A Dugout Tale with Jessica Kleinschmidt

May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month and like the various heritage and Pride months that are celebrated in the United States I find it to be both a celebration of cultures and big neon sign that says we live in a society that is so backwards that we still must remember our diverse communities and force ourselves to think about what they have endured and continue to endure in some ways. Let us first look at some reasons as to why we celebrate, and how we can do so respectfully.

Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month is set aside to acknowledge the contributions that members of this community have made to the United States and all over the world. The need to remember the contributions of the AAPI has reached a point of urgency as the anti-Asian hate crimes have seen a spike over the last couple of years since the start of the Covid pandemic.

May was chosen as AAPI Heritage Month because long before we cared to remember the first Japanese immigrants arrive in the county in May of 1843; and just over 25 years later, the transcontinental railroad was complete and worked out by roughly 200,000 Chinese immigrants under some of the worst conditions.

The United States would finally acknowledge AAPI in 1979 when President Carter signed a proclamation if the first AAPI week, and another thirteen years until Congress would pass an amendment that created AAPI Month. Through these political actions, May is now use to celebrate and amplify AAPI voices and concerns as the uptick in violence toward the community was up 150% in 2020, even when overall hate crimes were down according to a study done by the group Stop AAPI Hate.

While this is a time for AAPI to celebrate, the rest of us must consider taking the time to understand and educate ourselves about a culture other than our own. I took this opportunity to sit down with Jessica Kleinschmidt, multimedia journalist for the Oakland Athletics of Major League Baseball, and speak to her about baseball, her Filipino ethnicity, and what AAPI Heritage Month means to her.

Sitting down with Jessica made me realize that I have never really given much thought about my Mexican ethnicity. I have a background in sociology, so I know what I am supposed to know about my ethnicity, but I never really considered how I learned about who I was or where my family came from. Jessica shared a story of how she first discovered that she was different through a bowl of rice, and pizza.

“When we would make food, we would always have rice, and I spent the night at a friend’s house, and I was waiting for us to eat, and we had pizza…I was waiting while they all started eating, and my friend’s mom asked, “what are you waiting for, aren’t you going to eat?”, and I [asked] when is the rice going to come”?

Jessica shared that when she got home the next day and told her mother about what took place at her friend’s house her mother took the time to share her family’s background and culture and it was from there that she began to see and understand her life in a different way.

What does AAPI Heritage Month mean to you?

It’s about awareness and about embracing the fact that we’re different. Understanding there’s a lot of stereotypes and racism out there so when people meet me, they’re like, “Well, you don’t look Asian”, and that’s where it kind of stems from. It was actually Tony Kemp, one of the players here who taught me about how racist things are; he would be told, “well, you don’t sound black… you sound educated”. For me, it was the same thing. I was like, what does an Asian look like to you? Don’t ever ask that to people, because, of course, that adds to the stereotypes, but it was also about the fact that’s what I wanted to learn, like why am I different and to embrace the fact that I’m different. There are a lot of shitty things going on in the Asian community, there’s a lot of violent crimes and hate crimes that I wasn’t even aware of, especially living in the Bay Area where that population is so significant. I want to know what’s going on, and there [are] ways to help and to show people that being Asian doesn’t mean you have to look a certain way and or act a certain way and we’re still here, and we’re so proud of our lineage. My family worked really hard to come to America and I love that for them. So being able to celebrate how hard we worked to make a better life for ourselves is just phenomenal.

What do you think people can do to raise awareness about the important issues that impact your community?

Its just starting with asking the right questions, it doesn’t even have to be the right question, just be curious, and instead of saying, “you don’t look Asian” [ask], “tell me about your background” or “do you still practice the culture that you grew up having”? For us, it started with food, and then that turned into asking, “When did you guys come over to America”? “What was it like being raised in the Philippines”, and online has tons of stuff you can look up, take classes, and my DMs are always open. Tony and Michelle Kemp’s DMs are always open because they want to teach about the +1 Effect [and] systematic racism, racial injustice, and police brutality.

