Melanie Newman has called her final Salem Red Sox game of the season, but she is not done with sports in the commonwealth.
This was Newman’s first year as the radio play-by-play voice of the Red Sox, who were eliminated by Wilmington on Sunday in the Carolina League playoffs.
“I’ve learned more than I ever have in my life,” she said in an interview last week. “This will be the season that I’ll remember for the rest of time.”
Her fall gig will also be in Virginia.
Newman, 28, will be the sideline reporter for the ESPN Plus (streaming) telecasts of Liberty University home football games this season. She will also do the play-by-play for Liberty home volleyball matches on ESPN Plus.
The past few weeks have been memorable for Newman.
On Aug. 25, she appeared on ESPN2 as the sideline reporter for the World Axe Throwing League’s U.S. Open tournament in Iowa.
On Aug. 31, she did an ESPN Plus pregame interview with Liberty football coach Hugh Freeze that earned her national attention.
The following day, she was in the Salem broadcast booth as the Red Sox clinched the Northern Division second-half title.
“I’ve had the biggest week that I’ve ever had,” Newman said of that stretch.
This was the first season that Newman got to be the No. 1 play-by-play voice of a minor league baseball team.
“The peak of being dumped in a champagne shower [after the win to clinch the second-half title] to cap all of it, that’s something I haven’t gotten to experience [before],” she said.
“The last team that I had that [made] … the playoffs was back in 2014, and at that point in time, the league that I was in, it was a league policy that women weren’t allowed in the clubhouse and we weren’t allowed on the bus.
“These guys have gone above and beyond to make me feel welcomed.”
Newman had worked for Class AA Mobile in 2014 and 2015 in a variety of roles, including serving as the radio pregame and postgame host and joining the No. 1 announcer for the final three innings of home games.
On Sunday, Newman cried on the air at the end of the broadcast of Salem’s season-ending loss.
“You get to know these guys on the team, and you spend so many hours on the bus and at the field and around them and their families,” she said Monday. “To be so welcomed by the entire organization, I’ve struggled with it for the past week or so. But the depth of those emotions just kind of drew out even more [Sunday].
“I told myself I wouldn’t be emotional on air, and I threw to a commercial break twice trying to avoid that happening. It just ended up coming out anyways.”
Newman, a Georgia native, graduated from Troy University in Alabama in 2013.
She spent the 2018 baseball season as the No. 2 radio announcer for Class AA Frisco in Texas. She hosted the pregame and postgame shows; joined the No. 1 radio announcer for four innings at home games and select road games; and was the sideline reporter for a 12-game regional cable TV package. She said she was not kept by Frisco this year because of budget cuts.
She has enjoyed her bigger role in Salem.
“This is my show. This is my team. I’m not a No. 2 anymore,” she said last week.
Newman tried in her broadcasts, which aired on WGMN-AM 1240 in Roanoke and on the team’s website, to share personal stories of the players.
“People would rather hear, ‘Six of them spent yesterday floating on the river, just relaxing and bonding as a team,’ than, ‘Oh, he’s hitting .300 but he went 0-for-4 yesterday,’ ” said Newman, who also serves as the team’s broadcasting and media relations manager.
Salem interim general manager Allen Lawrence said he wants to bring Newman back next year.
“She knows the game very well,” Lawrence said. “She certainly paints a good picture on the radio.
“I’m hopeful that she’ll be back in Salem. We’ll have to see where her career takes her. I’m sure she’s going to be flooded with opportunities.”
Newman has more than baseball on her resume.
She served the past three years as the on-field host for Troy home football games, interacting with fans.
Newman also was the sideline reporter for a handful of ESPN Radio bowl games last year, as well as for one Liberty home football game on ESPN Plus.
Liberty, which produces the ESPN Plus telecasts of its sporting events, hired her for a full football season this year.
As the reporter for Liberty’s Aug. 31 opener against visiting Syracuse, it was part of her duties to do a pregame interview with Freeze.
But Freeze, who was recovering from surgery, coached that game from the press box while in a hospital bed. That is also where he did his interview with Newman — an unusual setting that attracted national media attention.
“You can’t script sports,” she said.
It was not the first time Newman has received attention this year.
While Newman did most of Salem’s broadcasts by herself, she was joined for 20-30 road games by analyst Suzie Cool. Cool would do play-by-play for three innings and provide analysis the rest of the game.
A Salem visit to Potomac in April marked the first time a team of two women ever broadcast a Minor League Baseball or Major League Baseball game.
“It’s great when she is there because … it’s easier when you have a conversation with two people and not just yourself,” Newman said.
Cool was not in the booth for Salem home games because she was busy with her duties as the team’s marketing and promotions manager and on-field host.
Lawrence said he wants Cool to return next season, too.
“Having both of them in the booth has been … great for us,” he said. “Hopefully we can keep them.”
The Salem play-by-play job has been a good launching pad for some. Jason Benetti is now the TV play-by-play voice of the Chicago White Sox. Evan Lepler is one of the football play-by-play announcers for the ACC’s syndicated cable package (including NBC Sports Washington). Both also work for ESPN.
Newman has been the reporter for two axe-throwing tournaments for ESPN2 this year; Lepler did the play-by-play. She will be back on ESPN2 in December for the world axe-throwing championship.
“They had me throw an axe [on last month’s telecast]. … I got a couple to stick,” she said.
Newman hopes to land a Class AA baseball job for next season but said she would return to Salem if she does not.
She hopes to still be in broadcasting years from now.
“I just want to be involved. … Whether that’s hosting, sidelines, play-by-play, whatever,” she said.