A minor league announcer reported an assault, and ‘In the end, it hurt me’

It was Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, and Maura Sheridan sat on the edge of a bed in the basement apartment she had rented in Philadelphia. It was a dark space, and cold, one small, portable heater against the 30-degree chill seeping in from outside.

At 11:30 a.m., her phone buzzed. It was a text from Erik Bremer, a friend and fellow minor league broadcaster.

Starting in February 2020, Sheridan had been the play-by-play voice for the Lynchburg (Va.) Hillcats, the Single-A affiliate of the Cleveland Guardians. The Syracuse alum was gradually working her way up the broadcasting ladder. In 2017, she was a summer intern in the Cape Cod League; In 2019, she was an assistant broadcaster with the Houston Astros’ High-A team in Fayetteville, Ark.

The job with the Hillcats was an important step for her — and for the team. The Hillcats issued a press release about the historic addition of the then-23-year-old Sheridan, the first female broadcaster in team history. Sheridan’s “wealth of broadcasting experience” was praised by the team’s president. It was no coincidence that the team’s announcement, on Feb. 5, 2020, coincided with National Girls and Women in Sports Day.

Bremer’s text to Sheridan included a link to a job posting: For the position of radio broadcaster for the Lynchburg Hillcats. (The Athletic has viewed these text messages.)

Sheridan was, at first, confused. She posted a screenshot of the job listing to a group chat of minor league female broadcasters. They tried to make sense of it. It couldn’t be her job, right? Maybe she was getting an assistant, or an intern. 

But the posting sure seemed like it was for her job.

What should I do? She texted Bremer, who responded: Call the most important person there and ask for an explanation. She called Lynchburg’s team president and general manager Chris Jones and left a message. She then called assistant GM Lincoln Evans. No answer.

She called her parents. She called other broadcasters, seeking advice, but no one could tell her how to handle this particular situation. She made more calls, some ending with her in tears, but still no word from the Hillcats.

“It was the worst 24 hours I’ve ever had in this industry,” she says.

Not long after seeing the post, Sheridan began receiving LinkedIn messages and texts from broadcasters she didn’t know who had seen the job posting: Could she perhaps put in a good word for them? Strangers were asking her to help them get a job that, up until that morning, she’d thought was hers.

Amid the silence from the team, when she had so many questions and no answers, sitting in the cold, dark, rented apartment, what Sheridan kept coming back to, the reason she believed she hadn’t been retained but was never told:

“I can’t help but think,” she says, “it was retaliation.”


The COVID-19 pandemic cost minor league baseball its 2020 season, meaning that minus writing a few press releases, Sheridan didn’t fully start her job until 2021.

The Hillcats were coming off a six-game series in Kannapolis, N.C., when the schedule gave Lynchburg a boon: a Monday off day in Myrtle Beach. The team left Sunday night, Aug. 29, to enjoy the full day, with many players’ families coming to meet them and hang out at the beach, which was walkable from the team’s hotel. Sheridan slept in and went to the pool. She read and relaxed. Later in the day, a bunch of players filtered back to the hotel and ended up at the pool as well. Some of them were drinking, and some chatted with her.

An integral part of a broadcaster’s job is building trust and relationships with players, so that they will talk to you about their arsenal, their background, their walk-up songs. “It was rare for me to have those casual moments with them,” she says. “They’re always either super cautious of you, because some of them don’t get who you are and why are you even here. Or other times there’s a flirtation there that’s unwanted.”

Sheridan says relief pitcher Daritzon Feliz had approached her a few months prior on the road, proposing a date when he saw her in the hallway of the team hotel. She politely declined. The 22-year-old Feliz also sent her multiple messages on Instagram, most of which went unanswered. (The Athletic has viewed those messages.) Sheridan says she tried to let Feliz down easy, fearful that embarrassing him could have repercussions on her relationship with the rest of the team.

“Looking back,” she says. “I wish I hadn’t been so polite.”

That day at the beach, another Hillcat player, one Sheridan trusted, told her some of the players were going upstairs to hang out, she says. Sheridan was planning on politely declining, going back to her room and saying over text message that her stomach hurt. But when she got into the hotel elevator to go up to her room, she says Feliz got in after her.

“That’s when things started to get physical,” Sheridan says, “and I started to get really uncomfortable.”

She says Feliz pushed the hotel button for the fifth floor, and ushered her out. Sheridan, not wanting to offend anyone, made a quick change of plans: She’d go to the gathering of players, say hello, and quickly leave. But when they got to the room, there was no one else there. She says Feliz grabbed the back of Sheridan’s oversized t-shirt, holding her in a way where she couldn’t break free. He threw her on the bed, she says, and ripped off her shorts.

Then, she says, Feliz laid on top of her and started aggressively grabbing and kissing her neck, leaving marks. “I kept saying, ‘I’ll get fired for this, you’ll get fired for this.’ And he just kept pulling me back (to him), touching me and he said he didn’t care if he got fired because I was worth it. And I said, ‘No, I don’t want to.’ He immediately wanted to have sex, which was scary because that was obviously not my intention.”

