Female PA announcers a rarity in pro baseball

BELOIT, Wis. — The voice of Beloit Snappers baseball crackles through the public-address system on a sun-splashed late afternoon, 40 minutes before first pitch and a few octaves higher than most fans have grown accustomed to. But Chrissy Scaffidi sits in the press box doing her best to buck conventional wisdom on the microphone one home game at a time.

Snappers fans, welcome to tonight’s game as your Beloit Snappers finish off a four-game set against the Kane County Cougars.

Today and every Tuesday is college and dollar night at Pohlman field!

Scaffidi, an effervescent, blonde 23-year-old, is the unlikely voice of the Snappers, a Single-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins near the Illinois-Wisconsin border. In her first season with the team, she is part media-relations director and part marketing and community-relations leader. On game nights at Pohlman Field, she also is disc jockey and PA announcer.

“I’m like a circus up here,” she says. “It’s fun, though. I’m not shy or anything.”

Scaffidi’s outgoing personality certainly has helped with the transition on the microphone. In the 31-year history of Snappers baseball, she is the team’s first female PA announcer — a rarity not confined simply to Beloit.

According to Steve Densa, executive director of minor-league baseball communications, Scaffidi is one of just two full-time female PA announcers working for the 160 minor-league clubs across the country that charge admission and require announcers. Overall, she is one of just three female baseball PA announcers.

Tonight’s starting lineups are brought to you by the Rotary Club of Beloit.

Scaffidi sits between two large laptop screens: one orchestrating batters’ walk-up songs and gag music between innings and one featuring her PA announcing script with color-coded time stamps. She keeps track of players leading off the next inning by placing yellow post-it notes over the previous batter.

A pen flips between her pink polished fingernails, and a small lined notepad rests in front of her so she can write down play-by-play of each at-bat. She’ll need the information to type recaps after the game as part of her media-relations duties.

Scaffidi, a former gymnast at State University of New York College at Brockport, is acutely aware that she’s part of an overwhelmingly male field, and that it’s taken time to win over fans. But little deters her from fashioning the music and PA announcements in her own style.

She jokes with fans to guess the correct attendance — it was 493 on this night — and picks from a list of her favorite Top 40 pop hits for opposing players’ walk-up songs: Natasha Bedingfield’s “Pocketful of Sunshine,” Destiny’s Child’s “Bootylicious” and Justin Bieber’s “One Less Lonely Girl.”

“They’re very girly,” she says of the songs. “But they’re fun.”

Scaffidi also isn’t afraid to make mistakes and laugh at herself. She notes this is her first season handling PA and music responsibilities.

During opening weekend in April, she played Britney Spears’ “Womanizer” as a walk-up song too long, well into a player’s at-bat. Both the hitter and the umpire turned and glared at her in the press box.

“I wanted to slump in my chair,” she says. “That’s what happens when you do so many things at once.”

Still, Scaffidi’s improvement over 17 home games has been drastic, she says. She is slowly learning the ropes in an industry that has been dominated by men for more than 80 years.

Tonight’s Rubber Chicken Toss was brought to you by Applebee’s …

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Public-address announcing is about more than just reading from a script. It serves as an integral part of the fan experience.

The first public-address announcer in baseball was used on July 5, 1929, at the Polo Grounds for the New York Giants. Since that time, the PA announcer has become a staple at baseball games, as essential as batter’s box chalk or a pitcher’s resin bag.

And female PA announcers have surfaced on only a few occasions since 1929.

In 1966, the Washington Senators introduced the first female public-address announcer in major league baseball in a game against the Chicago White Sox. Joy Hawkins McCabe — daughter of the Senators’ public-relations head — filled in for one game.

It took 26 years before another woman graced the microphone as a major league PA announcer.

Lisa Fielding was among the first known female PA announcers in the minor leagues when she began working for the Class A Rockford (Ill.) baseball team of the Midwest League in 1991. Fielding, now a news anchor and reporter for WBBM radio in Chicago, worked with Rockford for seven years.

“People come and they expect a man,” Fielding says, “but when they hear the woman, they kind of go, ‘Oh.’ Then they say she sounds fine. She brings excitement to the game. It doesn’t matter what kind of voice she has. We’re all there for the same goal.”

Major league teams have taken notice in recent years of the ability of some talented female PA announcers.

Television reporter Kelly Saunders became the second woman to serve as a female PA announcer in the majors — with the Baltimore Orioles in 1992, again as a one-game fill-in.

