She Speaks with Amy McCann

Amy McCann, who describes baseball as ‘pretty much my life’, enjoyed a wildly successful career playing that very sport for Australia for 12 years. While representing her country, she also worked full-time in Comms,  Media Operations and as a Media Liaison Officer, at numerous Olympic and Commonwealth Games and international sporting events. Amy grew up in Sydney and studied Sports Media Management in Canberra. She is currently the National Media Manager for AusCycling. In 2021, Amy was selected as one of only 15 women to take part in the landmark Change Our Game broadcasting program, which is aimed at building a new generation of women in broadcasting, on screen and behind the mic.

On what baseball means to her:

It sounds really corny and obvious, but there is basically hardly an element of my life that doesn’t revolve around baseball or is an effect of baseball. One day my dad recorded a Major League Baseball game on television. I went, ‘Oh my goodness, this is like the best thing I’ve ever seen!’ and I went ‘Find me a club Dad, I’ve got to play in a club’. Back in the early 90s, no girls played baseball in Australia and all the clubs said ‘No, you’ve got to go play softball’. And my dad kept saying ‘No, she wants to play baseball’. And then finally I found a club and played quite a bit in high school and absolutely loved it. I found a sport where I could hit something really hard, and was really challenging, and that’s pretty much it.

On her determination to find a team:

I really was, and I think I’ve always been, and still am to this day, a very determined person in anything that I do, whether it’s work, life, or renovating my house. So I think I decided I wanted to play it and I was like, I’m not taking no for an answer.

I always think about all the girls that might have just gone off to play baseball and when they’re told no, that’s it. So I feel sorry for the girls that went to another sport because they didn’t find a baseball club. It took me, I think, about a dozen clubs before I found one. I was the only girl in my league entirely playing with men my dad’s age. I was terrible. I couldn’t hit the ball very well. I was just awful. I just didn’t care. I just wanted to play.

After studying, I moved to Melbourne and didn’t really know anyone and found a club and started playing. About six months later, I was told ‘You’re really good, you should try out for the state team’. And within six months, I was in the Australian team! I didn’t even know women’s baseball existed on this scale. Women’s baseball really took off around the country about 20 years ago and I got really lucky. I’m not too old that I missed it!

On being a driving force and still playing baseball in her 40s:

I’ve played over 300 games in 20 years at my club and honestly, I’ve retired from the Australian team, but I decided to come back this year and I had training last night, so my body is a bit sore. I’ve been doing a lot of yoga during Covid, so I think I’m fit to get back into baseball.

One of things I love about baseball is it doesn’t discriminate based on body type or ability in strength. If you’re slow or you’re fast or you’re tall or you’re short or strong. I just think that anyone can play baseball. I just really love how different every single player on the field is, and we all make one team. And I just think that’s an amazing feeling when you make this awesome team together.

On navigating the demands of a full-time job with her representative baseball career and whether it was difficult to do so:

 During my Australian career, yes. I represented Australia for 12 years, and I was working full-time. So my life was nine-to-five work and at lunch time I was either in the gym or going for a run. In the mornings I was in the gym and most nights I was at baseball training. Pretty much all weekends were baseball training. Every holiday off work was a baseball camp. Every bit of money and savings were spent on baseball. I loved every second of it, but right now I really like having a life. It’s nice actually having money and spare time.

On the financial sacrifices made to pursue her passion:

I’m very, very lucky. I worked with Cycling Australia for a good while, and every single holiday I needed for my Nationals, my World Cups, they gave it to me. When I had to leave work early, start work early, they were just amazing. They understood that we didn’t have a choice. We all had to work because when we played baseball for Australia, we paid for everything. The World Cups were every two years, and so every few years, the World Cup would cost about $5000, two Nationals would cost about another $5000. Then you have your league fees, so there’s another $2000 and then you’ve got physios, equipment, travel. You’re looking at about, it’s up to nearly $20,000 every time you want to do that two-year cycle. I did that two-year cycle six times.

I would have easily spent 100 grand. But I wouldn’t trade a cent of it. I seriously wouldn’t trade a cent of it because I travelled the world, I lived in Japan, I won silver medals, I met my wife in baseball, that alone is worth everything. I wouldn’t trade a cent.