When there was a knock at the door a few minutes later, Sheridan used the distraction – she says Feliz quickly ushered away some teammates – to text Jill Gearin, a friend and fellow minor league broadcaster.

“I’m in a very bad situation with my players I need help,” her message to Gearin read. (The Athletic has viewed these messages, dated Aug. 30, 2021, which begin at 3:25 p.m.) Gearin texted Sheridan to call her or respond in gibberish if she needed the police. Sheridan then texted, “I’m in a fucked up situation. Jill I’m not sure if they are going to try to do something bad.”

She also texted the player who originally invited her to the gathering. He responded that he was showering and would be there soon. Feliz stopped trying to have sex with her when that player entered the room a short time later. But Feliz was still laying on her, holding her legs on the bed, Sheridan says, and he was between her and the hotel door for the entire time. She says she mouthed to the other player, “I don’t want to be here,” but he didn’t respond or react. (The player declined comment.)

Gearin had told her if she didn’t get word that Sheridan was safe within five minutes, she was going to call the hotel and alert security, which she did. Meanwhile, Feliz got up and ushered the other player out of his room after a few minutes. Sheridan says she then was able to run out of the room before security arrived.

“The next thing I know,” Gearin says, “Maura was calling me crying.”

Sheridan told Gearin that she still didn’t feel safe in her room, so Sheridan went down to the beach. There, Sheridan says she ran into a few other players who noticed she was upset. Sheridan told those players Feliz had “gotten handsy” but didn’t offer any details. (One of the players confirmed this exchange.)

Feliz denied the allegations in a voice message: “I know I am innocent. I know I didn’t do anything. . . But sometimes things don’t go in a good way for you.” In a later written message, he said the only thing that happened in the room was that Sheridan “got scared” that she would be fired for being there with him. He also said that he didn’t cause the marks on her neck.

The league, which also interviewed Gearin, suspended Feliz for the 2022 season. But he had already been released by the organization by then; his release was listed in Baseball America’s minor league transactions from Jan 28-Feb. 18, 2022.

“It’s been tough for me to get suspended, get released, get your career down for something that somebody said and everybody trusted,” Feliz said in a voice message.

Sheridan says that in the week after the incident, she found herself spiraling. She drank heavily that week and, while she worked the game each night, she doesn’t remember much of anything until that Friday, when then-Hillcats manager Dennis Malave pulled her aside post-game. Malave wanted to know if the players had been treating her well.

She broke down in tears and told Malave generally what had happened: Feliz had gotten physical with her. (Malave confirmed he spoke with Sheridan through a Cleveland official, though the official did not provide details of that exchange.) Sheridan says she showed Malave her neck, which still had noticeable scratch marks.

“I said, ‘This is something he did to me,’” Sheridan says. “And that’s when things got crazy.”


 

Malave alerted Cleveland’s front office by calling James Harris, vice president of player development. Harris looped in president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti and then-Guardians assistant general manager Carter Hawkins, who called Sheridan on Saturday afternoon, according to phone records provided to The Athletic. She says Hawkins told her that they had removed Feliz from the hotel and the incident was being reported through the Guardians club counsel to MLB.

It was the first and last time she heard from anyone with Cleveland.

“He was sympathetic,” Sheridan says of Hawkins. “And then it just sort of felt like they passed me off (to the league).”

Hawkins, who was named the Cubs new general manager in October, deferred all comment to Cleveland. Antonetti said in a statement provided to The Athletic: “In September 2021, a woman not employed by the Cleveland Guardians shared an allegation of inappropriate sexual conduct by a Guardians minor league player. Upon learning of the allegation, we promptly reported the incident to Major League Baseball’s Department of Investigations. The player was disciplined as a result of the investigation and is no longer a member of the organization.”

According to Sheridan, Jones, Lynchburg’s GM and president, called after Hawkins and said that Hillcats ownership, the Elmore Sports Group, had offered to get Sheridan a flight home. She declined. “It didn’t seem fair that I had to leave if (Feliz) gets to stay,” Sheridan says. “It seemed like they were trying to sweep it under the rug.”

She had been working games all week. Saturday was the only game she missed, as she was waiting for the Horry County Police (S.C.)  to show up. MLB’s investigators, who Sheridan also spoke to that day, offered to connect her with local law enforcement. A police officer waited with Sheridan until a detective showed up to interview her.

“(The police) kept saying it was up to me if I wanted to press charges,” Sheridan says of the sexual assault allegation, “and I still have that option.” The Athletic has viewed the open incident report on file at the Horry County Police Department.

Sheridan stayed in the broadcast booth and finished out the season with the Hillcats, who played their last regular-season game on Sept. 19.

She says she didn’t hear from Jones, Hawkins or anyone with Lynchburg or Cleveland after the season about the incident or her job status. No one checked in to see how she was doing.

Sheridan sought therapy on her own. And, week after week, she was improving. Then Bremer, currently a broadcaster for the Marlins Double-A Pensacola team, sent Sheridan the screenshot of the job posting.

