Friday night was among the finest in Jayson Werth’s brief tenure as a National; he drove in the winning run with a bases-loaded single in the bottom of the 13th, was at the center of his first-place team’s celebration, and then discussed the cheering spectators in an interview broadcast over the stadium’s PA system.
“I’m just excited about all these fans that stuck around tonight; how about ‘em?” Werth said, as the crowd roared. (Watch the video here.) “We bring it every night. And that’s something this town should be proud of, and should come out every night and support.”
His words were meant for the crowd, but they were delivered to MASN’s Kristina Akra, who was at Nats Park for just the third time. Akra, the network’s new sideline reporter, was hired this spring after MASN elected not to bring back Debbi Taylor, making her the only new addition to the team’s radio and television broadcasts.
(When Taylor told Adam Kilgore that she wouldn’t be back, she wrote that “It seems [MASN officials] are eliminating the reporter position,” which apparently was not the case.)
The 27-year old Akra moved her belongings to Washington the Monday before the season began, covered the Tuesday exhibition game, and then left for the season-opening six-game road trip, her first as a baseball reporter. That hectic beginning, she said, was just what she needed.
“You can ask all the questions in the world, but until you’re thrown into the mix, that’s when you learn,” she told me last week. “A little bit of head-spinning there, but you try to soak it all up, do a lot of listening. I’m not claiming to be an expert or an analyst, but I want to do my best to ask questions that the fans want to know, to get the players talking about what the fans want to know. That’s the ultimate goal.”
Akra came to MASN from FoxSports South, where she was a sideline reporter for SEC football coverage and also hosted an SEC studio show. She’s covered Providence basketball, MLS’s New England Revolution, and worked for the New England Patriots, covering the team on the Patriots’ Web site and on a team-produced network show.
But she said she always “wanted the opportunity to cover baseball at some point in my career,” and described the MASN job as “a phenomenal opportunity to cover one team” and “just something I couldn’t pass up.”
(Akra also shares a resume line with Erin Andrews; both women were part of the Dazzler Dance Team at the University of Florida before beginning careers in sports journalism.)
If I’m being honest, there were a fair number of Nationals fans who were occasionally frustrated by Taylor’s work, with questions that sometimes seemed fluffier than cotton candy. (See this thread, for example.) So without asking her to compare herself to anyone else, I asked Akra to describe her approach to the sideline job.
“When you cover one team on a daily basis, you really want to help the fan base understand the players as individuals: what they do on a day-to-day basis, how they work – to tell the story of the season,” she said. “This is something I’m adjusting to, because baseball’s an every-day grind, but I’m there to bring the stories to life. Fans probably already love the team, but I want to help them know the individuals who are on this team.”
And while the sideline job sort of necessitates a sympathetic touch toward the home team, Akra has a background as a journalist. Her degree from Florida is in news broadcasting, and she worked as a reporter and anchor for the PBS affiliate in Gainesville.
“Tell the stories that are there, and don’t really veer one way or the other,” she said, when I asked about the line between being a reporter and a booster. “That’s not hard for me to do. I’ve been doing that since I started in sports. I’m not there to be opinionated or biased; I’m strictly there to relay information to the public. That’s for them to make their opinions about. I just stick to the facts; that pretty much keeps me safe.”