Early this past April, Wind Lake native and Muskego High School graduate Trenni Kusnierek accepted a job with WTMJ 620, as a Co-host for Sports Central and as a sports reporter.
Last week Patch had a chance to sit down with Kusnierek and hear what it’s like being in big-league clubhouses, being a female in a traditionally male-driven position, and what it meant for her to come back home to the Milwaukee area. Here’s what she had to say.
Q: The new job is a pretty big deal, isn’t it?
A: Yeah, it’s a really big deal, and it really took me by surprise to be quite honest. I was approached by TMJ in late February…so the process took about six weeks until I started.
“I actually just returned from a service trip from India and was kind of tossing around some things that I was thinking about doing and actually, after volunteering in India I was contemplating getting into nonprofit work. So I was working part-time for the Wave of Hope, which is the Milwaukee Wave’s charitable arm. So we agreed to a 30 or 60-day trial period - somewhere in there - for me to try out the job, see if I liked it and then we would go from there.
(In the meantime) I had gotten a voicemail from Joe Scialfa, who is the assistant program director here at TMJ saying, ‘Hey, we’re just kind of curious how you’re doing, what you’re up to. Give me a call.’ And so that kind of got things going.
It was a fairly lengthy interview process with a number of different people in upper management here and it wasn’t until the day they offered me the contract that they said, ‘You know, we haven’t been able to come to terms with Bill Michaels and we’re going to move in a different direction and we’d like you, along with Greg Matzek, to take over Sports Central,’ and literally my jaw dropped. ‘Oh, that wasn’t what I was expecting.’
I thought I was going to come in as a reporter and kind of work my way up. Obviously TV is my background; I don’t have a lot of talk show host experience. I’ve done a lot of radio in the past but more sporadically.
So I was really surprised, and really flattered, and really excited. For me it was a no-brainer. I love Milwaukee. I really wanted to stay here, put my roots down here; obviously this is where I’m from so I graciously accepted the job and it’s been awesome ever since.
Q: How much more rewarding is it that you’re a female in a job that’s traditionally dominated by males?
A: I don’t know numbers-wise how many other female sports talk show hosts there are, but I there is not all that many. The only one that really sticks out in my mind, I think Michelle Tafoya who is now with NBC, I think when she was with ESPN she did some fill-in talk radio.
The only other person who I can think of off the top of my head who has her own show was, there was a woman by the name of the Fabulous Sports Babe. She was a national sports talk show host a while ago, I want to say in the 90’s maybe and she was really well respected, people really liked her. But that’s really it. She was really the only one to go national and have her own show. It’s very, very, very rare.”
Q: Has this new job opened any new doors for you?
A: Because I’ve been in this business for so long, and even on the national level I worked for MLB Network, I wouldn’t say it’s really opened any doors. You know, I go into the Brewers clubhouse because I travel with most of the guys on the team, and even if I didn’t travel with them they knew me from the network. So I already had those kind of relationships, at least in baseball, already established.
The biggest thing for me is, as a professional move, it’s been really professionally gratifying. You come into a job where it doesn’t matter that I’m a female, it doesn’t matter that I’m blonde, it doesn’t matter that I’m a size four, all that matters is that I know what I’m talking about.
They (TMJ) thought enough of my knowledge and the way that I carry myself in locker rooms and clubhouses and my understanding of sports that they allow me to talk about it for two hours every night and then also during Wisconsin’s afternoon news. So for me it’s just been really such a change from what I was doing before. I get to sit and talk about sports through my entire job. I get to blog every day. I’m required to blog, so I get to go ahead and actually put my opinion out there.
Q: Most people don’t get the access to athletes you do. Any cool stories you can share that come to mind?
A: They’re definitely normal people. I think sometimes we expect them be superheroes because they have such extraordinary talent but I’ve been really lucky and had some really neat experiences with some people in the game.
I’ve had a chance to talk with Tommy Lasorda at length and he’s got stories upon stories upon stories because he’s played in the league for so long and managed and now as a special assistant for the Dodgers.
I’ve gotten to know Joe Mauer’s family a little bit because I was in town with the Minnesota Twins and you get to see a different side. You see this hometown kid who’s a superstar and then you meet his mom and his dad and his brother and you’re like, he’s really just a kid from the upper Midwest, a pretty normal family that loves to drink Miller Lite. They’re just a good group of people.
Some of my neatest experiences have been with Jim Thome. I have nothing but really nice things to say about him. Jim is the kind of guy that just remembers everything about you and he’s really conscientious and polite. I remember and instance in the 2009 season and my boyfriend at the time’s father was battling cancer and I was talking to Jim about it because his family was going through something similar and a year later I ran into Jim at U.S. Cellular Field when he was playing for the Twins and he said, “Hey, how’s your boyfriend and how’s your boyfriend’s dad doing?’…Most players aren’t like that. It’s not because they’re not good guys, but you have to keep in mind that they meet hundreds of people a week. Jim has always been the kind of guy, no matter how long time goes between seeing you he always remembers something. He’s really good about that, which really impressed me because I hadn’t had that happen a lot in my career.
Jason Kendall always took good care of me in a way that wasn’t inappropriate. He really was like an older brother; he looked out for me and always asked how I was doing. If he ever thought I was in an uncomfortable situation, he’d shoot a look like, ‘Hey, that’s not alright. You don’t treat her like that.’
So I’ve been really lucky because as a female you can encounter guys who aren’t necessarily disrespectful, but you are a woman and you’re with a bunch of guys, it’s not uncommon for someone to ask you out on a date or flirt with you or hit on you. I’ve been really lucky to have guys treat me really well.”
You’ve worked all over the country and even the world with your work in India. Was it a big deal to come back home?
A: It is nice to be able to come home. I’m glad I had all those other experiences. I’m glad I got to work in Pittsburgh, I’m glad I got to live and work in New York City, I’m glad I got the national experience and exposure from working at MLB Network and NLF Network and ABC Sports and the Big Ten Network, I’ve been really lucky in my career to have a lot of different opportunities but at this point in my life, and this point just kind of where I am personally and professionally, I just am really happy that I can do what I like doing, covering the teams that I grew up rooting for and doing a job that I love.
I don’t think there’s a lot of people out there that actually look forward to going to work. I don’t look forward to going everyday. There are times when I’d rather go to the beach or lie on my couch and watch a movie, but I would say 9 out of every 10 days, I’m really excited to go to the office.