In the 47 years that Pawtucket served as the Red Sox’ top farm team, the Triple A club was almost as renowned for developing big league broadcasters as it was ballplayers.
Don Orsillo found his voice in the McCoy Stadium booth. So, too, did current big league broadcasters Dave and Will Flemming (Giants and Red Sox), Gary Cohen (Mets), Andy Freed (Rays), Dave Jageler (Nationals), Glenn Geffner (Marlins), and Aaron Goldsmith (Mariners), as well as a couple who ended up with NFL gigs, Bob Socci (Patriots) and Dan Hoard (Bengals).
In Double A in Portland, there’s a bit of a different history. The Sea Dogs, who debuted as the Marlins’ Eastern League affiliate in 1994 before linking up with the Red Sox in 2003, have featured their own excellent broadcasters. It’s just that there have been far fewer of them.
From 1994-2019, the Sea Dogs had just four full-time play-by-play voices, most notably Mike Antonellis, a big league talent who mostly by choice spent 15 seasons in Portland before moving up to Pawtucket before last season. (He’s now with the WooSox in Worcester.)
The Sea Dogs hired their fifth voice in March 2020. Before Emma Tiedemann spoke her first word into a microphone at Hadlock Field, she was already a notable choice. She was just one of five women who at the time were the primary play-by-play voices for affiliated minor league baseball teams.
Tiedemann had to wait awhile to turn on that microphone, however. The COVID-19 pandemic led to the postponement of the 2020 Eastern League season and delayed her Sea Dogs debut until April.
“My first day of work, we were actually sent home to work from home for three months,’’ said Tiedemann, who spent two seasons calling Single A games in the Royals system before beating out approximately 150 other applicants for the Sea Dogs job.
“And so we worked from home from March until mid-May. And then we started kind of just working on stadium projects. We weren’t able to do a lot in the stadium with fans, so we kind of went around, saw what needed to be upgraded. We sanded rails and repainted all of them. So if you ever come to Hadlock Field and you see anything green, we painted that ourselves.”
Tiedemann, a Dallas native and 2015 University of Missouri graduate, is remarkably poised and polished in the booth, with a voice that becomes comfortable quickly. If Baseball America or another publication put together a list of the top broadcasting prospects in the minors, she’d make the cut. But she acknowledges that there is pressure that comes from being a female in a job that for decades was the domain of men.
“I wish that I didn’t feel that way, but I’ve come to kind of embrace it a little bit,” she said. “If you’re going to hold a position that typically a person of your gender or race has not typically held, I think that there are more ears listening, and will be ready to jump on you if you make a mistake. You have to work 10 times harder than anyone else to make sure that that doesn’t happen, and that you can bounce back.”
Tiedemann has known she wanted to be a play-by-play broadcaster since she was 15, and she homed in on the baseball aspect her junior year at Missouri. It’s little surprise to learn that she has broadcasting in her blood. Her grandfather is Bill Mercer, who called Dallas Cowboys games and was the first voice of the Texas Rangers during a decorated 60-year career. Now 95, he calls, texts or e-mails Tiedemann with a critique of every game she calls.
“There’s definitely a variety of methods that I’ve come to utilize as I’ve gone on with my career to try to get better,’’ she said. “I listen to other broadcasters, but I don’t try to emulate them that much because I want to have my own personality and I want to have my own voice.
“So, I’ll typically have like a pad of paper with me and I’ll write down vocabulary words or phrases that they used to describe maybe a routine play that I would like to say or at least have in the back of my mind for a future broadcast. Other than that, I like to listen to complicated plays to see how they handle that. Do they focus on the play-by-play in the moment or do you go back and recap?”
One of the calls on her highlight reel she sent the Sea Dogs in applying for the job included an inning in which a fielder’s throw ricocheted off a base runner’s helmet. She is told that she never sounds hurried or behind the play when there are complicated or unusual situations unfolding in real time.
“In those moments, the crowd is half the story in what you’re calling. So you want to breathe a little bit,’’ she said. “Early on that was my biggest issue that my grandfather would critique me on. If there was a double in the gap with two on, I would have trouble focusing on the runners and the ball in the field, so it took me a little bit of time to figure out those frenzied plays. It’s taken a lot of practice.”
When Tiedemann started with the Royals’ Lexington Legends Single A team in 2018, she was just the second full-time female broadcaster in affiliated baseball, following Kirsten Karbach, who reached Double A in the Phillies system.
“Just the media coverage about it back then and that sort of stuff, I was totally overwhelmed,’’ said Tiedemann. “But once the national anthem played, I sat back down, I was able to kind of take a deep breath and settle in.”
She’s made a point since to help ensure that female baseball broadcasters have a support system. Last March, just before the pandemic put the sports world and so much else on hold, Tiedemann organized a gathering at the Legends’ Whitaker Bank Ballpark that brought minor league baseball’s five female play-by-play voices together for a ticketed event and cocktail hour, the proceeds going to the Association for Women in Sports Media.
Joining Tiedemann and Karbach were Jill Gearin (Single A Visalia), Maura Sheridan (Single A Lynchburg), and Melanie Newman (who called games for the Red Sox’ Single A Salem affiliate and is now part of the Orioles’ television broadcast team).
“That event was the first time that we had all been in the same room together,’’ said Tiedemann. “It was incredibly empowering. Ever since then, we’re in a group message and we text every single day, Snapchat every single day. We help each other troubleshooting questions. It’s fantastic that we have this handful of people that we can always fall back to and rely on that knows what it’s like to be in this industry as a female.
“Melanie landed in a great spot and I think it’s opening a lot of people’s minds to the fact that women can call the sport and be good at it and it’s not just a publicity stunt. We’ve earned the spot and have something to say.”