Boston Red Sox: Jenny Dell's TV Debut as Heidi Watney's Replacement
I don't really envy Jenny Dell, coming in to Red Sox Nation after Heidi Watney.
On Jan. 28, I expressed my surprise that Jenny, a relative unknown from the hinterlands of ESPN's fringe sports coverage, would be Heidi's replacement. (At the time of her hiring, she was in Aspen, working on the upcoming Winter X Games.)
I had spent my Christmas vacation laboring over pictures and bios of potential replacements for the lovely and talented Ms. Watney. (Yeah, I know—tough job, but somebody had to do it.)
The result was my presentation of 27 hottie candidates from all over the country, which you can view here.
Much to my chagrin, I did not include Jenny Dell as one of the 27. In fact, despite my exhaustive and distracting research, I had never even heard of Dell until her name was rumored as one of the finalists.
The new Red Sox sideline reporter was officially introduced and welcomed to Red Sox Nation by Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy during NESN's coverage of the Boston-Philadelphia spring training game last Saturday.
Although I don't think she's off to the best start, here are seven factors to consider before Red Sox Nation runs her out of town like Keith Foulke.
1. First and Foremost, Heidi Watney Is a Tough Act to Follow.
CSN New England's Sean McAdam broke the sad news of Watney's departure in mid-November.
Media and fan reaction was immediate, and certainly stronger than the mere ripples created by the departure of mere ballplayers such as Jed Lowrie or Josh Reddick.
Recapping my Dec. 30 writeup about Heidi's departure, Watney was the ultimate package. She combined absolutely stunning good looks with an innate intelligence and some serious broadcasting chops.
This former Miss San Diego was the first runner-up in the 2002 Miss California pageant. But she was also a National Merit Scholar who went to the University of San Diego on an academic scholarship, graduating with honors in 2003.
She worked as a weekend sports anchor for KMPH in Fresno and was also a sports talk radio host for 1430 ESPN Radio KFIG Fresno prior to joining NESN.
As Callum Hughson wrote onMopUpDuty.com in 2009, "Being the Jays fan that I am, I need to watch a Red Sox game like a need a hole in the head. However, Heidi Watney has changed my stance on that. When she appears on the sidelines and begins to speak about baseball, the heavens open up, the angels sing…etc. etc. etc."
I would not be surprised if it may take a while for Red Sox Nation to warm to her replacement, especially since Dell does not, at first glance, match up that well.
2. Who Is Jenny Dell, After All?
Despite the fanfare associated with her hiring at the end of January, very little information was provided at the time about her background and personal life.
We knew that she graduated from UMass, she was a cheerleader and that she worked for ESPN, but that's about it. All the archived videos of her were removed from the ESPN site, but you can still view her resume video here.
As I wrote back on Jan. 28, "Even before the recent announcement, she kept details private. A while back, someone requested her bio from ESPN via Twitter. The reply was, 'Sorry, Jenny Dell does not have a biography.' "
She was perhaps best known for her AccuScore video segments, which broke down weekly NFL matchups. Those clips are also gone, even from YouTube.
Strangely enough, there was a wealth of photos of Jenny available on the web, with more than a hundred that could be seen on her own personal Facebook page. But not a lot of information to go with them…
On Feb. 19, NESN posted an intro she wrote about herself, describing her path from Southbury, Conn. to Yawkey Way. She described working for ESPN.com on projects, such as Countdown Daily, filming weekly AccuScore- and IBM-sponsored segments for the NFL season, Fantasy Focus Baseball and Streak for the Cash.
"I covered Super Bowl XLIV and Super Bowl XLV," she said, "hosted red carpet events and interviewed many athletes and celebrities."
More about that intro story will follow.
3. Broadcasting/Baseball Chops Are Weaker Than Heidi's, and NESN Hasn't Helped
Jenny Dell introduced herself to Red Sox Nation on Feb. 19 with a relatively harmless description of her background and the path that led her to what she called her "dream job" at NESN.
This "Hi, I'm Jenny Dell" piece raised the first warning flags in my mind.
I suspected we might be in trouble when she wrote, "I grew up a 'daddy's girl' in Southbury, Conn."
Even worse, NESN did her no favors by running with that line to title the story, "Jenny Dell Explains Her Road From 'Daddy's Girl' in Connecticut to NESN's New Red Sox Sideline Reporter."
Daddy's Girl? Really? How is that supposed to help her earn the respect of the Red Sox Nation?
Somehow, I just can't see previous NESN Sports Babes Tina Cervasio, Kathryn Tappen, Jade McDonald or Heidi Watney writing anything so wide-eyed and…immature, I guess.
