Shannon Drayer hosts the Mariners pregame and postgame show for 710 ESPN Seattle and has been a Mariners beat reporter since 2003. She talks about what it’s like for women covering professional baseball, work-life balance, and what other-than-usual items she packed for spring training in Arizona.
Did you like baseball a lot as a kid? If so, what team did you follow?
Absolutely. I grew up on the East Coast where everyone was a Boston Red Sox fan. You could hear the games up and down the street.
When did you start playing baseball?
We lived overseas in Singapore. That’s where I started playing softball. Then we settled in Normal, Illinois, where I took on baseball on my own. I became a huge Chicago Cubs fan.
As a child, did you get any pushback about liking baseball?
You know what? I didn’t get that until college. I did get some funny looks because I was so into not only baseball, but all sports. But on the flip side, there were great sports conversations.
You attended the University of Washington. When did you decide you wanted to get into broadcasting?
When I was in high school, my perfect job was sports reporter who could follow a team every day. There really weren’t women doing what I’m doing. I went to college. I ended up studying drama for a while. I did a program in New York City and came back working at Starbucks, a landing place while I figured out what I wanted to do.
You got into broadcasting through some sort of radio contest?
KJR had a sports hack wannabe contest. The premise: If you think you can do our jobs, send us a tape. I had a customer bring in the article and said “You need to do this.”
We put a tape together. I didn’t hear for months. About midsummer ‘97 I got a call from the program director. “Would you like to come in and do an on-air audition?” At the end of the day, they turned to me and said, “Can you do a four-hour-a-week job doing updates for John Clayton?”
So you and Clayton, now a host on 710 ESPN Seattle, go back a long way. How do you prepare for the season?
Tons of reading and computer work. In this job, you’re reacting to what’s happening every day.
Everyone assumes your job is fun, and I’m sure it is. The season is long. How do you cope with the grind of deadlines, road games and the travel?
The road part of the season is actually fairly easy. Before you leave, you have taken care of everything for the week you’re gone. When you’re gone, the only responsibility is taking yourself to the ballpark and doing your job.
How do you try to find work-life balance?
The biggest obstacle to work-life balance in this business is there really is no longer a deadline. Everything is 24/7. The hardest thing to do is to turn off. I think that is the thing you need to find balance for.
What are some of the most interesting parts of your job that might not be obvious to people?
I like that my passion in covering baseball the way I do is to have the opportunity to follow something from start to finish. I see the entire story of the Seattle Mariners from day one of spring training to the end of the season.
What are the things you most look forward to once the season ends?
The biggest thing for me is to be outside as much as possible. I don’t spend much time outside during the season — most of the time I’m in the press box or locker room.
What activities do you like to pursue?
I like to get out and hike as much as I can. I go to Eastern Washington. I have family members who have horses. That’s my peace. It’s a very good place to get away from it.
Have you been riding since you were a kid?
It’s something I’m learning as an adult. I’m not a good rider by any means. It’s always been an interest to learn about the training, learn about the care of horses and what not.
What is it like to do those post-game interviews?
We only do the walk-off interviews if they win.
As far as getting the player, there’s really no problem. It’s kind of expected that if they have a decent game, they’ll be talking for one-and-a-half minutes on the radio.
What’s the toughest interview you’ve ever had to do?
Wow. You know, there’s been tough situations. We’ve had to talk to players after losing a relative. A player can’t stop everything when something like that happens in the season. And I remember talking to (former second baseman) Bret Boone when he was let go. We were leaving. He was still at his locker processing that. That was tough. It’s tough to talk to guys who have just been injured, facing surgery and going on the disabled list, out for a year, and under some uncertainty about coming back.
What was former manager Lou Piniella like to work with?
The legendary stories. You knew you were in trouble if he started out a reply with “son.” I got that once. Everyone took a step back when he said that. He was the first manager I covered. In the late ‘90s, there were very few women doing it then. He treated me like anyone else.
Were you the first woman to travel on a team plane?
I know there weren’t any other reporters who did that before.
What’s the atmosphere on the plane like?
It’s good right now. The M’s have made an effort, because they spend more time on planes than any team in baseball, to make it as comfortable as they can. Fully reclining chairs so they can sleep if they want to sleep, and card tables when it turns into hang out time. It isn’t much different than what you’d see in a pre-game clubhouse.
Could you talk a bit about women reporters and broadcasters in sports?
I think if you were to walk into a M’s clubhouse you would be surprised at the number of women in it. Mostly you’ll see them in the TV role, and there’s a good number of women beat writers for the teams. You do go to some cities where you see none. But doors are open.
You were part of a panel discussion at Safeco Field in August honoring women in baseball. How did you decide to do that?
That event at Safeco was aimed at showing these opportunities are there. It’s very different than what it was 30 years ago and 10 years ago. A lot of obstacles are broken down. What I liked about the event at Safeco Field was it was raising awareness. That’s a great way to share it.
What more needs to be done?
I know Seattle has been a very good place for women in sports and baseball. The one thing we aren’t seeing is the female play-by-play or color commentator. There is ESPN baseball analyst Jessica Mendoza and Suzyn Waldman, color commentator for New York Yankees, but no one else has come through. That’s probably the only area where a big amount of that struggle remains.
How do you personally see women’s progress in covering professional baseball?
I used to not talk about what it was like to be a woman in the business. I talked to other women in the area and a lot feel the same way. I don’t like a gripe fest. I think you’ve got to battle your way through it. The heavy lifting was done before I got into it. You can look at any business and see the same problems.
Do you think it’s possible for M’s pitcher Felix Hernandez to rebound this season, or, after all the innings he’s pitched, is his career close to over, despite the pride he takes in his job?
You know what? This is going to be something that’s very interesting to watch this year and probably one of the No. 1 spring season stories.
What changes will he have to make?
I think we’re looking at a pitcher who has not made that transition from young superstar with all this stuff to that second stage. I think if he uses his stuff correctly, what he has pitch-wise with the pitching smarts he has, he has the capability to be a very effective pitcher. But he’s got to reconcile what he has right now and hopefully see “I have enough. I’m not going to be able to throw the perfect game.”
What was it like to work with legendary broadcaster Dave Niehaus?
Dave Niehaus was huge for me. His acceptance of me, the first woman in the booth, was big. But also from early on he treated me like a peer. I was never the girl, the young person in baseball. He was very interested in my thoughts and opinions on things.
Were there any players who were helpful?
Pitcher Jamie Moyer helped me quite a bit. He gave a recommendation for the original hiring when KOMO added a traveling reporter. He also kind of put me through the wringer early on. If you weren’t prepared and asked stock questions, he had you for lunch. I was near tears and leaving the club house once, and turned around and asked what I did wrong. I learned a lot.
Ichiro Suzuki was pretty big. He gave me some one-on-one interviews that got some notice and gave me credibility. He talked post games, but he did a couple sit down, 45-minute interviews.
What did you pack for spring training in Peoria this year?
A chenille throw to remind me of home. A lot of shoes. I like to cook. Spices. A bundt and springform pan because I like to bake.
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.