There’s certainly a big difference between calling the play-by-play for a video game in your living room and calling a real Major League Baseball game on live television. But that’s how Jenny Cavnar prepared to handle the play-by-play duties when the Rockies hosted the San Diego Padres back on April 23. Normally the host of the pregame and postgame shows with occasional sideline reporting mixed in, the Aurora native and AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain broadcaster became the first woman in a quarter-century to call the play-by-play for an MLB game on television.
When the history-making moment came, she was ready. In the bottom of the first inning when Nolan Arenado crushed a two-run home run to left field, Cavnar made an iconic call: “Fire up the fountains! She gone!” That catch-phrase went viral, was printed on t-shirts, and is officially now part of baseball legend. But to understand what led Cavnar to call a game for her hometown team, you have to look far beyond video-game preparation. Her journey is a remarkable one, featuring stops and starts, discouragement, and historic achievements.
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As a young girl, Jenny was a staple at her father Steve Cavnar’s baseball camps. Steve, who won a state title at Smoky Hill High School and another at Regis Jesuit High School over the course of a 36-year coaching career, says that Jenny was always eager to get in the game. “Growing up, she was around a lot,” Steve says. “She would come with us to the camps we’d run in the summertime for kids, and after sitting around and waiting and getting bored, she’d grab a glove and take part.”
Jenny’s passion for sports came from growing up in a baseball household, though she was initially drawn to football sideline reporting as a career choice. Her junior year of high school, she remembers watching “Monday Night Football” with her dad, and when the broadcast cut to Melissa Stark, who was reporting from the sideline, something clicked. “I said, ‘Dad, that’s what I want to do,’” she says. “It was the first time I saw someone like me doing something that I enjoy doing, and it was a match in my brain. From that moment on, I hit the ground running.”
After graduating from Colorado State University in 2004, where she reported on college football for a local radio station, she earned a job with CSTV (now called CBS Sports Network), but was laid off after two games for budget reasons. The brief high of taking a dream job right out of college dissipated as she was forced to go back to the proverbial drawing board.
Although she didn’t know anyone in the Midwest, Cavnar took a job as a sports reporter with WJRT-TV in Flint, Michigan, working mostly nights and weekends covering high school and college sports, as well as anything else that came up. Then she moved to southern California, taking whatever TV gigs she could get her hands on while working at Starbucks and coaching lacrosse to pay the bills. “It was a real gut check, like ‘Do I really want to do this?'” Cavnar says. “And at the end of the day, the answer was always ‘Yes’.”
In 2007, she finally earned a full-time job, as she was hired by Channel 4 San Diego to host the pregame and postgame coverage for the Padres. She worked there until 2012, when at long last she had an opportunity to come home. AT&TSN reporter Alanna Rizzo took a position with MLB Network, and Cavnar was hired to replace her. “Colorado has always had a big piece of my heart,” Cavnar says. “I never thought I’d have the chance to come back, there are a lot of veteran people in positions here, and I thought no one would ever leave. So when the opportunity opened up, it was a no-brainer.”
Cavnar has been working with AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain ever since. Owing to her versatility, she’s also made history on the radio. On July 2, 2015, she became the first woman to do radio color commentary for a National League game when she was in the KOA 850 booth for the Rockies 8-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix. She called a game as an analyst during spring training in 2017, then followed it up by doing play-by-play for a spring training game this year, but neither of those would match the pressure of becoming the first woman in 25 years to call a regular-season game on television.
“I know baseball, I know television,” she says. “But I’ve never sat there for three hours and been the host of a game, so to speak, so I was really nervous. But I had a blast doing it.”
Cory Sullivan, a former Rockies outfielder who is now Cavnar’s colleague on the pregame and postgame shows, urged her to be herself on the broadcast. He was impressed with the way she was able to keep her nerves at bay and let the game speak for itself. “She brings a younger, more energetic vibe, and I think that’s always fun,” Sullivan says. “It’s like going to the bar and talking baseball with one of your best friends, and that translates really well on TV.”
After the game, Cavnar received an overwhelming amount of support—managers, players, and other broadcasters all reached out to her. Even Billie Jean King gave her a shoutout on Twitter. Despite the historical context surrounding the event, Cavnar doesn’t consider herself a pioneer. She felt like she was just doing her job. “There are plenty of women in the ‘60s and ‘70s that started the fight, and I would consider them the pioneers,” Cavnar says. “If I can pick up where the generation before left off, and do more things so that the next generation has even more opportunity, then I’m blessed to be in that position.”
Cavnar hopes to call more games in the future, but for now is happy with her role as pregame and postgame host. The Rockies broadcast crew is a versatile one, with each personality bringing something different to the table, and they challenge each other to grow and get better. Cavnar is happy to be a part of it, but nothing will match the experience of calling a game on television for the first time. “People sent me tweets with pictures of their little girls saying ‘Thank you.’ It made me remember back to seeing Melissa Stark for the first time and dreaming a dream,” she says. “Knowing that a little girl might’ve seen me for the first time and started dreaming a dream, that’s a pretty cool feeling.”