Melanie Newman and Suzie Cool, who will team up with the Salem Red Sox this season to become the first all-female broadcast booth in affiliated professional baseball, have built a friendship that includes mutual support and encouragement in their career pursuits.
Perhaps that’s not unusual in the world of sports broadcasting, though given the competitiveness of the business, it’s probably not a common occurrence, either.
What’s definitely uncommon about it is that Newman and Cool have yet to meet.
Newman and Cool, who will make their debut April 4 when Single-A Salem opens against the Wilmington Blue Rocks, built a friendship before they became colleagues in a wholly modern way: They connected on social media, where the few women baseball broadcasters — there are expected to be just eight in the booth across all of professional baseball this season — have found something of a support system for each other.
“In this industry it’s so hard to maintain a social network and friendships and relationships because you’re all over the place 300 days a year,’’ said Newman, who will handle the play-by-play, with Cool the analyst. “With social media, a lot of the women in this industry have found each other through Twitter and Instagram and we’ve been able to bond through that, talk about the industry, opportunities, what’s going on, and just support each other. You can make friendships and they’re not contingent on face to face interaction. You can have friends you haven’t met.”
Cool became the Carolina League’s first female broadcaster last year. Like most employees working their way up with a minor league team, she is an expert multitasker, a designation that also applies to Newman. While working her way through grad school, Cool briefly held six jobs at the same time, including assisting in AT&T network’s Pittsburgh Pirates broadcasts and serving as a Pirates ball girl. Her duties for Salem include managing marketing and promotions, which can include everything from running social media accounts to preparing all of the clips for the scoreboard.
But she’d never considered moving into the broadcast booth until she found some online inspiration from Newman’s story.
“I came into last year as graphics assistant/social media person, and I didn’t know what was next,’’ said Cool. “I was a little discouraged. One day I was combing through Twitter and I came across Melanie’s name. There were all of these articles about how awesome she did and how she has all of this experience, and it was really about her jumping into the booth. And I thought why can’t be I be as cool as this girl? Why can’t I do anything like this.? And 10 or 15 minutes went by and I was like, ‘Wait. Why can’t I?’ ”
Cool ran it by Salem’s general manager and assistant GM. She offered to pay for her travel, food, and hotel out of her own pocket just for the chance. They gave her the OK.
“My first broadcast I can admit I was not perfect and I’m still not perfect. I won’t be perfect 20 years from now,’’ she said. “Nobody is. But learning that and getting over that is part of the process.”
Newman is the more experienced broadcaster, having spent more than a decade working in roles such a a sideline reporter for the ACC Network Extra, an in-game host for Troy University, and a reporter for various college football bowls on GameDay radio. Last season she was the No. 2 play-by-play voice for the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders, and she expected to return to that role this year.
“But they were trying to clean up their budget a little bit,’’ said Newman, ‘’and they decided to go with a majority of one-man booths. I didn’t find that out until about a week before spring training started.”
Salem had an opening in the offseason for play-by-play position alongside Cool, but Newman had not applied because she figured she would be staying with Frisco. But Salem’s eventual hire didn’t even stick around long enough for spring training to start.
“So the day after I had announced my free agency, the guy that they had hired to take over the No. 1 spot left for a No. 2 gig with Houston’s Double A team,’’ said Newman. “So it opened back up again. The day I announced I was on the market, Susie had messaged me and said, ‘I’m sure you’ll find something,’ just being encouraging. The very next day,I messaged her back and I was like, ‘So, I hear there’s an opening . . . ”
Cool loved the idea of working with Newman. The next morning, Newman woke up to find an e-mail from the Salem general manager about setting up an interview. She soon got the job.
“It was really exciting because they were excited to have me be a part of it,’’ said Newman, who grew up a Red Sox fan.
Cool’s ultimate aspiration is to be a sideline reporter at the highest level of professional sports, ideally with the Pirates. Newman said her goal is to bring “value to a broadcast with a team on a daily basis, telling stories and building relationships.”
Cool recalled when she had first heard of her new colleague. “I was shadowing the Pirates’ sideline reporter during a pregame press conference, and after it was over, [Pirates manager] Clint [Hurdle] asked me what I want to do long-term,’’ said Cool, a Clinton, Pa., native. “I said I wanted to be a sideline reporter and he was like, ‘Oh, I know this girl named Melanie who wants to do the same thing.’ I never put it together until she posted a picture of her interviewing him.”
They’ve since built a supportive friendship born on social media — and soon enough, they’ll even meet face-to-face. Then they’ll begin their season in the broadcast booth, making a little history and maybe even inspiring other female aspiring baseball broadcasters to find a voice of their own.