Jessica is now proud of her ethnicity, but it took time to grow, understand and accept who she was at first.

That bowl of rice reminded me how different I was and how much we just marched to the beat of our own drum. When I was little, that was weird. It was weird to have rice with everything and that turned into me embracing the fact that this is what I like to do, this is what my family likes to do and it’s okay to be different, if anything it’s way more beautiful to be different. When you’re so young, learning that is difficult because you want to be like everybody else. You don’t want to be the last one picked in dodgeball. You want to be the first or the second and not have to stand there waiting and now it’s like, you want to be proud of who you are, you’re going to rub people the wrong way. Also, just the fact that knowing that I did have a different background than a lot of people, that immediately made me know I was going to handle my career and personal relationships differently. It is just really cool to know that I was able to say I’m different than everybody else, and it all has to do with my somewhat insane Filipino mother.

Having been raised in a Mexican household, I very much could relate to having rice with every meal, coupled with beans of course. Thanksgiving meals were always, turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and a side of rice and beans.

I began to cover the Bay Bridge Series back in 2019 when I started writing my book about the River Cats because of the ties that both teams have to Sacramento. In 2021 I had the opportunity to meet Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, who I have been a fan of since her days at the Sacramento Bee in the 90s. I’ve enjoyed her work and her career for not only what she’s accomplished in this profession but how she went about doing it. It was an awkward moment for me as I stumbled over my words and shook her hand. Susan was ever so gracious and humble throughout the whole thing and I’m grateful for the time she gave to me. In preparing to meet with Jessica I discovered that Susan has also been an inspiration in her career as well.

Susan Slusser certainly does [inspire me], and I feel like it’s because she taught me just to stay true to who I was…I remember watching her and she stayed true to who she was. She also asked the questions she was genuinely curious about and watching her ask questions, from a journalistic perspective made me ask questions from a personal perspective, and whether it’s, “Hey, can you help me with something”? and seeing how she carries herself with confidence helped me with my career.

It was at this point in our conversation that I thought back to just prior to sitting down with Jessica today during A’s Maganger Mark Kotsay’s pre-game interview. I happened to be standing behind Jessica during the media conference and while I stood there with my voice recorder, I could see Jessica with her recorder in hand, and an old-fashioned pen and notebook, jotting down quotes, and seamlessly asking the right questions. Watching her in that interview was a work of art, and she inspired me, humbled me, and made me think of the day I first met her.

I introduced myself to Jessica before the final game of the Bay Bridge series in Oakland last year. I had just started to follow her on Twitter and Instagram earlier in the year because of her podcast with Rachel Luba called Cork’d Up. While it was a brief encounter I was surprised when Jessica said that she recognized my username on Twitter and gave me a hug when we met as though we had known each other for years. I was a bit shocked that she had even known that I existed and taken aback at how forward she was with the hug, but I’ve learned since then, that’s just Jessica; honest and real to herself. While my first interaction is not as significant, I can see the similarities in Jessica’s story of meeting Susan Slusser for the first time.

I saw her [Susan Slusser] at A’s FanFest 2018 And I just walked in front of her and said, “nice to meet you”, and she goes, “you do a really good job”, and for somebody that does a phenomenal job to say that was sensational. At the time of course we worked together on the A’s beat, and now not only do I look up to her as a mentor, she is one of my closest friends.

In a 2021 interview with Nevada Sport Net, Jessica said about her journalism style as wanting to “Think about these guys as the heartbeats underneath their uniforms”, and I felt that. Having studied sociology I try to focus on more of the human element of a story than I do the numbers when writing my own work, so I wanted to know what Jessica felt was the most difficult part of this journalistic style for her.