The next year, Sherry Davis was hired as the first full-time female public-address announcer in the majors, with the San Francisco Giants. She beat out 500 applicants for the job and worked with the team from 1993-99.

Since then, other teams also have employed women as ballpark voices. Leslie Sterling was the Boston Red Sox’s announcer from 1994-96, becoming the first African-American woman to hold that duty. Renel Brooks-Moon, a local radio personality, is the longest-tenured female PA announcer. She has served in that role with the San Francisco Giants since 2000.

Breaking into PA announcing as a woman, however, can be a daunting task.

In 1994, there were four female PA announcers among 201 teams in the country: two in the big leagues and two in the minors.

Now, there are three full-time female PA announcers among 190 teams: Scaffidi, Brooks-Moon and Adrienne Roberson, who is the voice of the Class AA Bowie Baysox in Maryland. A few minor-league teams employ women as backup announcers.

“I think it’s truly working your way from the bottom up,” says Roberson, who has worked in Bowie for nine seasons.

“You’ve got to get your foot in the door and be in the right place. More females could be doing it, but they’d have to be already working for the ballpark or know somebody. When I first got there, I did camera work to get my foot in the door.”

Fielding, who teaches a broadcasting class at Northwestern, says most women simply don’t know PA announcing exists as a viable occupation. Many interested in a broadcasting career pursue television instead.

“I don’t know if it’s been put out as an option,” Fielding says. “A lot of women don’t know they can do that. You’ve got a good voice, you’ve got good energy, you’re a fun person. I think anyone can do it. Of course women can. I just don’t think it’s out there to let them know.”

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Scaffidi did not accept a job offer in Beloit for the sole purpose of becoming the team’s public address announcer. That aspect is merely one of many responsibilities she undertakes while working with a six-person front-office staff.

She has been with the team for just two months after working last season as an intern with the Twins’ Triple-A affiliate in Rochester, N.Y. Scaffidi, a Milwaukee native, also worked for six months as an intern for the Green Bay Packers in the marketing department after graduation.

“Long term, I do want to do media relations,” she says. “This is the perfect place to start. In Low A, you’re doing everything, and it’s such good experience.”

That doesn’t mean Scaffidi isn’t trying her hardest behind the microphone to earn the respect of players and fans.

She arrives at the ballpark at 8:30 a.m., updates the team’s statistics online and creates printed stat packs for both clubs. She rarely makes time for a lunch break, and doesn’t leave the ballpark until her job is finished, sometimes 14 hours later.

“I eat too much ballpark food,” Scaffidi says. “I always say I’m going to weigh like 300 pounds by the end of the summer.”

Before a series begins, she re-arranges walk-up songs, reads over her announcements and works on pronunciations of the other team’s players. Then it’s showtime, a mix of names and promotions echoing through the air.

Hey fans, look who is being driven in on a beautiful Polaris Ranger from Monroe Powersports in Monroe, Wisconsin.

Scaffidi’s work ethic has drawn the attention of Snappers players.

“She does a great job,” Snappers infielder A.J. Pettersen says. “When my brother and his wife were here, they commented on how she has a commercial voice. She’s got a really good voice for it. She maybe has a future in that.”

Ultimately, Roberson says, performing as a PA announcer comes down to a few simple factors, regardless of gender — including injecting personal style while understanding and respecting the game.

“You almost want to be the background, that they hear you but they enjoy the atmosphere of it,” Roberson says. “You’re there to announce the players and let people have a good time.”

Scaffidi may still be learning, but that’s an aspect of the job she can certainly appreciate.

“When I was in college I didn’t think, ‘Wow I really want to do PA,’ ” Scaffidi says. “It’s a lot more fun than I thought. It’s been fun to put your personality into it. I really am trying to do a good job. Obviously, I don’t want to mess up the timing of the game.”

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A strikeout with a man on base ends the game, and Kane County squeezes past Beloit, 4-3.

Scaffidi’s evening isn’t finished just yet. She is about to take her notepad down to her office to type up the game recap for Beloit’s team website. She’ll leave the office sometime around 11 p.m. But first, she must close out her duties as PA announcer for another night.

Thank you fans for coming to tonight’s game. The Snappers now hit the road and return home this Saturday to face the Clinton LumberKings.

Scaffidi will be there, a notepad and two laptops by her side, ready once again to prove herself as the new voice of the Beloit Snappers.

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