for the Atlanta Hawks, as her mentors.
Sometimes, mentors are found in the least expected way. Newman met Bob Rathbun after her family had adopted a dog through his wife’s agency. After meeting with her for three hours, it was Rathbun who noticed that Newman knew about other sports, but told her she should ultimately specialize in baseball. The rest is history.
It’s important to have mentors, or as she puts it, family. “It’s not about who you know, it’s the bigger your family is, the more ears to the ground for opportunity.”
For the girls that want to break into the broadcast industry, she offers this advice: “Even if your feet are stuck in the mud, keep moving”.
Newman had her fair share of tears and job rejections, referring to her jobs offered to jobs applied ratio as “not even close to a batting average.”
Her persistence paid off.
And that TalkGirl proved to be one sound investment.
Melanie Newman will make her debut for the Frisco RoughRiders on April 5th. But what if she would be playing in the game instead of broadcasting it?
Melanie’s walk-up song would be “Silence (Illenium Remix)” by Marshmello and Khalid. She’d have two throwing partners for warmups. Jessica Kleinschmidt of Cut 4 is her “realistic” choice, although Jessica would “make fun” of her un-athleticism. Jacob Barnes, a pitcher on the Milwaukee Brewers whom Melanie has known for a while, is her other choice, saying she would “actually learn from him”. If there were to be a rain delay, Melanie would spend it eating food. Last season, while working with the Atlanta Braves, Melanie experienced a lot of rain delays. Because of that, she’s “eaten everything there is to eat at Sun Trust”.
Be sure to follow Melanie Newman and her journey on Twitter and Instagram @MelanieLynneN.