Plenty has changed since Jill Gearin last broadcast a baseball game.
The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the 2020 season, which would have been a follow-up to an acclaimed 2019 rookie season with the Visalia Rawhide. The lack of airtime has not burst her optimistic bubble.
“Ultimately, I want to be a Major League broadcaster. I want to be the voice of a team either in radio or TV,” Gearin, 24, said. “As far as short-term goals, I would love to move on to a High- or Double-A team next year, but I am happy in Visalia. I do love broadcasting here. I love the fans.”
While Gearin returns in a new pandemic era, she has also found her voice in a different light — bringing awareness about sexual assault in the game she loves dearly.
For Gearin, the topic is personal. She is a survivor of sexual assault.
“I’m a woman in a male-dominated industry. We’ve seen a lot of articles about sexual harassment, sexual assault in the workplace in Major League Baseball. That’s just made me want to become more vocal in my experiences.” — Rawhide broadcaster Jill Gearin
Gearin grew up in Orange County, an avid softball player. She moved on to play at Emerson College, a Division III school in Boston.
“I was sexually assaulted when I was 14 years old. And as something that was traumatic for me, it happened actually at a softball field. So the fact that I continued playing softball and I work in baseball now, it’s important to me that people feel safe at ballparks,” Gearin said.
She’s been vocal about calling out predators in baseball, both on her social media and in podcasts.
“I’m a woman in a male-dominated industry. We’ve seen a lot of articles about sexual harassment, sexual assault in the workplace in Major League Baseball. That’s just made me want to become more vocal in my experiences and my journey and the trauma that I’ve gone through,” Gearin said.
Gearin arranged a yearly game with Emerson softball to help raise funds for RAINN, an anti-sexual violence organization. The fundraiser is now in its fourth season.
Therapy and telling her story have helped, she said.
“All this weight was lifted off my shoulders. And I’ve been a survivor for over 10 years and I’ve talked about it openly. But just seeing the reactions of people in the baseball world, how they’re here for me and how they’re going to support me and support other survivors, I think that was just a sigh of relief,” Gearin said.
Not Allowing Predators to Prosper
Gearin has been a vocal critic of alleged sexual misconduct in the higher ranks of baseball. In the past few months, there have been controversies over Jared Porter, the New York Mets GM who was fired over allegations of misconduct and suspended Los Angeles Angels pitching coach Mickey Callaway.
On Friday, Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar was fired as a consultant for MLB and the Toronto Blue Jays for allegations of sexual misconduct from 2014.
“We cannot allow an environment where people like that who are predators can prosper,” Gearin said. “We cannot allow this great game of baseball … to allow people like that to prosper and to be protected. That’s the main thing that I think Major League Baseball and all organizations need to focus on.”
Gearin says others need to step up when they hear something like an inappropriate joke or comment.
“You go up to them and just say, ‘Hey, we don’t do that here.’ I think it can be easily nipped in the bud really, really easily,” Gearin said.
In her brief professional broadcasting career, Gearin says she’s been the subject of sexist comments while working in the locker room.
“Mainly the visiting players have said things to me like ‘I thought women weren’t allowed in locker rooms. Are you enjoying the show?’ Things like that, where I just kind of look at them and say something if I feel it’s appropriate. But a lot of it, I’ll just kind of swallow my pride,” Gearin said.
Perhaps it is immaturity from younger players fresh out of high school. Gearin says sometimes she will address the issue with the team’s manager.
“You need to start acting like a professional. You can’t say that at a bank. You can’t say that at a school as a teacher. Why do you think you can say that at a baseball game?” Gearin said.
More Than Token Efforts Needed
She also praised MLB for raising sexual assault awareness but wants it to be more than a token effort.
“We don’t want to do this — just check a box to cover ourselves. We want to make sure that people feel safe. This is the greatest game in the world. Why are we preventing women or people of color from feeling unsafe in this environment?” Gearin said.
She said the recent #MeToo movement has made her feel confident in speaking up.
“Ten years ago, I could never have been this vocal about this. I would have been fired or blackballed out of baseball. So it’s great that we have this #MeToo movement where women can speak freely. Men can speak freely,” Gearin said.
What’s the best way to help a woman who may be a victim of harassment in baseball?
“As men who want to be allies to women in sports, speak up. If you say something or see something happen, just say, ‘Hey, are you OK?’ Because to be honest, women just want to be acknowledged that this happened and we’re uncomfortable,” Gearin said.
Managing a Lost Year
The team furloughed Gearin last July and rehired her in March. She has the additional roles of media relations and marketing — not uncommon for the lower levels of the minors.
“This is the first summer I wasn’t at a ballpark. So it was weird for me. I kind of went through a little identity crisis,” Gearin said jokingly.
Gearin managed by working as a nanny and a dog-walker and living with her parents in Orange County.
“There’s blessings that came with this pandemic. I got closer with my parents. I was able to be there for 11 months. It was nice. It’s weird to be 24 and moving back in with your parents, but it was a good experience,” she said.
Gearin kept sharp the best she could, providing commentary on college softball games for Flo Sports.
“I joke that I lost an entire year of my life,” Gearin said. “I really wanted to come back in 2020 (her rookie broadcast year) even stronger. I had all these lists of things that I wanted to do better and I wasn’t really able to do anything.”
She sent out her tapes to Major League broadcasters seeking critiques.
“It hit a point where I said I don’t need any more critiques, I just need reps now. And what was really frustrating for me was I couldn’t get it unless I sat in front of a TV and pretended to broadcast a game,” Gearin said.
She did, in fact, practice in front of the TV.
Broadcasting During a Pandemic
Because of COVID-19 protocols, access to players is limited. Most interaction will be done through Zoom.
Gearin expects more access because she is considered a “covered individual,” but she won’t be able to enter the clubhouse.
She also can’t travel on the team bus to road games, meaning she will have to drive her car.