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Beth Mowins makes history as 1st woman to call a Cubs game

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 3/21/2021 Meghan Montemurro, Chicago Tribune
Beth Mowins standing in front of a building: Broadcaster Beth Mowins, who will be the first woman to call Cubs games this season, outside Wrigley Field on March 17, 2021. © Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune Broadcaster Beth Mowins, who will be the first woman to call Cubs games this season, outside Wrigley Field on March 17, 2021.

When play-by-play announcer Beth Mowins grew up in central New York, it was the heyday of the Yankees “Bronx Zoo” era in the late 1970s and early ′80s.

That dominant Yankee run of four World Series appearances and two titles in a six-year span coincided with the emergence of cable TV. Mowins had the fortune of watching Yankees games on WPIX and Boston Red Sox games on TV38. Even Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves games would appear on her television thanks to WGN and TBS. It spawned her love of baseball.

“I was the kid that was walking to the 7-11 to get my baseball cards and that cardboard stick of gum that could last a couple of days if you worked it right, with the Wiffle ball bat out in the street,” Mowins told the Chicago Tribune. “So that’s the era that I grew up in, and I’ve maintained my fandom over the years.”

Years later, Mowins is making her mark on the sport. She became the first woman in Cubs history to serve as play-by-play announcer Saturday, filling the role for a Cactus League game against the Colorado Rockies, and the plan is for Mowins to call her first regular-season Cubs game May 8 against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field.

“I can’t wait. I think it’s going to be fabulous,” Mowins said recently. “It’s obviously a lot of preparation, and you want to be at your best and be ready to go, so that’s already well underway. But the one thing I hope I can bring is a lot of joy and how thrilling that experience is and obviously knowing how important it is to Cubs fans and what a great opportunity that will be to call games up there (at Wrigley).”

Since joining ESPN in 1994, Mowins has been one of the preeminent announcers. Her knowledge is extensive, spanning multiple sports, and she takes pride in her versatility. Mowins has called NCAA championships in basketball, softball, soccer and volleyball. For the last 15 years, Mowins has been calling college football play-by-play for ESPN and ABC.

In 2017, she also worked four NFL games for CBS Sports and has been the play-by-play announcer for Oakland Raiders preseason games since 2015. For more than two decades, she has been the voice of the Women’s College World Series. Mowins expects her experience calling softball games to help in her new role.

“At its heart, the language of the game, the vocabulary of the game, if you will, is pretty much the same,” Mowins said. “Working off of that foundation is right in my comfort zone, so that’s absolutely beneficial just to be able to talk the talk and then find the opportunities based on what’s happening in game.”

Mowins heard from her agent that Marquee might need people to fill the play-by-play role at times. Her name was added to the mix, and after a conversation with the network, everything aligned for Mowins.

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Marquee general manager Mike McCarthy and senior vice president of programming and production Mike Santini collaborated with Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney and the team during the process to find a new play-by-play announcer following Len Kasper’s departure.

McCarthy told the Tribune recently that they collectively wanted to be more progressive in whom they hired. Several candidates were considered, including women, McCarthy said, before ultimately naming Jon “Boog” Sciambi as Marquee’s lead TV play-by-play announcer. Sciambi remains a broadcaster for ESPN, creating a need for someone to fill in when he has national broadcasts. Mowins, Chris Myers and Pat Hughes will take on the play-by-play call for select Cubs games this season.

Mowins’ experience and credibility made her an easy choice, McCarthy said.

“We watched a lot of tape of her doing the collegiate softball World Series on ESPN, softball — obviously, there’s enough similarities,” McCarthy said. “She has a real ability to work color commentators in seamlessly and she knows the game. ... She hasn’t done Major League Baseball, but she’s come as close as you can without actually doing it, and I don’t think anybody around her and familiar with her work would have anything but confidence that she’s going to be able to do quite nicely here.”

The expectation is Mowins will call five to six Cubs games this season. The Cactus League game Saturday against the Colorado Rockies was the first time Mowins and color analyst Jim Deshaies worked together, though the game was called remotely.

Deshaies said the preparation process for a game doesn’t change when working with a new partner. He lauded Mowins’ smarts and professionalism and looked forward to teaming up. They share a similar background, too, having both lived in central New York. Mowins is a native of North Syracuse and earned a master’s degree from Syracuse University; Deshaies attended Le Moyne College in Syracuse.

“She’s a pioneer in our business,” Deshaies told the Tribune. “She’s done a lot of great things. I’ll probably have to make sure I don’t just interview her, ‘So tell me about this.’ ”

From a young age, Mowins always knew she wanted to be a sports broadcaster. Inherently, that has meant breaking ground as a woman in the field.

“You understand there’s a little more attention around it,” Mowins said. "But honestly, when you’re going through it day to day, it’s all I’ve ever known and all I’ve ever wanted to do, so from that standpoint, you want to be at your best when you’re doing something like this, and the hope is that even though I’m the first, I won’t be the last. You want to try to open doors and open opportunities and knock it out of the park, if you will.”

Her role with Marquee and the Cubs isn’t the first time she has made history. Mowins became the first woman to call a nationally televised NFL game when she worked an ESPN “Monday Night Football” doubleheader in September 2017. It also represented the first time a woman did the play-by-play for any NFL game in 30 years.

Mowins values those moments and the responsibilities they bring. A moment before her “Monday Night Football” debut five years ago stays with her. Mowins was on the field pregame when somebody started yelling at her from the stands. She saw parents with their little girl, who was wearing an ESPN T-shirt and holding a microphone. The girl held up a sign: “I’ve got next.”

“It’s pretty cool to see that,” Mowins said. “I really, truly believe if you see it, you can be it. That’s something that I’ve really learned to appreciate over the years.

“To be able to pursue your dreams and be ambitious and want to go after things and try to get them — even if that means you’re a Cubs fan and one day you want to be playing at Wrigley or you want to be calling games at Wrigley, then through a lot of hard work and some good fortune, that’s a possibility.”


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