Good Sports

By Dave Good
Photo by Brevin Blach

At first glance, Jane Mitchell doesn’t seem like someone who would care to unlock the inner mysteries of the lives of pro ballplayers. But with 26 Emmy Awards and close to 100 episodes under her belt, the host of 4SD Channel 4 San Diego’s One on One with Jane Mitchell has emerged as one of this city’s best producers of sports biographies. As such, over the past dozen years, Mitchell has interviewed a roster of home-town sports talent including Ted Williams (“Nobody expected he would sit with me for an hour; it went longer”) Ken Caminiti (“He was an old soul”) and Trevor Hoffman (“In a word? ‘Intense’”).

Quick to smile and lacking pretense, Mitchell says she did not grow up as a sports fan. But when the opportunity was presented to develop sports programming for Channel 4, she didn’t waver. She may not have known a thing about professional athletes, but she did know how to tell a story on camera.

“I was a hard-news reporter for nine years,” she says, having worked in Texas and Oklahoma before returning to her hometown of San Diego in the early 1990s. “I covered it all-tornados, weather, drug busts, city politics and plane crashes.”

It was after producing special coverage for the Republican National Convention here that Mitchell joined forces with Cox Communications. In 1997, she went to her first Spring Training, and the crack of a baseball bat sending one deep into the stratosphere changed her life.

“I fell in love with baseball that day,” Mitchell says. Her mission thereafter became a combination of passions: “What I loved, which is storytelling, and what I grew to love, which is baseball.” Ken Caminiti was one of Mitchell’s first interviews. He was known for being guarded on camera, but after an hour and a half, Mitchell had nailed one of the more self-revealing interviews ever given by the late Padres star. “He said that, in the beginning, he didn’t like baseball as a kid, that he was afraid of getting hit by the ball and that, when it finally happened, it didn’t hurt as much as he thought it would.”

If One on One has a goal, Mitchell says, it is to go beyond the box score. “These guys are real people,” she says. (Indeed, Geoff Blum of the Houston Astros breaks down twice during his on-screen chat with Mitchell.) “Our mission is to connect the fans with the players. We feel that the way to do that is to get to know them as people.”

“At the time, getting to know the players on a personal level was not the norm, certainly not through interviews in their homes. This was fairly new territory and I was charting the course of the content and my style, not even knowing yet where this would end up.”

Excerpt from One on One: My Journey with Hall of Famers, Fan favorites, and Rising Stars, a brand new book by Jane Mitchell.

Jane Mitchell says everybody wanted to know what it was like to hang with the legends of baseball. A book, she thought, could be a means to tell all of her behind-the-story stories. She began writing in 2007, on New years Eve.

“My father thought that baseball was the most boring game ever.” The irony is not lost on her-he died from Lou Gehrig’s Disease, or ALS. His illness is what brought Mitchell back to San Diego, in 1992, in a random turn of events that led her to redirect her career from hard news reporter to television sports biographer and, now, author.