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Melanie Newman’s historic feat a highlight as Orioles’ new broadcasters settle into unique season

Throughout her years as a minor league broadcaster, Melanie Newman would give the players she had grown close to a hard time about their ambivalence to reaching the majors. She would always ask what it was like, envisioning a future for herself there, but the players’ responses would generally follow along similar lines: the field is still the same; the bases are still 90 feet apart; the mound is still 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate.

“Now, I get what they mean by that,” Newman said, “just having had that moment.”

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Earlier this week, Newman made Orioles history as the organization’s first female play-by-play broadcaster, doing so for Tuesday’s radio broadcast against the Miami Marlins. She is only the fourth woman to do play-by-play for any MLB regular-season game.

Since her debut, she’s received congratulations from a handful of surprising sources, from “a guy who rejected me in college” to tennis great Billie Jean King. But on her rise to the majors, Newman never tried to tie what she’s accomplished to being a woman.

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“I’ve never really walked around giving myself accolades because of my gender,” she said. “This is the way I’ve always been. For me, it’s just another day of me doing my job.”

Newman is one of a handful of newcomers to a revamped Orioles broadcast crew. And unlike the players Newman relied on for a peek into the majors, their debuts have come under the ominousness of the coronavirus pandemic, with a 60-game season being played with no fans in the ballpark.

“Even though it’s not how any of us dreamed of starting this new chapter in our career and a dream job for me personally, it’s still baseball,” Brett Hollander said. “It’s still the game. It’s still the Orioles. And it’s still Camden Yards. I get a lot of comfort with that.”

A Baltimore native, Hollander joined the Orioles’ television and radio broadcasts this offseason after several years with WBAL. He’s tried not to allow the circumstances of the season dull his excitement over a job he’s long imagined for himself, though he’s found that more challenging than expected.

When the Orioles walked off in the 11th inning against the Tampa Bay Rays last week, Hollander was doing radio play-by-play. As “Orioles Magic” played in an empty ballpark, he found himself longing for more.

“If only the fans were here to celebrate,” he said live.

With the pandemic keeping fans out of the ballpark, the Orioles’ broadcasters have the added responsibility of giving fans insights into the stadium atmosphere. For the Orioles’ season-opening series in Boston, the broadcasters stayed at Camden Yards and used a variety of live feeds from Fenway Park to call games, a method that will continue throughout the season.

“It’s going to be like nothing I’ve seen before,” Scott Garceau said. “I picked a heck of a year to come back, right?”

With Gary Thorne absent from Mid-Atlantic Sports Network broadcasts in 2020, Garceau has been the network’s primary play-by-play broadcaster. He’s been part of Baltimore’s sports media scene for four decades, including 13 years calling Orioles games in the 1980s and ’90s.

Hollander noted Garceau’s accomplishments in calling baseball, football and even lacrosse, adding that he considers Garceau to be family because of their shared bond with longtime WBAL sportscaster Keith Mills.

“I watched [Garceau] doing Orioles baseball, it seems like, a lifetime ago,” Hollander said. “Honestly, if you look at the boxes he’s checked in his career, he’s done it all.”

The connection between Hollander and Garceau is one of several among the Orioles’ new broadcasters. Hollander and Geoff Arnold, who did play-by-play for the Orioles’ High-A affiliate in Frederick the previous five seasons, both attended Dickinson College, a private liberal arts school in Pennsylvania with an enrollment under 2,500. As a freshman, Arnold began to believe sportscasting was a legitimate career path by watching Hollander, then a senior, even if they were both political science majors.

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Hollander called the odds of two people from Dickinson broadcasting for the same team at the same time “infinitesimal.”

“We’ve become extremely close throughout this process,” Hollander said. “My wife, if I’m on the phone, she almost knows it’s going to be Geoff on the other end of it.”

During baseball’s shutdown, Hollander and Arnold hosted the “Orioles Magic” podcast, where they recounted historic games in the franchise’s history with the players who shined in those contests, including Hall of Famers Jim Palmer and Eddie Murray. Continually during those recording sessions, Arnold marveled at Hollander’s insight into the Orioles’ past.

“His knowledge of the organization, the history of the organization and the passion that he has for it is incredible,” Arnold said. “He can talk about Orioles history, I think, as well as anybody in town.”

It’s possible Arnold is the most prepared of the new broadcasters to discuss the Orioles’ future. As the broadcaster in Frederick, he watched some of the first professional steps of many of the organization’s top prospects and best young players. With a handful already in Baltimore and others on their way, he’ll get to continue to follow their journeys.

“I can go back and listen to old interviews that I’ve done with some of these players or recount old conversations I’ve had with some of these players from their time when they were in the minor leagues,” Arnold said. “I can also talk about where these guys sort of started their professional journeys and where they have come to now. Knowing the long road for some that it took to get to the Orioles, it’s a pretty fun story to tell, and it’s been really cool to see in person how many strides some of these players have made.”

Arnold had a front-row seat to the rises of not only players such as Austin Hays and Ryan Mountcastle, but also Newman. With Newman as the primary broadcaster for the Salem Red Sox last year, Carolina League matchups regularly brought her and Arnold together.

Often, Arnold joined Newman’s booth for an inning or two, helping break up the monotony she experienced as a solo broadcaster. They began a rapport that has carried over into their broadcasts from Camden Yards. Arnold also gained an appreciation for Newman’s knack for delivering unique anecdotes about several players throughout a game.

“You really get a sense of who people are by listening to her,” Arnold said.

Newman said her pursuit of those tidbits, minute as detailing third baseman Rio Ruiz’s hairstyle, derives from her firsthand look at the grind players go through before they reach the majors.

“They’re human beings, and they’re just like everybody else out there,” Newman said. “You can’t relate to being able to hit .300 or have a sub-2 ERA in the bigs, but they all had to go home when COVID hit.

“Telling those stories and telling them justly, that’s become the biggest life passion of mine, even if it’s the small stuff.”

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It’s a passion her family didn’t hold her back from, never giving her the impression that the job she was pursuing wasn’t typically held by people her gender. She wants that to become commonplace, beyond baseball.

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“I just hope that we’re at a turning point, in our country as a whole, where we’re taking gender roles off of every single job, that things aren’t limited to just women or just men, or even age,” Newman said. “Everything in between, all of those intangibles of simply what makes somebody something, shouldn’t apply anymore to any role. If that’s what you’re passionate about, if that’s what speaks to you and that’s your calling, do it.”

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