By Jason Maholy
Alyssa Bergamini marked March 26 on her calendar the day the White Sox released their 2020 schedule.
That was supposed to be Opening Day at Guaranteed Rate Field. The matchup against the Kansas City Royals would have been the earliest home opener in franchise history and the first Opening Day in Chicago since 2017.
As the in-game host for the White Sox, Bergamini would have been at the ballpark between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. to begin the most glorious day of Major League Baseball’s regular season. She would have been on all the morning shows on the local networks, talking baseball and about what is anticipated to be a resurgent season on the South Side.
“You’re there for 14 or 15 hours, depending on how the game goes,” said Bergamini, an Orland Park native and 2010 Marist graduate who today works for the team she grew up rooting for. “It’s the longest day ever and I’m always so tired because I’m not a morning person – but I love Opening Day.”
That last statement is a sentiment shared by many true baseball fans, those to whom Opening Day ranks up there with New Year’s Day as a celebration of hope and new beginnings. But with MLB as well as all other professional and college sports in the country on hold because of the coronavirus outbreak, that excitement has been placed on the back burner.
The hope now is that the social distancing and other safeguards being practiced in response to the outbreak will slow the spread of the virus, and that the nation will make it through this odd period with a minimal loss of lives and disruption of livelihoods.
Bergamini admits to being bummed by the MLB season being put on hold, but she understands the bigger picture and the necessity for the unprecedented measures that have been taken; and she is looking at the situation with a sense of optimism.
“No one’s ever going to forget this,” she said, referring to the outbreak and associated fallout. “It’s going to be a ‘Jeopardy’ question, for sure.”
Bergamini began her professional career with the Schaumburg Boomers, an unaffiliated minor league baseball team in the independent Frontier League. A friend suggested she apply for the role of the team’s home game emcee, and she nailed the audition despite not having any experience in such a role.
“I just knew afterwards… I was thinking, ‘I just got that job,’” she recalled. “I earned $50 per game and drove an hour each way; and if I drove an hour to Schaumburg and there wasn’t a game, I didn’t get paid $50. But that was a great experience. It was really fun and I loved the people I worked with, and that opened the doors to what I’m doing now.”
As the Sox’ in-game host, Bergamini’s primary duty is enhancing the overall game-day experience during each half inning. She memorizes scripts – ad-libbing when necessary, which on a live broadcast is frequently – and incorporates sponsors and promotional elements into each relatively short segment.
“No two games are the same, which is why I am constantly thinking fast on my feet,” she said. “You don’t have rehearsals or anything for baseball.”
She hosts pre-recorded bits such as “Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em, Send ‘Em Down,” during which she asks White Sox players what they would do as manager with three “players” if given the options in the segment’s title: pencil them into the starting lineup, bench them, or ship them to the minors. The players the guests are choosing from aren’t always human – they could be types of foods, leisure activities or something else.
Bergamini also freelances as a sports reporter for the Comcast Network, covering both professional and high school sports, and last fall began hosting NBC Sports Chicago’s Friday Night Lites, a live weekly wrap of the best of all things in Chicago-area high school athletics.
“I love covering high school athletics,” she said. “The students are just so happy to be where they are, and they give the best interviews because they’re so raw and open and so excited to be on TV. I didn’t know that I was going to be a highs school reporter, but I am, and I love it.”
She had the opportunity to cover her alma mater last November when Marist battled Lincoln-Way East in the football Class 8A semifinals, and she returns to the school annually as a guest speaker to talk with students in a broadcast journalism class.
“They listen and hang on every word I say, and they ask great questions, and I’m very open and honest with them,” she said. “Then they’ll follow me on social media or I’ll see them at games, and it’s just a lot of fun. They’re so passionate about whatever they’re doing at the time.”
She has always enjoyed sports and is a lifelong White Sox fan, but her passion for sports was ignited during her years at the University of Iowa, where she earned her degree in broadcast journalism. The fact Iowa has no major professional sports teams provided her a new perspective.
“I realized where I came from, that I grew in a place with such a rich sports history,” she said. “I love interviewing players and coaches and getting their story beyond the box score – not just how the game went, but where they came from and how they ended up here. So many athletes have such amazing stories that I don’t think are covered.”
A Happy Return
The saying is that absence makes the heart grow fonder. An extended period sheltering in and being away from social gatherings and without live sporting events may foster a renewed sense of appreciation once everyday life returns to normal. Major League Baseball has not determined when it will begin playing the 2020 season, but when Opening Day does finally come, Bergamini believes there will be even more excitement than usual.
“I just think it’ll be that much better when we have baseball back in our lives,” she said. “Everyone is already so excited for this season and I feel that’s just going to be doubled now. Even for people who aren’t big sports fans, they’re just going to want to get outside and go to a game, go out for some entertainment. Everything is up in the air right now, but when it does happen it’s going to be so much fun.”
Sox fans have been anticipating 2020 with more enthusiasm and optimism than any season in recent years. The South Siders haven’t had a winning season since going 85-77 in 2012 and have been stuck in a years-long rebuild, but with a young core of talented players that includes Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez, along with veteran Jose Abreu and free agent signings Edwin Encarnacion, Yasmani Grandal and Dallas Keuchel, the Sox are expected to take a big step toward being a team that can contend for a playoff spot.
“It’s been such good vibes starting with SoxFest and by the end of January you could just tell how different it’s been than in years past,” Bergamini said. “The past three years have been rocky because of the rebuild, but that’s the point of a rebuild; and now we’ve got a team that can maybe compete for the Wild Card. I feel when this season does start people are going to pay attention to us.
“(General manager) Rick Hahn has done a great job and they’re setting themselves up for success. I’ve worked for them for eight seasons and I’ve seen a lot of bad games, so I’m looking forward to seeing the good ones.”
Bergamini began working for Sox’ marketing team while in college and worked her way up to being in-game host. She described working for her favorite hometown team as “wild,” but it’s also humbling, and she is grateful every day for the opportunity to exercise her passion for sports.
“It all happened so organically, which I think makes it even that much sweeter,” she said. “It has been a dream and I don’t want it to end until they make me quit or until it grows into a bigger role.
“When I’m [at the park] working, I’m best version of myself and I love it. I always want to be there; I’m never like, ‘I don’t want to go to work today.
“There are so many jobs out there where people are putting their lives on the line,” she added, and referenced the health care professionals who are treating people stricken by the coronavirus. “This is fun for me, and I don’t really see myself doing anything else.”