I think it’s developing the relationships and even that’s not necessarily challenging, but I have to remind myself that that’s the reason why I’m so different, people are going to embrace that in a different way. You’re used to a game story, you’re going to get the slash line, you’re going to say this is how Paul Blackburn did, and that’s fine; but I want to talk about the fact that he got a little emotional talking about how he shares an ERA group with Justin Verlander, or how he talked about Shohei Ohtani’s numbers being like that of a video game. [James Kaprielian walks by us] There is James Kaprielian and he emulates what Kobe Bryant does because he looks up to Kobe Bryant. Tony Kemp, I talk to him as a dad and a husband. People are going to want to know about the curveballs, and I can still talk about that, but I want you to know who these people actually are. Yes, they are superstars, but they go home to their families, and I think it’s the normal things that can be the challenging part.

I fell ass backwards into writing about baseball through a fit of desperation, and the Sacramento River Cats allowed me to cut my teeth with their organization and its been full speed ahead ever since. I studied sociology in college, took one journalism class on mass media as an undergrad just for the transfer units, and while I could write a good research paper, I lacked the experience in writing a gripping story, or being able to ask the right question, or even how to just get in there and ask any question. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, but I was starting to feel like I was beginning to make some progress as a freelance journalist this year. Sitting down with Jessica made me realize that she just gave me a Master’s course in twenty minutes.

Having been at this now since 2018, I still like to take a step back and take in what I get to experience every summer, and last week after a game in Sacramento, I asked a cohort who has been on assignment, if she ever does the same. We reminisced of when we used to sit in the stands, and to those thoughts of wishing we could walk on the field with the players, and here we were, doing just that. Looking up into the crowd from the field is a different feeling. Whether it be at Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton, California for Single-A ball, or in Sacramento’s Sutter Health Park for Triple-A, or seeing the massive stadiums in the Majors, the feeling always humbles me, but this isn’t my livelihood. I don’t rely on what I’m producing to pay my bills, so I asked Jessica if she as a professional has ever taken the time to reflect on where she is in her career.

That’s a great question. I need to do that more often because I ask the players that a lot. I just asked Paul Blackburn last night, “You’ve come a long way, do you have a chance to think about that”? He’s like, “No I haven’t”, and not in a bad way, I’m jealous of him because he just doesn’t over think things, and I’m like, oh that must be nice; but every now then sure. I need to do that more though because I also know that when I do interviews with people, I do like to have that connection with them, and I do get to step back and think about it. Overall, though, no. Every now and then I do need to just sit in the crowd for fun because at the end of the day, I grew up a baseball fan. I grew up playing baseball.

Jessica wasn’t only a baseball fan, but she was an A’s fan, and her dreams began here at the Coliseum when she was 12 years old.

What I’m most proud of about my career is the fact that I was 12 years old at this exact stadium watching Eric Chavez hit a homerun, and the moment I got home I told my dad, “I’m going to be the A’s reporter one day. I’m going to do it” and the best part was he just said, “Ok, lets do it”. Unfortunately, it was the last game that he and I ever went to, Major League Baseball wise, but it was the fact that I said I wanted to do it, and I did it. I also know that a lot of girls and young women are looking up to me, and to give them advice has been phenomenal. I keep it real, and as many mentors as I possess, I’m mentoring a lot of people, and I think that’s something that I’m very proud of.

The Oakland A’s have been managed by Bob Melvin for the entirety of Jessica’s professional career until this season when Mark Kotsay took the reins, and I was curious about the changes she has seen with the new skipper at the helm.

Its really interesting that you ask that because A’s managers seem to have a specific vibe about them, and that’s laid back. For Bob, he was my manager for four years and I learned so much from him. I just saw him recently when the A’s were playing the Padres right after the Sean Manaea trade, so everyone was emotional. Not just the fact that Bob was returning to the A’s Spring Training facility where he was for a decade, but he gave me a big hug, and I didn’t even know he was a hugger. For Kotsay, he worked under BoMel, and he was able to learn so much from him but also his managerial style is very Kotsay, its very So. Cal guy and he’s fine. He’s easy to talk to and he’s still trying to figure it out which I understand…but the best part of the two, and the most imperative for the A’s is they let the players be themselves, and that’s beyond the playing field.