(Hazel Mae, maybe…but that's another story.)
I'm sure Jenny was trying to connect with her audience on a personal level, but in my opinion, she went too far, ending up sounding like a college girl pledging a sorority rather than a professional woman trying to make her mark in a man's sport.
For example, she gushes:
I started cheerleading competitively. When I wasn't at practice, or on the sideline watching our teams' football or basketball games, you could find me in the kitchen. After starting my own catering company, Simply Dell-icious, I received a scholarship to attend culinary school. Instead, I made the decision to attend UMass-Amherst and major in hospitality and tourism management.
Contrast that with what Heidi was doing at the same age. According to her NESN bio,
Watney grew up surrounded by sports—her father is Fresno State’s golf coach and one of her cousins is a PGA tour golfer, for example. Watney participated in track, diving, gymnastics, and cheerleading, but her love of sports really crystallized at the University of San Diego, where she attended on an academic scholarship and graduated with honors. She impressed her guy friends with her football knowledge, and they encouraged her to pursue sports reporting.
"I grew up watching baseball with my dad in Connecticut," Dell continued. She even acknowledged that it wasn't the listening to baseball part that she enjoyed—it was her father's company. (Don't get me wrong here—I'm not putting down a daughter's love for her father, which is a great thing. I'm just trying to put her baseball chops into perspective.)
The italics are mine.
Watney began her career as a sports reporter/assistant producer for KUSI News in San Diego, a job that came about as a result of a college internship. She graduated to weekend sports anchor and reporter for KMPH Fox-26 News and a sports talk radio show host for 1430 ESPN Radio KFIG.
Jenny's first job out of college was with ESPN, and she spent four years working in the event production department creating video packages and features. She was able to work her way into on-air reporting, but it was all peripheral project work, such as (in her own words) "Countdown Daily, filming weekly AccuScore- and IBM-sponsored segments for the NFL season, Fantasy Focus Baseball and Streak for the Cash."
Her last assignment for NESN was the Winter X Games in Aspen.
Yes, she's been at ESPN, but just because a lieutenant has worked at the Pentagon doesn't make him a defense expert.
Perhaps NESN saw the same glaring differential between the two women's experience and decided to narrow the gap by clever wordsmanship rather than just saying, "We've hired Jenny, and are confident she will do a great job."
As with players, it's not last year's stats that count. It's what you do in the future.
Instead, they published a report entitled, "Jenny Dell Brings Impressive Resume, Valuable Experiences to NESN Red Sox Reporter Job", and then proceeded to demonstrate that she really did not have that impressive a resume or that much experience—at least, not on-air or reporting experience.
I'm also disappointed that NESN seems to feel the need to pump up her official bio, primarily by blurring the distinction between Jenny's production work and her on-air work.
Here's what that bio says:
Prior to joining NESN, Jenny served in several different roles at ESPN, including on-air reporter. The University of Massachusetts graduate and Connecticut native reported from two Super Bowls and delivered AccuScore reports for ESPN.com. She also worked in production and covered Major League Baseball (MLB), Monday Night Football, National Basketball Association (NBA) and NASCAR.
However, Jenny has written elsewhere that most of her her MLB, NFL, NBA, WNBA, X GAMES, college basketball, IndyCar and NASCAR work was on the production side, but the average reader will not conclude that from the NESN bio.
Also consider this NESN statement: "The University of Massachusetts graduate…has reported from the last two Super Bowls…"
The operative words in that sentence are "reported from." Jenny herself has acknowledged that she wasn't really covering the games—just the parts around the edges, the glitz and glamour and the celebrities.
Yes, she did interview NFL players, but primarily to get their Super Bowl predictions for a background puff piece.
She also acknowledges that she spent as much if not more of her time interviewing people like Will.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas and rappers Nelly and Jermaine Dupri.
I don't think the network is doing Jenny any favors by overstating her experience because now, she will just have to work that much harder to fill Heidi Watney's shoes.
4. Jenny Had Only One Chance to Make a First Impression…and She Blew It
On Friday, March 23, the day before her on-air debut, Dell posted a very lame, somewhat wide-eyed puff piece entitled, Jenny Dell Offers Glimpse Into a Day in the Life of a Red Sox Reporter.
Gag me with a spoon, as they used to say.
The very first photo was the picture above, showing her breakfast and her laptop on her spring training condo balcony. And her empty chair…which sends what message?
Give me a break. Do something to grab our attention!
After a couple of slides, I expected to see the rest of the captions populated with a bunch of OMG and LOL insertions (perhaps they were there originally, but NESN edited them out?).
