Paving a Path, Women in Baseball: Vanessa Lambert
Image courtesy of Vanessa LambertLambert has been with Fox Sports North for 14 years now, and she’s been in the Producer role since 2012. Her focus is the Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Timberwolves, which means right now she’s got 100% of her attention on one of the best teams in baseball. Working through the challenges of offsite production and given inputs dictated to them on the road, Fox Sports North is bringing Twins fans unprecedented access in an unprecedented season.
- Paving a Path Part 1: Britt Ghiroli
- Paving a Path Part 2: Melanie Newman
- Paving a Path Part 3: Rachel Luba
- Paving a Path Part 4: Emily Waldon
- Paving a Path Part 5: Kate Townley
- Paving a Path Part 6: Venika Streeter
Twins Daily: You produce Twins (and Timberwolves games) for FOX Sports North. What exactly is the role of a producer?
Vanessa Lambert: This is probably the question I get asked the most about my job – no one seems to know what the heck a producer does. Easiest way to explain it is, I’m kind of like a head coach. I decide what we’re going to do (go to a replay and which angles to roll back, read a promo, knock out a sales element, go to break). The director is kind of like a quarterback, executing everything. It can be crazy and chaotic during a game with plenty of people talking to you at the same time, but that’s what makes this job fun.
My day starts early – basically I need to have as much done before we get to a ballpark as possible (for a normal 7pm game, we’re at the truck around 1pm). By that time, I need to have talked to the talent about what we’re going to discuss in the open and anything we want to hit on in-game, know what video packs and graphics need to be built, make sure sales elements are covered and planned, have all talent reads ready.
TD: You went to school for Journalism, was a career path in sports always the goal and how did it transition to more behind the scenes?
VL: I always wanted to go into sports television. Growing up in Detroit, I was a huge Red Wings and Tigers fan. Not to age myself, but the Wings won a few championships during my middle school & college years. My uncle has worked for ESPN for 20+ years and was on their ‘A’ NHL crew back in the day, so my family would stop by the truck to visit when he was in town. As an influential teenager, I thought, “hey, this might be a fun job”, so I started spending more time in the truck (my mom even let me skip school a couple times).
I went to Michigan State for college, and my options were either Journalism or Telecommunications. Within the J-School, you could specialize in a specific field, so I chose broadcast. I took all the TV classes but knew I didn’t want to be on-air. Something in production was always my goal.
TD: While not writing, you're telling stories in what is shown to fans during a telecast. What is most thrilling about this medium and the way you're able to convey it?
VL: I think what I enjoy most is you never know what’s going to happen in the course of a game…it comes down to reacting to what’s happening in front of you. It truly is a group effort to tell stories and be in sync with a director, graphics, tape ops and on-air talent.
You can plan as much as you want as far as graphics and video packs, but they may never make the show. You hope what you have ready can support what’s happening during the game and sometimes we can make everyone on the broadcast look like a genius when it works out.
TD: Specifically, as it relates to baseball, what draws you to this sport and how well do you think women are represented in positions surrounding it?
VL: I think I’ve always been drawn to baseball, and I blame my mom for that! I spent many nights at Tigers Stadium & Comerica Park watching games with her and keeping score. What I enjoy now is getting the chance to cover a team for an entire season, follow storylines all the way through, and getting to know the players and coaches (outside of this season 😊). They’re normal people just like the rest of us despite being professional athletes.
I would love to see more women in baseball and sports in general. The sports lifestyle isn’t for everyone – it’s a lot of nights and weekends. Work/life balance can be a challenge (I’m the first to admit I’m not the best at it), and I think that’s why there aren’t as many women in sports. As far as TV, there are only three full-time MLB producers and two in the NBA (that includes me in both categories).
TD: As a producer you have a great deal of responsibility at Fox Sports North. What hurdles has being a female in the sports industry presented and how have you overcome them?
VL: I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve had a great support system at work and in my professional life, both men and women. Most of the pressure I’ve felt, I put on myself. I didn’t want people to think I didn’t know anything about sports because I’m a female. I’ve never had any co-workers question my knowledge or ability and I’m definitely treated like one of the “guys.” I’ve caught a few crew members by surprise on the road when they find out I’m the traveling producer, but that’s about it.
TD: Within your role you've spent a good amount of time focused solely on the Twins. What can you say about the organization and their commitment to diversity?
VL: The Twins are a great organization to work with overall. They’ve been focused on diversity a lot longer than most companies and organizations (hiring someone to lead their efforts, having Diversity Day at the ballpark for years). They are very involved in the community and making a difference where they can. They also have a few people of color and women in director roles, and the panels they’ve made available to the public this summer have shown that. I think most companies probably feel their diversity and inclusion efforts can be better, especially right now, but I’m very impressed with their efforts.
TD: We're dealing with arguably the most unique baseball seasons in history. What challenges has that presented and how has the difference provided an opportunity for excitement?
VL: How much room do I have??? This season has definitely provided us with challenges we never expected to face. The biggest difference is how we produce games. In a normal season, we would travel seven people from FOX for road games and then hire local freelancers in each city to fill the rest of our positions. Now, we’re doing every game from Target Field this season.
We’re relying on the home broadcast to provide a world feed, and we get one camera in an away ballpark that is dedicated to our show. The majority of what makes the broadcast is not in our control when the team is on the road. We’re talking to someone in the home truck who’s letting us know when replays are coming, who’s up in the bullpen, etc. And they also help us with any video requests we may have.
And when the Twins are home, we provide the world feed for any visiting team or a national entity doing a side-by-side. MLB set the number of manned cameras and how many broadcast personnel can be in the ballpark for each home game. Because of the world feed concept, we’ve been told to give each team equal coverage.
Our crew at Target Field is socially distanced…we’re spread out among two production trucks that are networked together. Usually one of the trucks is dedicated to the home show and the second one for the visiting broadcast, but now we have run of both. I’m used to sitting next to a director and now we’re in two separate trucks communicating over headset only.
I’ve always wanted to cover the Olympics, and now I’m getting a good taste with world feeds. I think some days it adds more stress making sure all of our video and audio feeds from ballparks are correct, but I wouldn’t expect anything different in 2020!
TD: Round it out with this, what are you most excited about with regards to this Minnesota Twins team and what we hope to see from Major League Baseball in 2020?
VL: I was very excited about this Twins team in Spring Training – they were a very confident group. I’m happy that we’re FINALLY back playing baseball, but it would’ve been fun to see what they could’ve done over 162 games. Regardless, this sprint of season doesn’t leave much room for error, which makes it exciting. The Twins are posed to have a strong season and hopefully make a playoff run. With so many teams now being eligible for the postseason, I feel like plenty of teams have a chance.
I’m also a fan of the new rule changes (DHs in both leagues, 7-inning double headers, even runners on 2nd in extra innings)…if you were going to try them out, this was the season to do so. Will be very interesting to see what sticks beyond 2020.
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