Jessica is well aware of the heartache that every A’s fan goes through during the off season when one of their favorite players is traded away for young talent. This past off season, the fans were dealt some hard blows when Matt Olsen was sent to Atlanta, and Matt Chapman was shipped north of the border to Toronto. Trades that sent ripples through baseball, but at the same time were par for the course here in Oakland. Having a finger on the pulse of all things A’s I asked Jessica about the fans reactions and how they are accepting the newest members of the organization.

We can’t really make an assessment on them until they are in the Bigs because they’re all playing in the PCL, which I joke that I’m hitting .300 in the PCL, because the balls fly there. I’m a Reno Aces girl and I hated interviewing the pitchers after those games, but I also know that you have to give them the benefit of the doubt. You look at Christian Pache, when Olson was traded, a lot of baseball fans who are Braves fan said, “you got so spoiled”, not one person said you guys overpaid with Matt Olson. With Langeliers who you mentioned, the guy is just solid. I’ve watched him hit, and I think he can do a really good job with transitioning. With Pache, his defense is second to none. He’s a lot like Ramon Laureano where if the ball is near him, runners are not going to run. His offense hasn’t been great, but I talked to Kotsay about it yesterday and the ones that stood out to everybody were his hard-hit balls. He’s getting unlucky, hitting them where everybody is, which is difficult, but at the same time, when it comes to that he’s going to figure it out. He’s still young, he’s so important to this organization, just from a flashy player perspective, and that’s the diving catches, and the fact that he’s very approachable, and he loves the young fans. He’s very imperative to the success of this place.

Kevin Smith has been doing a fabulous job as well. He was acquired in the Chapman trade, and I think he’s trying to get a feel for the actual foul space right now, and I asked Kotsay about him today and he said he’s becoming a more natural third baseman, he’s usually a shortstop so its good to see him transition from that. His hitting has been really good…and he carries himself well. I think the [fans] just need to have faith. The front office always knows what they’re doing with the budget that they’re given, and I’ve been very impressed so far.

The Oakland A’s did their part in celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islanders Heritage Month this weekend but it was extra special in that Shohei Ohtani and the Los Angeles Angels rolled into town. Jessica tells of the Saturday double-header that included a walk off home run by Luis Barrera in Game 1, and Shohei Ohtani’s 100th career home run in Game 2.

From a journalistic perspective, it was great, but in a different way. Like I love a walk off and I love the Shohei home run, but one of our communications assistants, Sergio, it was his time to shine. He went on TV and got to be the interpreter for Luis [Barrera] and that made me like a happy big sister. I’ve been covering Luis Barrera for years, he got his big-league debut last season, so it was emotional to see him not only do well, but he had a crappy couple of innings…and we forgot about that because he had a walk off home run. That’s the beauty of baseball is that you get a chance to redeem yourself every time. I try to look at that from both a career perspective and life perspective. You can fuck up, but you’re going to have another chance to make it better. Then of course there is Shohei Ohtani who I think every home run he hits is a big deal but for him to do it here is great and I love how even the fans embrace how much of a superstar he is because he is so important to the game. A two-way player is going to help kids too…and I think that’s important as well. He’s done amazing things, and I love to see the culture he brings, he’s an international superstar and that’s important to the game.

Sitting down with Jessica was an amazing experience. She talks about wanting to connect with the players, and with her audience, and I can attest to that during my time in the dugout with her. On a superficial level, she comes off like your best friend that you can sit down with to enjoy the game and eat nachos while sipping on your favorite adult beverage, but Jessica’s like an onion, she has layers. She is an advocate for understanding diversity and ending hate, she’s a role model to women, she’s Filipina and she’s proud; but at the end of the day, and for as much as I’ve hyped her up, Jessica Kleinschmidt is still a human who embraces her “silliness” and “stupidness”, and once accidentally said “fart” live on the air.

So, what’s next for Jessica Kleinschmidt? She loves being in front of the camera, on the radio, in podcasts, and producing content, and wants to be, in her own words, “The Mike Trout of baseball media”. She’s no longer wet behind the ears in her journalism career, but her star is only beginning to shine. You can follow Jessica on Twitter @KleinschmidtJD or Instagram @jessicakleinschmidt.

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