Some of the noteworthy entries for her day include: "Get dressed to go for a run, but usually make some excuse as to why I shouldn’t go before I walk out the door. (Pathetic, I know. Something I will work on.)"
Followed by, "WBZ writer Jonny Miller brings cookies to the press box. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Very dangerous."
5. Her First Red Sox TV Gig
After the less-than-inspiring "day in the life" feature, Jenny briefly discussed her background and explained how she arrived at her "dream job" in her TV debut last Saturday.
Check out this video link to see Dell's NESN debut.
She joined Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy on the network’s spring training baseball coverage, talking conversationally with the Red Sox broadcast team.
To be fair, she seemed prepared. She did not stumble or use any "uhs" or "ahs;" her delivery was clear and articulate.
After fielding a couple of softball questions—perhaps as it should be in spring training—she came up with the nugget I took away from this appearance.
When asked what she would be doing this year, Jenny responded emphatically, "I have one role—to tell stories."
Contrast that job description with Heidi Watney's. In addition to providing live in-game updates, NESN said, "Heidi also serves as the reporter for NESN pre-game and post-game show. Joining host Tom Caron and NESN’s rotating cast of studio analysts, Heidi reports on key news and stories from the ballpark and conducts interviews with players, coaches and management."
Is this semantics? Perhaps so, but it certainly looks as if NESN is narrowing the scope of the job, at least initially.
There's one other big experience and knowledge factor to consider. At NESN, Heidi Watney hosted The Ultimate Red Sox Show and The Red Sox Report before she became the on-field reporter—and I for one believe this experience (which Dell will not get) was critical to Watney's on-field success.
It has now been three days since Jenny's debut, and I have yet to see a critique of her performance as a reporter.
The same as we saw no critiques (positive or negative) in the days following her hiring announcement in January.
That's not a good sign. It causes me to think no one noticed.
6. But There Is Hope in at Least One Area…
Watney was, for the most part, viewed as pretty straight-laced.
And somewhat distant.
Lesley Mahoney of GateHouse News Service wrote about a day she spent with Heidi in 2009.
Heidi Watney emerges from the dressing room…in a short-sleeved mock turtleneck. The color and the style are a good fit for TV, and a nice addition to her spring training attire, she decides. But she knows that not everyone will approve.
“I can hear the bloggers now,” she says with a laugh. “What’s with the turtleneck, Heidi? Show some cleavage.”
She almost never did.
On the other hand, one might be able to surmise from the multiple party photos of Jenny Dell that are available (even from her own Facebook page) that she knows how to have a good time.
She also has a couple of pretty good cleavage photos on the Internet, such as this one.
After all, she did go to UMass Amherst, so she probably has a pretty good idea of how to let her hair down.
Jenny's alma mater has been rated as one of the top party schools in the country by a number of different sites for several years in a row.
The Huffington Post writeup about the August 2010 Unigo party school survey concluded, "…there are sports at UMass, but students report they’re mostly used as an excuse to drink." Unigo ranked UMass as sixth in the nation in partying.
7. To Be Fair, Let's Cut Her Some Slack and Give Her Time to Prove Herself
Despite the critical comments I've made in this feature, I also think it's unfair to judge Jenny (positively or negatively) before giving her a shot. The inevitable comparisons of "relative hotness" are based on nothing more than photos of the two women, governed by personal preferences of the beholder. Then there's the whole brunette vs. blond thing…
In Dell's defense, there's no question she's an intelligent and beautiful woman. She graduated a semester early from UMass, summa cum laude (the highest distinction possible), and her lack of experience doesn't mean she will do a poor job.
From her perspective, it just means there will be a spotlight on the uphill battle she faces in the seasons to come.
I would love to have been a fly on the wall for the finalist interviews and for the discussions among the Red Sox brass which led to the decision to hire her.
Is this just another low-risk acquisition, like many of the pitchers GM Ben Cherington brought in during the offseason?
Or did Red Sox Chairman Tom Werner (who made the final decision, according to Chad Finn of the Boston Globe) see something special in Dell's finalist audition tape?
There's no doubt that when it comes to television issues he's a consummate and well-respected professional. The man knows what he's doing when it comes to TV talent.
So, if Tom Werner tells me that Jenny Dell has what it takes, I'm inclined to listen.
It's also hard to fault NESN's sports babe judgment. Just look at their track record…
Tina Cervasio, Hazel Mae, Kathryn Tappen and Jade McDonald were capable reporters who also added significantly to the sports scenery. All have gone on to bigger and supposedly better gigs.
Add Heidi Watney (now with the LA Lakers) to that list.
As I wrote in January, "Perhaps we should just live by the old British, stiff-upper-lip aphorism: "The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen!"
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