Meet Jessica Quiroli. I came across Jessica’s Twitter a few years back when I was living in Florida and I LOVED her handle (@heelsonthefield). I’ve followed her for some time now and am so inspired by her. Here’s the background: she’s spent nearly a decade as a writer covering everything from high school sports to Minor League Baseball. She’s an advocate for women’s equality in the sports industry, her work has been featured in Baseball Prospectus, MiLB.com and MinorLeagueBall.com. Jessica was named one of the 10 Women in Sports to Follow by ESPNW. We reached out to Jessica for a Q&A and she was more than willing to participate.
1. How did you get to where you are in your career now? Take me to the steps and different jobs you had along the way.
I just kept working at it in every way I could think of. To do this, you have to know what you’re willing to do and what interests you. Sometimes understanding that takes time. I consistently reached out for work and connected with people in the industry. Building relationships with anyone in the industry, whether in the front officer of a team, editors, or athletes, is essential to a career in sports. I stayed open, which is also extremely important. I covered high school soccer not knowing anything about it, or even having much interest. I agreed to make a speech at the Baseball Winter Meetings on Minor League Baseball (MiLB), despite not liking public speaking or even being on that side of the microphone. I worked as a copy editor for a sports website, which allowed me to work from home, but required me to constantly come up with snappy headlines, something I don’t always have a knack for as a writer. No matter what I was doing, though, I continued developing my minor league baseball blog. By doing that, I was growing all the time as a writer, reporter, editor, and creative person.
2. What is the toughest part of your job? What is the best part of your job?
The toughest part is the schedule. The hours don’t allow for much of a life on game days. When I’m on assignment, I’m at the ballpark between 3-4:30, and often not getting home until anywhere from 9 to midnight. I cut back on that kind of schedule, however, and it’s helped a lot. When I covered the Trenton Thunder, my commute was two hours, so I’d leave at 1 pm, and usually didn’t get home until 1 am, because I was trying so hard to get pre-game and post-game interviews for every story. I wouldn’t do that now, but I was definitely in that mode of needing to prove myself, which I no longer focus on. The best part is writing about something I love, but just being a writer in general. It’s what I’ve always felt most comfortable doing in life. I’m better at writing than speaking! The best part specifically about writing about MiLB, is that I’m fascinated by the process. I like the science of it. I like watching how it all comes together in the workshop of the minor leagues. I like understanding people and getting to the heart of the matter, and in the minor leagues, I’ve always felt you’re getting closer to the heart of the game, than in Major League Baseball.
3. What would you say is the hardest part about being a female in a male dominated profession?
There’s built in attitudes about us that we’re already up against. How we talk, dress, look, and behave is under a microscope. And our work always has the added judgment of it being good, or bad, “for a woman.” As in, “So-and-so dating that coach is bad for women in sports,” “So-and-so making a mistake in a story like that is bad for women in sports,” “By dressing like that, she’s making it harder for women in sports to be taken seriously.” It’s frustrating. But as I always say, focus on what you know, not what they think. Know yourself, be yourself, do the work well, and be happy. That’s all you need to be concerned with. And, I should add, fight for women in the industry. Have each other’s backs. Be kind and supportive of one another. Don’t back down when you’re being harassed or see other women treated that way. Be your own best advocate as well.
4. Have you had more positive reactions or negative when you tell someone what you do for a living?
Most people are surprised when I tell them the industry I work in. I find that people are mostly just curious. Male sports fans can be combative, but women are usually intrigued and excited. Overall, people don’t know a lot about the job, and if they’re sports fans they like to shoot the breeze a bit about what teams I’ve covered or whatever the local team is.
5. Who is your role model/mentor in your industry? (Male or Female). If they are male, what do you think is the reason you don’t have a female mentor?
The first league I covered regularly was the Eastern League, and the team I covered the most was the Trenton Thunder. Two people were important to me in those four years: former Thunder manager Tony Franklin and writer John Nalbone.
John wasn’t a guy who was going to take me under his wing, it was more just a matter of watching what he did and the confidence he had. He wasn’t afraid to ask the tough questions, but he also had a social, down-to-earth tone, so that the question didn’t seem rude or overly aggressive. He also had times in the press box where he just wouldn’t respond to someone if he were working. I learned that you have to know what works for you and to be committed to that. It was good for me to be around someone who was that tough and disciplined, but also had fun with it.
Tony is the most important person in my career. Bar none. He changed how I saw myself and my job. Every time I went into his office, he treated me with such dignity and respect that it surprised me at first. I realize looking back that I didn’t feel I deserved that respect, and I didn’t demand it. He was so kind, and funny, and a great leader.
The pivotal moment was when one of the players made an offensive remark to me in the clubhouse. At that point, I’d been there awhile, and that player was new. I was shocked that he would bring attention to me being in there, when it didn’t need to be pointed out in order to make me and everyone else uncomfortable. I decided to go to Tony and requested a private meeting. I will never forget his response, which I won’t go into. But he cared so much and he told me he was going to handle it. Later, I found out he called a clubhouse meeting. I learned from someone who was there that he went to bat for me, and for all women in the industry. I cannot say enough good things about the kind of man he is, and how great a baseball person he is.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a female mentor. I did reach out to one veteran woman in the industry I deeply admired, but she pretty quickly shut me out. That was a huge blow to me, but it taught me that I never wanted to be that kind of person. I never wanted any woman, especially young girls entering the industry, to feel that way. Mentoring and uplifting women became even more important to me after that. I’ve had some really bad experiences with women in the industry, but also many amazing ones. I’ll do whatever I can to help other women, and champion them in this industry.
6. Got any funny stories you’d like to share?
About a million. One of the great things about covering Short-A ball, in the New York Penn League, was that you’re seeing guys who are literally weeks from being out of college or even high school. They’re so raw. Once, I was sitting in the dugout during BP, and a player knew I was waiting to speak to him. He came in after hitting and cheerfully said he was ready. I looked out at the field, confused, and told him he still had fielding practice. His face dropped; he turned, and he just said, “Oh, yeah…ok.” I knew I wasn’t allowed to talk to him before BP was over, and I knew he still had more work to do. His hitting coach passed by me and asked me what he’d said, and I told him, then he asked what my response was, and I told him that. The coach laughed and said, “That’s my girl.” Another time in that league, I remember hearing a manager yell to the third baseman during fielding practice, “Get it on one hop!” They really are just getting the hang of how much they need to do and how much faster it all is. Players always talk about the game speeding up, learning to slow it down and how important preparation is. It takes time at that stage. I’ve had many personally embarrassing moments, like forgetting a player’s name or running from a bee in the dugout; though I’ve only fallen in front of a player once in the heels.
7. You are the first female we have had on our blog that has made a career in minor league baseball. What advice do you have for someone who may be interested in working in the professional ranks?
I’ve thought a lot about this question because there’s so much to say, yet it’s very simple. You put the work in, you respect the learning process, you stay open to growth, and you stay true to who you are, and honor what you believe and care about. If you forget who you are or let people in the industry define you, you won’t be happy or productive. If you think you know everything, you stop learning and growing, and you serve no one, and definitely not yourself. At the same time, have confidence in your voice. That can take time to flow. And over time, your voice might change. What you care about covering or excel at could shift in ways you can’t foresee. Be grateful when you’re “the kid,” and be grateful when you become “the veteran.” Whatever you’re doing, whatever you’re writing about, don’t lose heart.
8. Do you have an ultimate goal? What steps are you currently taking to get there if you aren’t there already?
My ultimate goal is to remember everything I just said.
For more of Jessica's work, follow her on Twitter @heelsonthefield or check out her blog http://www.heelsonthefield.net/