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'I prayed for this.' Reno's Jessica Kleinschmidt fulfills dream of covering pro baseball

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Jessica Kleinschmidt knew she wanted to cover big-league baseball after watching an A's game at age 12. (Handout)

Dedication, hard work, determination and perseverance are all words than can describe Reno native Jessica Kleinschmidt’s journey on her rise to covering big-league baseball.

Kleinschmidt, a North Valleys High alum who grew up in Northern Nevada, knew she wanted to cover baseball after a trip to the Oakland Coliseum.

“I knew I would always do this,” Kleinschmidt said. “I remember that one of my first days when I was 12 years old, we drove from Reno for the day, went to the Oakland Coliseum and I saw Eric Chavez. He hit a bomb. And I found out him and I were birthday twins. Mark Kotsay was playing center field. Turns out he lives in Reno. So there were all these beautiful connections. And the moment I got home, I looked at my dad, I remember the exact chair he was sitting in, his old dusty rocking chair, and I told him, ‘Dad, I'm going to cover the A's one day.’ And the best part is that I hope everybody has a man like this in their life where they just say, ‘OK, you're going do it.’ And he from then on supported me, and so I knew I would do it.”

Kleinschmidt moved to Reno at age 9 and quickly learned she had what it took to keep up with the boys on the baseball field. Her athletic career began as a Little League baseball player before she shifted to softball.

“I played baseball with the boys,” Kleinschmidt said. “Shout-out Valley Providence Little League and North Valleys. I'm so glad to talk about that. Yes, I was a baseball player. I played with the boys and I played as long as I possibly could. I played for North Valleys Babe Ruth. I played for North Valleys High School for softball. I switched to softball just for the college opportunities. And from then on, I kept playing. I played on some tournament teams when I was attending Truckee Meadows Community College and figured out very quickly I would not be the first female MLB player.

"Apparently you have to be over 5-feet tall and hit 100-mile-an-hour fastballs over the fence. But if you know me well enough, I love to talk. And I wanted to turn that into a career. And I'm a junkie when it comes to baseball. So the short version is I turned it into a career and I actually have the Reno Aces to thank for that. They gave me my first real reporting opportunity. I'm so thankful for them.”

Kleinschmidt now covers the Oakland Athletics for NBC Sports Bay Area where she works as a host, reporter and writer. She took a different path to the top of reporting, not obtaining a college degree, but instead following her passion to create her own path. She built her social media following (almost 55,000 followers on Twitter) and used that as a way into covering big-league ball.

“Education is very important," Kleinschmidt said. "But it wasn't really my type of opportunity. I wanted to create my own opportunity. Social media, besides just introducing me to lovely people, gave me a voice. I remembered being such a nerd when it came to baseball, beyond the stats, beyond the weird stuff that people are obsessed with, spin rate and everything like that. I wanted to think about these guys as the heartbeat underneath their uniforms. And I used to be that guy. And so that's what I loved. I love the smell, the baseball glove. I loved eating 17 hot dogs in one sitting on a Sunday afternoon where we would have our family dinners at the snack bar. So that's when I knew I wanted to turn that into my career.”

In the competitive world of sports reporting, Kleinschmidt carved her own niche. She said the naysayers along the way fueled her.

“That moment that I was being told, 'You're not going to do it,' I turn that into, ‘Well, let me create an opportunity out of this,'" Kleinschmidt said. "'Nos' were always like steroids for me. They just jacked me up. So tell me 'No' and I'm going to go do it times 10. And I wanted to do it on my own merit, and I wanted to be myself. I think another challenge was not trying to be the next Katie Nolan, the next Sarah Spain, the next Kirsten (Moran), because y'all do a great job being yourself. So I thought, well, 'Hey, if I become the first Jess Kleinschmidt, I'm not going to have any competition.'"

Kleinschmidt said there are downsides of building your brand off social media, which can be an aggressive place, especially for female sports reporters. But Kleinschmidt has navigated those waters and come to take the bad with the good.

“I'm glad you brought up mental health because we hate to admit that someone on Twitter pissed us off," she said. "We we hate admitting that. But strangers on the Internet can upset you, and that's the reality of it. So I think once you get past that and realize, 'Why I'm feeling this way?' it's fine. But if you follow me on Twitter, you know, I'm known for doing very well at dunking on some of these these haters because a lot of times they're just bored and they want a reaction from somebody who has their dream job, you know?"

On top of her daily roles with NBC Sports, Kleinschmidt also co-hosts the podcast "Cork'd Up: A Wine Podcast with a Splash of Baseball." Her co-host is MLB agent Rachel Luba, who negotiated Trevor Bauer's record-breaking contract with the Dodgers this offseason.

“He and I have this great podcast where I get to learn from her and she gets to learn from me, too," Kleinschmidt said. "She used to be nervous dealing with the media, and I broke her out of that shell. And she explains MLB free agency stuff to me like I'm 5, which sometimes I need her to and it helps my job to be a reporter in those aspects.”

On top of co hosting "Cork’d Up," Kleinschmidt also hosts the podcast Balk Talk, where she's had the chance to interview some of the players and coaches she grew up watching.

“Balk Talk was great because I got to interview Scott Hatteberg and he was part of that A’s team when I first saw it," she said. "And Tony Gwynn Jr. and Joba Chamberlain and Dallas Braden. I watched him play. And now he's not only a colleague, but a friend of mine. So I always knew I would do it. But every time I went to that next level, I wanted something bigger. And I feel like I'm still just getting started to my career, which is really cool because I love that challenge. And I feel like everybody in this industry needs that challenge because if you settle — don't get me wrong settling, if I cover the A's for the rest of my career that's great — but I prayed for this and I worked hard. But I know I can do so much more, which is both good and bad. You know, I'm a workaholic and I love it and I love content.”

When Kleinschmidt has the chance to come home to Reno, one of her favorite places to visit is Noble Pie and Bully’s.

“Noble Pie has great, great, great wings," she said. "But momma never forgets the OG Bully’s with the teriyaki sauce on the chicken wings. That's a good spot. The one off Robb Drive is just the one that tugs at the heartstrings. And I remember after a good North Valleys football game, my brother, when he would play, we would go to town on some on some chicken wings there. I just love Bully’s because I'm a sports bar nut. So that's that's where I like to go."

You can watch the full Jessica Kleinschmidt interview below.


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