Every weekday morning during the baseball season, MLB Network's Lauren Shehadi co-hosts "MLB Central" and, along with the rest of the cast, brings a bit of fun and levity to what can be a long and tiresome baseball season.
And she does it, hide it as she must, with a special interest in the Orioles, the team she grew up adoring. A native of McLean, Va., who came of age in the heyday of the late-'90s Orioles, kept her allegiances in Baltimore when the Nationals moved into Washington and still views the game with an eye toward what's happening with the Orioles.
As she approaches her five-year anniversary at MLB Network, which she'll celebrate Feb. 13, Shehadi spoke with The Baltimore Sun about how her career has grown at the blossoming network, why "MLB Central" works so well, her Orioles fandom, and what the future might hold for her and her favorite ballclub.
Jon Meoli: With your five-year anniversary at MLB Network approaching, it's such a growing and more relevant place every year. What has it been like to grow along with the network the way you have over these last five years?
Lauren Shehadi: These sports-owned channels have really changed the game and how viewers watch. If you're a baseball fan, there's no better place than MLB Network. They have everything from past seasons' games to what we look at, the future. We do WBC coverage, so it's really just the best place, and the network has grown since I've been here. I've been here five years, and in the beginning, we didn't have the access we have now. Now, we're in more homes, more viewers. The viewers have grown along with us. it's been a fun ride.
JM: Having had a chance to watch your show a lot last year, I'm wondering as a broadcast professional, is it a challenge to balance the fun you all have with the fact that you're on TV and there still needs to be some kind of structure?
LS: Of course, but it's a morning show. In the morning, you turn on the TV and you want your highlights, you want your information, but you also want it to be light. You're having coffee. It's not the nine o'clock, 10 o'clock hard baseball or news that you want. You want the game delivered to you, but you want it in a slightly different way. I think on "MLB Central," we've done a really great job of that, incorporating and showcasing them in a different way, whether it's a game, or we'll have a couple of the Orioles, a couple of the Nationals on and we'll play Pictionary with them. When you see Chris Davis or you see Bryce Harper and they're playing Pictionary and they're terrible drawers, it's just a fun way to talk about baseball with baseball players. It's not just slamming facts down your throat.
JM: And I don't want to call it the last step, but as professionals, is it nice to know that what you're doing is resonating? The players come in and know what the show's vibe is because they're watching too?
LS: Totally, and they know the segments, too. I think we spoke with Matt Holliday, and he said, "I want to do 'A Word With…' " That's one of the segments we have on our show, and it's called A Word With [Lauren Shehadi], it's 10 questions and you have to answer the questions in one word. But it's not questions like who was your favorite player growing up. That can be on there, but it's mostly like, if you had one snack to eat for the rest of your life, what would you eat? If it's Josh Donaldson or Jose Bautista, you want to know that. You want to know that. Or what's your celebrity crush? I want to know Kris Bryant's celebrity crush. That's cool. It's not just how many home runs did you hit. It's a different aspect. So when the players know that and the games we play and get into it, it kind of validates us.
JM: I'm sure Kris Bryant's celebrity crush wants to know who she is, too. But shifting gears, you grew up near Washington, D.C., before the Nationals came into town. How does one stay as an Orioles fan when there's a new team in your backyard? That seems like a free pass to switch, but you didn't take it.
LS: I didn't take it. But if there was that World Series and the Orioles weren't in it, I would actually root for the Nationals as well. I grew up an Orioles fan, with my dad watching baseball on the couch. When Cal Ripken Jr. broke the streak, that was really the moment I became a baseball fan. Here he is, he had kind of a blue-collar type attitude but his star was larger than life. I remember when he broke the streak, it was kind of a who's who. Bill Clinton and Al Gore at Camden Yards, and from our perspective as fans, we knew he was going to break the streak, so we wanted tickets to the game he was going to break the streak in.
But there's rain, there's weather. That happens, so I remember my dad saying, "We need to get the game before, the game that we think, and the game after." But that single-handedly made me a sports fan. Brady Anderson, I remember I was in left field and he threw a ball up. He made eye contact with 20 people, but I was convinced it was me. Brady Anderson was staring at me from my perspective. He wasn't, of course, he was throwing the ball in the stand. But I loved the way the Orioles played when I was a young girl.
JM: So you got to be at that record-setting game?
LS: Yes, we were there. We were there, and I remember the lap around the stadium and 22-minute standing ovation. Who gets a 22-minute standing ovation? But he was like a boy. My favorite moment at the network was when I got to interview him twice. The first time, it was on the phone and my first question, I remember asking, does that moment feel like forever ago? It feels like it was yesterday. And he said, "I'm humbled to be a part of it." I started thinking, a part of it? You were it. It's my greatest sports memory of all time.
JM: I know that you have to put your allegiances aside…
LS: I try.
JM: ... but what was it like during the playoffs this year where every game you put on television, everyone talking about those games referred back to how the Orioles lost in crushing, crushing fashion. Did that kind of get old after a while?
LS: Of course. We're all fans at the root of it. My co-host Matt Vasgersian is an A's fan, Mark DeRosa is a Cardinals fan, he also likes the Braves. And I grew up in D.C. so I'm an Orioles and Nationals fan. But everyone asks you about it. Everyone here knows your allegiances. We're in a competitive environment here at MLB Network, so everyone knows you're an Orioles fan and just comes in your office every day. But watching them play is a treat. I know Buck Showalter, watching him move in the postseason, he's like a mastermind. I know it didn't work out in the end and there were some question marks surrounding that choice, but we're not in his shoes. It's very impossible to sit here and say we wouldn't have done the same thing. But he's incredible and his track record and resume proves it.
JM: In the moment, what were you thinking when you kept seeing Zach Britton not in the game?
LS: I kept thinking they're going to go to him, because he kept going to the phone. But I know, and we talked to him afterwards, and Buck said I thought I needed more. I thought I had more innings, and I understand that. Because once you use him, there was nowhere to go. So I understand that, and he was just doing the best he can. He's fantastic. No one can argue that.
JM: Now here's a two-parter to end it. You're celebrating five years soon. What are the next five years at MLB Network going to look like for you?
LS: I love to grow, and MLB Central is really in its infancy. It's only in its third year. I really want to see, and what we have the liberty of with three hours in the show is time. We don't have to rush things. My biggest goal, I think, would be to get behind the scenes with the players and show them for who they are off the field. We do a good job with that, but in the offseason, some of the players have ranches and some of them go overseas and do charity work. Tracking them and telling their stories is a goal for the next five years.
JM: And what about the Orioles for the next five years?
LS: Oh my gosh. They need to win now, Jon. They need to win now. Am I desperate? They need to win now.