At 15 years old, Emma Tiedemann’s grandfather asked her to keep score for him while he called the play-by-play of a women’s basketball game for the University of Texas at Dallas.
He handed her a spare headset and said, “Hey, you know basketball, if you have something you want to say about a play, well just go ahead and let me know, and I’ll let you jump in,” said Texas broadcasting legend Bill Mercer.
“And she just jumped in the entire game.”
From those first moments, Mercer thought he was on to something with the young girl he knew to be athletic, but shy. It was “all out of the blue,” he said. “I had not instructed her or talked to her about being a sportscaster — nothing.”
That proud day has led to a string of others and the now-25-year-old Tiedemann will become the play-by-play voice of the Lexington Legends this season, making her only the second woman to hold such a position in all of affiliated minor league baseball and the first for the Legends and the South Atlantic League.
“I’m very proud (to have a female announcer),” said Andy Shea, Legends president and CEO. “And the thing that I’m most proud about is that (her gender) was really and truly not a factor. She was the best person for the job, and the cherry-on-top bonus is that she’s the second female in minor league baseball for this position.”
But she had never stepped foot in Lexington.
“I had heard about Lexington. I had heard great things,” Tiedemann said. “I have a couple of friends in the South Atlantic League who are also broadcasters who kind of told me that the Legends are a top-notch organization.”
Baseball has a high-profile female commentator in ESPN’s Jessica Mendoza, who made history in 2015 when she became a regular in the booth for its “Sunday Night Baseball” telecasts, and ESPN’s Doris Burke has been a play-by-play commentator and color analyst for men’s pro and college basketball games.
But Tiedemann joins the Clearwater Threshers’ Kirsten Karbach as the only women to become “the voice” of a minor league team affiliated with Major League Baseball. Despite the distinction, she doesn’t see herself as a trailblazer. Her goal is the same as the players in single-A ball: She wants to make it to the majors.
“I just love the game of baseball,” she said in an interview a few days after settling into her apartment in Lexington. “I just want to go do my job. I don’t think of it as being a pioneer. It’s had its moments of being tough, but at the same time it’s kind of rewarding to have little girls know that this is an option for them, and an opportunity that they can go be play-by-play broadcasters.”
Finding her calling
Tiedemann never really thought about sports broadcasting growing up. But living close to her grandfather, who had more than a 60-year career in the business, she’d been with him in the booth many times.
Mercer, now 92, was one of the first voices of the Texas Rangers in 1972. And he was a longtime play-by-play caller of the Dallas Cowboys, including the 1967 NFL Championship game forever known as the “Ice Bowl.” He appeared on Dallas television as a local sportscaster and, to this day, he’s still recognized in airports and on the street as one of the announcers of “World Class Championship Wrestling,” which appeared on ESPN for a time in the mid-1980s.
In addition to a storied career, he also spent years teaching play-by-play and sports broadcasting at the University of North Texas near Dallas. And he helped UT Dallas on the P.A. for its games while also arranging for his North Texas students to work the games for the UT Dallas campus radio station.
One day, a student couldn’t make it, forcing Mercer to cover for him. Knowing he could never keep score and broadcast at the same time, he asked his granddaughter to help.
“He will say he barely got a word in that whole game because I was talking the whole time,” Tiedemann said, noting she feels she remained respectful and peppered in comments when the opportunity arose. “I just remember it was a blast.”
Mercer kept Tiedemann on for future games, working alongside his students. Soon, UT Dallas wanted her for other sports, including volleyball and soccer. She kept it going through her college career, calling games at Missouri for the campus radio station there. At Missouri, she called its game in the 2014 Cotton Bowl some four decades after her grandfather’s broadcasts of the same event.
Through it all, Tiedemann, never limited herself to women’s sports. She wanted to have the complete play-by-play package. And knowing baseball to be a weak spot, she had an idea.
“She called me from the University of Missouri and said, ‘Hey, I’m going to Alaska and do baseball.’ I said: ‘What!?” Mercer recalled. “It reminded me of me and my first radio job when I had to do baseball, and I’d never done baseball before.”
Tiedemann figured working 40 or 50 games in the Alaska Baseball League, a wooden-bat league for college players over the summer, would give her some serious baseball chops. She found out something else, though.
