For UMass alum Jenny Dell, job at NESN is ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’
Jenny Dell still remembers Oct. 27, 2004, like it was yesterday.
It was the night of Game 4 of the World Series. The hometown Boston Red Sox were at the cusp of their first championship in over 86 years. They were up three games to zero against the St. Louis Cardinals and needed one victory at Busch Stadium to end one of the longest title droughts in sports history.
That night at the University of Massachusetts, Dell was a freshman, and brought the night in with style. She gathered with her friends in a dorm room at the Kennedy high-rise in the Southwest Residential Area, where they watched history take place. Red Sox pitcher Keith Foulke underhanded the final out to first base, officially erasing the demons that had chased the team for so long and igniting paranoia all throughout Red Sox Nation.
But for college students all around New England, especially UMass, the celebration had just started.
“I just remember the craziness that was going on,” Dell recalled. “It was insane.”
The aftermath of the game is well-documented. Students from all over campus poured in like a flood to Southwest, where they were greeted by police officers wearing riot gear and officers on horses. It didn’t stop them, however, from flipping cars and lighting things on fire, despite being shot at by rubber bullets.
Eventually, students cleared out and the massive mess left behind was cleaned up. Dell left the scene unscathed.
Now, almost eight years later, everything has come full circle for the 2008 UMass graduate. She now has a job at the New England Sports Network (NESN), where she began this year as the sideline reporter for the team she cheered for so wildly on that memorable 2004 night.
“This is a dream job,” Dell said. “Just being a Red Sox fan and being from New England, it’s just a once in a lifetime opportunity. … Even during the audition, I had to pinch myself and say, ‘Is this really happening?’”
For Dell, it’s been a dream that has become reality, but the path to get where she is today has been anything but an overnight phenomenon.
Building her roots
Growing up in a small town in Connecticut, Dell’s entire life revolved around sports.
As a kid, she played soccer and softball until she eventually picked up cheerleading during her college years. But it all started in the living room, where she would spend countless hours watching sports on television with her dad.
“I think I honestly started off watching sports with him just because I wanted to be with him,” Dell said. “I wanted to spend time with him. I wanted to bond with him, and that’s kind of the way we bonded.”
For Dell, it was never about rooting for a certain team. In fact, since both of her parents were from Brooklyn, N.Y., she grew up exclusively watching New York Yankees and Giants games. But Dell never outright cheered for those New York teams, something that would eventually pay off at UMass, where she developed a love for Boston sports.
“It wasn’t so much that I was obsessed with a particular team or particular sport but it was that environment that watching sports created,” Dell said.
Finding an identity
Initially, Dell chose UMass because of its hospitality program. She had dreams of going to culinary school and opening up her own restaurant, but her love for sports ultimately took over her career ambitions.
During her sophomore year, Dell decided to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree with Individual Concentration (BDIC) track. She created a sports event marketing major, double majoring in hospitality and tourism management and BDIC, and she gradually took more and more sport management classes as she progressed through college.
In her junior year, Dell began getting involved with the UMass athletics department working in the development office, which she called “more or less an internship.” There, she did a lot of the event planning for the basketball and football programs. Whenever there was an alumni event or instance when money was trying to be raised for a team, Dell was heavily involved in making it happen.
After college, which she finished a semester early, and gaining that experience, Dell decided she really wanted to pursue a marketing career with a concentration in sports. She was lucky enough to land an interview with ESPN, which wanted to hire Dell as a production assistant, something she admitted she didn’t have a clue about.
Sitting in front of three coordinating producers at the network, Dell vividly recalls the interview.
“They were like, ‘You really want to be our assistant? You’re just going to be at meetings and organizing emails and stuff,’” Dell said. “And I was like, ‘Honestly, I just want to get my foot in the door, I really want to be involved in marketing. I feel like as long as I can get in with the company, I’ll make my own way.’
“They were like, ‘Well, what do you think about production?’ and I was like, ‘I don’t know the first thing about production but I can learn.’”
And learn she did. Seven days after graduating from UMass, Dell became a production assistant for the NBA at ESPN, where she didn’t have the best idea of what she was doing at first, but eventually learned the ropes.
“For the first few weeks, I was trying to figure out what I was doing because everyone there went to college for this,” Dell said. “And I’m just like a blind walking into this situation, but I’m a quick learner so I figured it out pretty quickly.”
Dell eventually made her way up the ESPN ladder. She started from working as a production assistant for the NBA to working behind the scenes for everything, from Monday Night Football to NASCAR to horse racing and the Masters.
Then, one day, her career path changed as everyone knows it today.
A new chapter
About three months into her time at ESPN, Dell was sitting at a cafeteria when she was approached by someone at ESPN, who asked if her she was ever interested in working on the air in addition to her behind the scenes work.
“I honestly never even thought twice about working on air, I just kind of figured I’d be behind the scenes,” Dell said. “But I was like, you know, this is kind of a once in a lifetime opportunity, they’re approaching me with this, stuff like this doesn’t happen. I might as well go see what it’s all about.”
Dell took up the opportunity and auditioned for a chance to appear on-air. She created her own segment in which she did a short feature on former UMass lacrosse player Brett Garber, who she was dating at the time.
“I went in there and I never read off a teleprompter in my life but that’s what this audition was all about,” Dell said. “And I was kind of laughing. I thought to myself, ‘What am I doing right now?’ And I did my little story on him and they called me and they were like, ‘We really want to use you, we think you have some potential.’”
For the next nearly four years, Dell showcased that potential. In addition to her production duties, she also made on-air appearances on ESPN.com. She was perhaps best known for her AccuScore video segments in which she broke down NFL matchups, as well as working for the website’s Countdown Daily, working many high-profile events such as the Super Bowl.
For many sports reporters, covering events like the Super Bowl is the dream. But for Dell, she was just getting started.
Home sweet home
When Heidi Watney, the former Red Sox sideline reporter at NESN, announced she was leaving the Red Sox news station, Dell couldn’t even have imagined filling her shoes.
With the help of some of her friends, however, it started becoming reality.
“Literally, in one day, I got like 10 text messages from my friends, and they were saying, ‘Did you hear? Heidi is leaving. You should go for the job,’” Dell said. “And I kind of laughed, I was like, ‘Alright, yeah, we’ll see about that.’”
Eventually, Dell did go for the job. In late January, she was hired by NESN, returning her back home and working for one of her favorite teams.
And in about eight months since landing the job, she’s made an immediate impact. In addition to her sideline reporting responsibilities, she works alongside play-by-play commentators Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy, helps manage pregame and postgame content for Red Sox games and hosts The Ultimate Red Sox Show on NESN.
She said the experience has been even better than she expected it to be.
“I feel so blessed. It’s amazing,” Dell said. “To me, I’m just a regular girl that’s a UMass grad and from Connecticut. I love what I do. I’m lucky enough to be in a position where I can make someone’s day better. It’s just unbelievable.”
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @steve_hewitt.