On the dearth of women sports commentators in Australia and other parts of the world:

I think the best way to change it is by commentating, and it’s really hard because I’ve obviously just started commentating women’s baseball and it’s very, very hard because the best way to change it is that there just needs to be more opportunities given to the women, because historically men just get all the roles. And that’s because so often, in particular sports like mine, the men’s sport has such a high profile. A lot of people don’t know that the women’s teams exist. And that is changing. I think, if women get more opportunities in those high-profile games where you have commentating opportunities, you’ll get more women commentating. We will get more practice, and I think from that, we will get more opportunities to commentate male sports.

There are arguments sometimes that people don’t think that men should call sports played by women. But then that same argument, they don’t want to say that women shouldn’t call sports played by men. I think you should just be calling sports if you’re good enough to call sports. In Australia, there’s not a lot of opportunities because baseball isn’t regularly on television. And when it’s on television a few times, the first stories always go to the men to commentate.

I think when there’s more women on TV, there’s more women in the news. There’ll be more people writing about it, talking about it, commentating. So I think, people just have to bite the bullet, the TV networks have to bite the bullet. I’ve seen that when women get an opportunity, women can be such experts in their field, like, I didn’t realise how much I actually knew about baseball until they stuck a microphone in my face.

I remember once when I commentated, I had so many people messaging me, and saying that ‘You’re telling the stories of all these players that no one knows’, because I know all of the girls in the Australian baseball team and I knew who came back from an injury, who was a softballer, so I was able to tell all of these stories.

It was really nice to hear people saying ‘Oh, you’re really explaining the whole story!’ And it was nice that I made more people enjoy women’s baseball. That’s what I wanted. Hopefully by commentating, there’s someone who’s 12 or 15, who then goes, ‘Oh my goodness, I’ve heard a woman’s voice!’ Because there’s very few women commentating baseball in the world, that’s for sure.

I didn’t even think it was an option. I didn’t even think about it until someone told me a year ago and I just said yes to the opportunity without thinking and then realised, ‘Oh my goodness, I have to commentate on live TV, I don’t know what I’m talking about!’ But it turns out I did.

On first-time commentating nerves:

I was so nervous! When we were commentating the games that were on television it was live to an international audience, to the U.S, to Japan and Australia, and I just got there and they gave me a headset and said, ‘Here are the buttons, we’ll have some hand signals and we want you to talk. I had to understand all that.

On the biggest changes for women that she’s seen since she started working in sports:

Some of the things I think I’ve seen improve is the number of women in major roles. At the moment, Australia has a lot of women CEOs in national sporting organisations. 

I think there are a lot of females in media roles and in high-level media/marketing/comms roles. I think that’s great, but I still feel in certain sports that there are predominantly men in coaching and sport science roles. One thing I think hasn’t improved, and while we’re seeing some sports get more television time in Australia, most women’s sports are getting a lack of this exposure in the newspapers. 

If you open the newspaper, it’s just football, cricket, horse racing, and that’s it. So that’s disappointing. I think media coverage hasn’t got any better, apart from a few sports. There needs to be more women in coaching roles. I think that’s probably the role I’d like to see more women in.

It’s hard because you shouldn’t just give the women coaching jobs because they’re female, but I just think that men automatically get a head start higher up the ladder than women. I just want to be coached by the best person at the end of the day. I’m a coach, my wife’s a coach, and I think that if there’s very few opportunities to begin with, and then there’s already that layer of men getting more roles, women have to prove their merit far more than men in a coaching role.

I’ve seen a lot of women not get coaching roles in women’s baseball just because there’s so many great male baseballers in this country. I think women get overlooked and it’s hard when you’re a minority sport, you’ve got fewer opportunities to begin with. It’s just even harder to break that barrier.

On whether her role as Comms Manager has an impact on leveling the playing field when it comes to women’s opportunities in the sports industry:

I’ve never thought of myself as championing women by doing this role. I have thought a couple of times if a guy was doing my job. would they do it differently? I think where women can be really great in media/comms roles is the empathy that we have, and particularly if you’re an athlete.