Sheridan had to call Jones multiple times before she finally reached him the following day.

Sheridan says Jones told her that he thought she had said she wasn’t coming back. “And I said, ‘Don’t you think I would remember that conversation?’” Sheridan says. “He told me the team thought they would give this position to someone that wouldn’t get it otherwise. He was acting like he had given me a job as a charity case as a woman. And it was a one-year situation and then I was done. He said the position is not going to travel anymore and the hours are cut, and the pay is cut.

“To me, it felt like a very obvious response to what had happened. They didn’t want to have a broadcaster become a liability on the road.”

Jones said there was “no malicious intent” in the team not alerting Sheridan that the position was being posted. “The radio jobs are all seasonal positions. Every year, you know, I changed radio people almost every year. Like it’s always the same thing. They contact you that they want to come back or you go out and find another one. It’s not like — I didn’t not give her the job.”

The previous two broadcasters for Lynchburg were Max Gun (two seasons) and Kyle West (four seasons).

The Athletic asked seven minor league broadcasters about the protocols around returning, and none of them had ever heard of a play-by-play job being posted online without first communicating with the incumbent talent.

“You usually have a year-end meeting,” says Gearin. “Even if someone is a bad worker, you tell them, ‘We don’t want you back.’ I have never heard of a situation where this happens.”

Said Jones: “It wasn’t about not bringing Maura back. We decided we didn’t have a great financial year, obviously after COVID in 2020, 2021 was not going to be a great financial year. We decided that we were going to make the position hourly and not travel. So I posted it and she contacted me and she’s like, am I coming back? I said, ‘Oh, you’re welcome to come back. I didn’t think you’d be interested.’ But it was an hourly position. And it’s no travel. So it’s kind of a downgrade. And then I never heard back from her.”

After talking to Jones, Sheridan went into a tailspin again. She interviewed for a few other jobs, but couldn’t even get interest for an assistant broadcast position. She struggled to explain to potential employers why she was no longer working for the Hillcats when asked. She wonders if other teams called Lynchburg to ask about her.

Her stress was compounded by not knowing what MLB’s investigators had found in their report. The Hillcats posted Sheridan’s job 64 days before MLB imposed discipline on Feliz on March 23.

After the punishment was handed down, Sheridan, who praised the support she got from MLB, again did not hear from anyone affiliated with Lynchburg.

“It makes me wonder if people understand when you hire women to do these jobs they are going to take bullets and you need to be able to support them,” Gearin says. “Everything adds up to Lynchburg punishing her. That or just the system we are stuck in that’s punishing her. She should have been able to get a job in baseball. She shouldn’t have had this cloud hanging over her.”


To make ends meet, Sheridan found some broadcast work with Temple’s women’s basketball and lacrosse and Princeton women’s hockey as well as Westchester University, which is a Division 2 school. It helped her fall back in love with broadcasting again. At the end of March, she landed a broadcast job with the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Her first day was the same day she found out about Feliz’s punishment from an MLB investigator.

“I took it as a sign,” she says, “that things were finally going to be OK.”

Sheridan’s hand trembles a few times and her eyes water as she revisits the past nine months over lunch in South Florida last month. Just two months ago, she says she would have needed breaks to cry or just “completely lose it” when thinking about what happened. She wrestled for months about whether to go public with her story, but “if I hadn’t said anything, this is going to sound dark, but I don’t know if I would be alive. I don’t think I could look at myself in the mirror.”

“I never regretted saying anything … (But) I do think that (reporting the assault), in the end, it hurt me in multiple ways.”

Sheridan did hear from Jones one more time, on April 1, when he asked in a text message if she had any media contacts or game notes for her successor. She did not respond. (The Athletic viewed this text message.) The Hillcats didn’t issue a press release or make an announcement when in March they hired a Liberty University grad student to be their new broadcaster.

Asked if he felt the Hillcats did enough to support Sheridan after she reported the incident, Jones said:  “Yes.”

Sheridan has a new therapist now. She is loving her NWSL job and is making enough money to afford a place of her own. She hasn’t ruled out a return to baseball someday, but has no desire to get back into the sport right now. And she doesn’t know if she’ll ever press charges against Feliz.

“I’m out of baseball now, so I feel safe,” Sheridan says. “They’re not going to punish me within the sport because I’m out of it. I was really scared about that for a while. If I go back and I say something, what are the other teams going to think? Now, I just feel like I’ve distanced from it and I’m really happy where I am.”

There are currently only three women in top broadcasting roles in the minor leagues, the same number as when Gearin got hired in 2019. For all the very public progress baseball has made in increasing its on-field diversity numbers, especially in the minor leagues, the sport still has systemic issues to reckon with.

“There needs to be a different view when we’re hiring women. It’s not just, ‘Oh, we get to make a big announcement.’ It’s, they’re part of the team,” Sheridan says. “Not just ‘Look, we got some publicity,’ but how are we going to actually incorporate her into what we do? Not as a woman, as a human being.”

(Photos: Ysa Pérez; Top image: Wes McCabe / The Athletic)

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