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Can Jen Royle win over Birdland?

It’s opening day in Baltimore and Camden Yards is rocking. 

Buck Showalter’s revamped club has just dispatched with the Detroit Tigers, and a boisterous crowd of more than 40,000 empties out into the greater downtown area.

In the center of this mayhem, a reporter is nose deep in her iPhone while on commercial break during a local radio broadcast. The watering hole she sits in is filled beyond capacity and she tries to capture this image in 140 characters or fewer for her thousands of followers.

“Holy crap Pickles Pub. Words cannot describe this scene,” she tweets. 

This is Jen Royle in her element. A self-proclaimed “twittering fool” and co-host of “Baltimore Baseball Tonight” on 105.7 The Fan, Royle has broken out in the Baltimore sports scene since coming here last year after covering the New York Yankees for seven years.

But it hasn’t been an easy year. 

She’s sometimes been mocked by fans, derided on message boards, and the pestering from a competing station, WNST, got so bad, Royle says, she recently sued for defamation. 

“I am an emotional person and I’m not afraid to tell people how I feel,” she says of responding to criticism. 

Though she’s faced adversity, Royle isn’t thinking about that in this moment. Here, talking about the Orioles, she’s living out her dreams. 

“I get to go to a baseball or a football field every day for work. To me, that’s an ideal office,” Royle says. “I don’t even forget for one split second how lucky I am to have my job and I try to enjoy every moment at work.”

Royle, a Boston native who made her name in New York, is now on her third stop in the AL East. But the welcome wasn’t always warm. 

“The way Baltimore fans are, if you come into this town with Boston or New York attached to you, it’s hard from the start. Jen has both,” says former Oriole Ken Singleton, who like Royle made a transition to Baltimore from New York. “She’s inquisitive, she’s always trying to learn and she’s not afraid to ask for help. I know she had to learn football when she first got there and now she’s doing a fine job on both.”

A new challenge
Royle first came to Baltimore as a reporter with Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, but the 36-year-old recently left that company to work full-time as an Orioles reporter for The Fan. Alongside longtime broadcaster Bob Haynie, the duo is broadcasting before Orioles games from Pickles Pub.

“I love talking to fans and I really enjoy doing the pregame show for both the Orioles and the Ravens outside of their respective stadiums because we get to feed off their energy,” she says. “There is nothing better than a football tailgate and it’s nice to be able to be a part of the pregame festivities (to some extent) before the game starts.”

Royle's focus had previously been baseball. But in Baltimore she was asked to cover football and the transition didn’t exactly go smoothly. 

“Last July I was told I was being pulled off baseball and I had to go to Ravens mini-camp,” Royle says. “I had never stepped foot on a football field and I had limited knowledge of the sport. ... With that being said, I’ll be the first to tell you I made a lot of mistakes. Unfortunately, I made them on the air. I was completely overwhelmed and for a hot minute didn’t think I was going to survive the Ravens season.”

Jim Duquette, former Mets general manager and former vice president of baseball operations for the Orioles, says Royle was already “respected” in Major League Baseball circles, but further proved herself by quickly getting better at talking football.

“I was impressed with how quickly she embraced and adjusted to the football side of her duties, since she had very little experience in that sport,” he says. “And the overall reviews were positive among those that she worked with and covered.”  

Baltimoreans had mixed reviews about Royle when she debuted. Some criticized her lack of knowledge of Baltimore teams, while others were not pleased by her refusal to cheer for home teams. On message boards, she was mocked for allegedly misstating the size of Ravens stadium, told she will never “be accepted” and that she “sucks."

Royle publicly expressed that she did not “drink the orange Kool-Aid." After a year, she’s become more familiar with her new town’s fan base.

“[Orioles and Yankees fans] have the same passion for their teams. I think the only difference is that Yankee fans are used to winning and Orioles fans aren’t,” she says. “Yankee fans definitely have egos, and rightfully so, and they think their team has a chance to win the World Series every year. Orioles fans, especially this season, have hope that someday their historical franchise will make a turn for the better.”

Royle addressed some of her critics in her final blog post for Masnsports.com on March 23.

“For those of you who sent me nasty comments on this blog, I am in no position to preach to you or tell you that you’re bad people. I don’t even know you. I will say this, however: If you thought for one split second that the non-baseball related personal attack you wrote may have been hurtful, they were,” Royle wrote. “While sports reporters are indeed public figures and are open for criticism, which I completely understand, please keep in mind that while most of us do have thick skin, we are also people with the same feelings as you.”

The $800,000 question
Although, Royle didn’t only take flak from local sports fans. WNST host and CEO Nestor Aparicio is sitting in the defendant seat of an $800,000 defamation suit filed by Royle in March.

Court documents cite seven tweets and blog posts by Aparicio and fellow WNST hosts that allegedly call Royle "trashy," question her abilities as a journalist and insinuate she's had an inappropriate relationship with a player. Royle’s suit is seeking damages for defamation, two counts of invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Royle’s case has been garnering both positive and negative publicity to both sides involved, depending on who you ask.

“It seems to me that this kind of publicity probably helps both radio stations,” Eric Easton, a University of Baltimore media law professor said. “Nothing like controversy to attract an audience.”

If Royle expects to collect on the hefty damages her team is asking for, this case is going to have to get ugly, Easton said.

“Damages can be recovered for emotional distress, but only if she can show underlying reputational injury,” he said. 

Aparicio hired Baltimore-based attorney Stephen L. Miles to defend him. Miles, who has practiced law for over 40 years and is well-known for his television commercials, is confident that his clients won’t break a sweat.

“I have asked her attorney for one blog post, one name, one anything and he has given me not one,” Miles said in a phone interview. “The whole thing is a shakedown. Nestor Aparicio will not settle for one penny.”

Royle and her attorney, Brian Goodman of Towson-based Hodes, Pessin & Katz, declined to comment on the case. Aparicio wasn’t so reluctant. He immediately fired back in a blog post claiming that Royle’s case was baseless.

“I have nothing to hide regarding this case because we’ve never done anything wrong and we’ll continue to serve the community in a positive way, which is what we’ve done for 13 years.” Aparicio said in an email. “I got the threat of a lawsuit in February and many, many phone calls trying to get us to write her a check. This has been a deliberate attack on my company at the start of baseball season to injure us.”

But through the bad and the ugly, Royle has found a lot of love in Baltimore, too. 

“I thought she did a very good job acclimating herself to Baltimore from New York,” says former Orioles catcher turned broadcaster, Rick Dempsey. “She’s a brutally honest reporter with a wry sense of humor, which is very refreshing. She takes her job very seriously. She puts her time in and she does her homework."

Dempsey compares Royle with fellow broadcaster Amber Theoharis, who he says “might be a step ahead of Jen Royle in Baltimore.” 

“But I think Jen Royle will follow right in her footsteps,” he said. “It will be a while yet before people see her real talents. People will come to trust her and her opinion. She’s not afraid to say what everybody thinks. The Orioles have struggled and she names those people who are being unproductive. She’s not afraid to step up and say what’s on the mind of an average fan. She tells the truth and you have to get used to it.” 

Royle says she doesn’t mind criticism about baseball, but draws the line when it gets personal. 

“I can’t stress enough how thick my skin is, but at some point you have to say enough is enough,” she says. “We are all human beings in this world with real feelings. Being attacked personally because somebody disagrees with your views on baseball is just wrong on so many levels.” 

Despite the hardships and her struggle to make her mark in Baltimore, Royle can’t see herself any other place. Asked what position she envisioned for her dream job, Royle is succinct. 

“I have it,” she says.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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