During an Olympic Games, I have athletes coming off the side of the cycling velodrome who’ve either lost the biggest race of their life or won the biggest race of their life. I’ve got to immediately try and Imagine what they are feeling and then get them ready for a live TV interview. I think that by being an athlete, and by being a female, that actually plays in my favour. I’m not saying that men can’t do that, but there’s a lot of women in this role, and I think there’s a reason for it.

There’s also some times where, not saying I wish I was a guy, but there are tough times in my job and it’s tough, there’s times where you wish you had a thicker skin or a shorter memory, or you I didn’t take things so personally because it’s hard. When you’re working with people who are either media on deadlines or athletes during an Olympic Games, people can get on edge. You have to learn that nothing is personal. It is all professional. You just have to put yourself in each other’s shoes.

On the attributes she thinks are important for working in the sports industry:

I think you’ve got to be committed and you’ve got to understand that it’s simply not a nine to five job. You’ve got to understand that. 

I think the main thing is you’ve got to be a Jack of All Trades. I get to go to the Olympics, and I get to stand on the sideline and my head might be on the TV on the highest stage and I get to work with the best athletes. But two weeks later, I might be writing media releases stuck in an office all day. 

A lot of people think I just sat and watched athletes around a velodrome every day and I’m like, I don’t actually do just that. I think you need to realise, you have to be able to do a lot of things. There’s no one dimension anymore. You can’t just be a media or comms or marketing person, or to just do video. You’ve got to be multi-skilled and you’ve just got to be thick-skinned. 

The other thing is, you have to understand how to work long hours on little food, little water and basically do that for 16 hours, then wake up four hours later and do it again and do it for four weeks in 40-degree-Celsius heat.

Things like the Olympic Games are harder, they’re just hard in general, and they’re always usually in places that are hot in summer. You just can’t be precious. But honestly, the one thing that you have to realise in media comms is that it’s just not about you. My first boss, who’s my mentor, told me, ‘If you get on TV, you’ve done your job wrong.’ Your job is not about you. If the athlete speaks really well or you get lots of your sport on television, well, that’s part of what I’ve delivered for the sport.

On whether she is aiming to inspire young women:

Yeah, I hope so. Sometimes I get impostor syndrome. I think every woman does. I’m terrible at imposter syndrome, and I think Covid hasn’t helped. Sometimes I stop, I go, hang on, you’ve worked at all these Olympic Games, you’ve played baseball for Australia, you’ve coached all these girls that now play for Australia, now you’re commentating.

Sometimes I sit down and I realise I’ve done a lot. I know there are girls that are still playing baseball or girls that were playing baseball that had tough times in life, that we made a difference to in their life just because we taught them how to swing a bat or throw a ball. Sometimes you don’t realise that. 

Like some of the girls we’ve been coaching for 15 years and now they still stay in touch. Every so often you get this really nice message. Sometimes you don’t realise how much of an impact you have. Just last night, we were training and there was a girl down for her second training session. She wasn’t holding the bat properly and I helped her to hold it properly, and then she swung and she hit a ball. And for her, it was such a great hit and the smile on her face was huge.

On the advice that she would give her younger self:

It’s hard because you don’t want to change anything you’ve done in your life. I don’t believe in having regrets because everything you did got you here. I probably had a bit too much white wine fever. And while I have all these amazing memories, it just seems like it went so fast. I probably could have stopped and taken it in a little bit more at the time. I played 12 years for Australia but it seems like it was 12 minutes. Maybe just to take it all in a bit more, but I wouldn’t change anything else because I don’t regret where I am in my life, I love where I am in my life.

On getting on board, literally:

I recently joined my first board; I’m part of the board of directors now of Baseball Victoria here in Melbourne. It’s been a really exciting six months working on that, and I’m really excited to see where I can take the organisation, and also see where I can take myself in a board role. It’s a really interesting skill and I should’ve done it earlier.

I would really recommend it to women to get on to boards because I think when we talk about opportunities for women in management roles, there’s a lot of opportunity for women to get on to boards. I think that is a way we can make an impact and that can also lead to other jobs. In just six months of being on a board, the networks I’ve expanded, my skill set, my confidence have all grown. I’ve realised I should have done it earlier. I think I’d be so far further in my career, mentally, physically, emotionally, everything if I’d joined the board earlier.

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