By Elizabeth Muratore
Tricia Whitaker has been the Tampa Bay Rays’ sideline reporter for Bally Sports Florida and Bally Sports Sun since 2019. In part 1 of our conversation, she and I discussed her work with the Rays, a few Rays players to watch out for in 2022, and some of her most memorable days at the ballpark.
What kind of preparation do you do before a “typical game” at Tropicana Field?
Your job starts well before you even get to the field. You’ve got to prep for what you’re going to ask the players, what your stories are that day. I start prepping sometimes the night before, but at least three hours before the game I’m mapping out storylines and what we have to talk about today, and texting the PR staff asking, “Can I interview this guy today? Is he coming off the IL?” Figuring out what’s the news of the day, that’s the number one thing. And then I’ve got to figure out fun feature stories. One time I ate a fried grasshopper on live television in Seattle, and another time I rode a carousel in Detroit. You have to give them the news of the day, but you also have to have fun.
… Then I get to the field and we do interviews with the players, and then we do an interview with the manager every day. We wait for the game to start, and I make my final notes, and I tell my producer what I have. He tells me which of my ideas he likes (and which of my ideas he hates). The game starts, and I’ll do hits during the game, and I’ll do a pregame hit too in our pregame show. Sometimes I host the pregame show when our host is off. After the game, if we win, I do a “walk-off” interview with the star of the game. If we lose, we do interviews in the clubhouse – always the manager, and usually the starting pitcher.
Sometimes with the Rays, the “starting pitcher” label is a little tenuous if they only throw one inning as an opener.
I know, right? And then you’ve got so many guys come in after that, where it’s like, “Which pitcher do we even interview? Just pick one out of a hat!” Sometimes you have the guy that opens the game, so he’s only there for one inning. Then the bulk guy comes in, and he’s there for two to three innings. And then you have 900 other relievers come in. And then you have the days where Brett Phillips pitches, and you’re just like, what is happening?! It was so funny. I can’t decide if I believe him, but to this day he tells me that he didn’t know that there was a camera in the bullpen. And I’m like, “Brett, I don’t believe you.” And he’s like, “I swear!”
Are there any wacky in-game or postgame ballpark experiences that you’ve had?
There was a thing that went viral, because Ji-Man Choi really finds it funny to pour things over my head. So we’re in the middle of a postgame interview. After Tommy Pham walked it off, Ji-Man comes over and he’s trying to douse Tommy. But instead he poured it on my head. And this is a live interview, this isn’t taped. It wasn’t just, “Reporter gets splashed!” The entire container got poured onto my head. And I had to keep going with the interview. My [mic] box was shorting out because of the water, so I had to keep going. I’m freezing, I have ice down my shirt, my hair looks ridiculous, my mascara is running on camera.
So I ask Tommy Pham the first question, and he looked me dead in the eyes and told me that he wanted to murder the opposing pitcher. And I was just like, “What did you just say on live television?!” He looked at me and goes, “He threw it at my head, and I wanted to kill him.” And he didn’t laugh … I just had to keep going, and I was soaked in ice, and it was just ridiculous. That was probably one of the craziest experiences.
The other one was when I was hosting the pregame show in Cleveland, and it was Zoo Day at the park. My co-host knows I’m terrified of snakes. He goes over and gets the python handler and distracts me and tells them to roll the camera. They bring the python over right next to my face. I had no idea it was there, and I turn around and the python is coming towards my face. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I’m gonna die.” So I freaked out and screamed and ran off set, and they have it all on camera.
Heading into 2022, are there any under-the-radar Rays players you’re excited about?
I am so excited to watch Shane Baz next year. He’s the coolest guy in the world. He’s got such a fun story about his personality, his parents, and everything, and how he was raised. And he’s such a nice guy, and he’s so good. And he’s so young! I’m just so excited to watch him, tell his story, and get to know him a little bit more.
This might sound like a copout answer, but I’m excited to watch Wander [Franco] in a full season of baseball. I know he made history this year. But to watch him in a 162 game season after signing that contract … he’s the future of this team. And I’m so excited, I can’t wait.
So probably Wander and Shane Baz, and also Shane McClanahan. I know that he had a full season this year, but after what he went through in that last playoff game, I’m so excited to see him use that … He didn’t do very well, but he was put in a tough situation. I’m so excited to see how he does next season with all of that experience under his belt.
Wasn’t Shane Baz’s fourth MLB start ever in the ALDS?
Something like that, it was crazy. That’s why when people get upset about the Rays’ early exit, I do understand after the regular season they had it’s disappointing. But you have to think about it – in the postseason, they needed Tyler Glasnow. So they’re running guys out there who are doing their best, but these guys are young. And they did really well, it just was hard. I’m so excited because this team is so young, but they’re so damn talented. The Rays are going to be good for a really long time.
I also saw you tweet a nice message about Joey Wendle after the Rays traded him to the Marlins.
I’m still grieving. If Jesus played baseball, his name would be Joey Wendle. The All-Star thing was really cool because he got in because somebody got hurt, but he still deserved it. I remember interviewing him while we were there, I did a sit down with him. I said, “Joey, you’re an All-Star! How does it feel?” And he’s the most humble person in the world, and he goes, “Well, I’m only here because somebody got hurt.” And I stopped him and said, “Joey, you’ve earned this.” And he said, “Yeah, you’re right.” I was like, “Okay, now talk about it!”
Was there one game this year that stood out to you?
Game 1 of the ALDS, when Randy Arozarena stole home, was the most incredible atmosphere I’ve ever been a part of. He stole home, and the crowd just went frickin’ crazy. He’s October Randy, right? Then after the inning’s over, he comes out to the outfield, and the fans are chanting his name. And it’s echoing through the stadium, he’s holding his hands up, and he is just eating it up … This is a guy who captivated this fanbase. And his story is crazy – defecting from Cuba, and everything that he went through. And he’s so young! And he’s so exciting to watch! So that game stands out to me.
There was one game where they mounted this insane comeback … I think it was September 6, it went 10 innings, and the Red Sox had scored six runs in the second inning alone … We were watching from The Trop, and we were just going nuts. It was one of those days in baseball where you’re like, “This game!!” It’s so cool because the game’s never over. You’re not done until you’re done.
Elizabeth Muratore is one of the editors of the Here’s the Pitch newsletter. She also works as a homepage editor for MLB, writes for Rising Apple and Girl at the Game, and co-hosts a Mets podcast called Cohen’s Corner. Elizabeth is a lifelong Mets fan who thinks that Keith Hernandez should be in the Hall of Fame. You can follow her on Twitter @nymfan97.