“About the 10th game in, I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is a dream,’” she said. “I get to go to a ball field every single day. The hours are long, but for some reason, I absolutely love working these crazy hours, the long bus trips and I just kind of fell in love with it. That’s when I changed my trajectory in my career.”
Paying her dues
A season with the Mat-Su Miners in Alaska led to two seasons with another wooden-bat summer league team, the Medford Rogues, in Oregon. At Medford, not only was Tiedemann the sole radio voice of the team, she was sometimes one of only two people in the front office, giving her plenty of “random” baseball operations experience, as well.
Back home, Mercer would listen to the games and give her critiques.
In Alaska, “I had a lot of work to do with her there,” Mercer said. “Her parents thought she’d never make it, but she had a passion for this, and I’d send her a list of things she had to add, and she would add them and it got better and better.
“Then she went to Medford the next year, and we went through the same thing. I didn’t get much sleep during those summers. There’s three hours difference.”
Tiedemann’s big break came last summer in an internship with the St. Paul Saints, an independent American Association team in Minnesota.
Though not part of a Major League organization, the Saints enjoy a loyal following in a major market. All of their home games air on television and Tiedemann’s internship provided both on-air and behind-the-scenes media relations experience. And she impressed.
“She’s one of the more passionate people that I’ve ever had sit next to me in a booth in my 17 years in this business,” said Sean Aronson, St. Paul’s vice president and director of broadcasting, who is also the team’s primary play-by-play voice. “This business is not made for everyone. You have to sacrifice a lot in this industry. You really do, especially during the baseball season where none of us have lives. … Emma was able to handle it with dignity and grace and determination. … I had no doubt she would get a job when she left me, and she did.”
Being a woman in a male-dominated profession and a male-dominated sport, Tiedemann has seen her share of sexism. She refuses to let it bring her down or dissuade her, and, in this era of #MeToo, she’s found negative instances to be thankfully rare.
“I don’t really dwell on it, because I’m just here to do my job, and I have a dream and a goal just like everyone else does when it comes to their career,” she said. “The majority is super supportive and you know, whenever I tell people if something does happen like that, the majority of people are shocked, and that’s what kind of makes it OK, (knowing) they are in the minority now with the chauvinism and that kind of stuff.”
Coming to Lexington
Tiedemann interviewed for the Legends’ job at baseball’s winter meetings in Florida. The Legends interviewed a number of candidates to succeed Keith Elkins, who retired after eight seasons last year.
“Everything impressed us about Emma,” Shea said. “Her energy, her knowledge of the game, her knowledge of the industry ... that’s what we needed, especially this first year of going to the full stream versus on radio. She was the perfect person.”
And though she begins her career as the Legends have decided to end their over-the-air radio presence, she doesn’t mind the broadcasts will be restricted exclusively to online streaming.
“Because technology has changed so much, I don’t really think there is a downside,” said Tiedemann, whose call can be heard for free streaming from the Legends website. She’ll also be heard on the pay video streaming broadcasts of Legends home games. “It just seems most of the teams these days are going toward that.”
She’ll be broadcasting all of the Legends’ 70 home games and fulfilling the team’s public and media relations duties with game wrap-ups, pre- and postgame shows and community events.
“I’m sure I’ll have my moments of thinking ‘oh my gosh, what have I done?’” she said. “But overall, I’m so excited for it. Every season has its ups and downs, but usually, I’m on Cloud 9 driving to work everyday thinking I get to go to a baseball field.”
That’s always been her grandfather’s primary consideration for her career.
“She has traveled many thousands of miles on this trip to get to Lexington,” Mercer said. “We don’t talk about it much, but she’ll say something about it, and we’ll talk a little. I said: ‘How’s your passion?’ … (she said) ‘I can’t wait to get started!’
“She’s into it. She really wants to do it. Now, whether she moves up? She thinks she will. I don’t know how long it will take, but when you’re one of two women broadcasters in the minor leagues, you kind of get a little attention.”
Legends Fan Fest
What: Legends’ preseason fan event and job fair with games and prizes
When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 17
Charleston Riverdogs at Lexington Legends
When: 7:05 p.m. April 5