Julia Morales Will Do Anything to Keep Fans Engaged

"I love it all,” the Astros field reporter says, “once I do it.”

By Jeff Balke August 17, 2018 Published in the September 2018 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Image: Todd Spoth

If you want proof that Julia Morales was born to be on camera, look no further than her YouTube channel. In one of her earliest videos, the popular field reporter for the Houston Astros is just 8 or 9 years old, sitting next to her father at the family’s kitchen table and reading a mock newscast from a yellow legal pad, about a female politician challenging the legitimacy of an all-male country club. 

“My dad had a video camera on us from the time we came out of the womb,” says Morales, now 35, sitting in the press box at Minute Maid Park before a game. “He did play-by-play of everything we ever did. He would turn the camera on and say, ‘Do something. Entertain us.’”

Morales has been with the Astros since 2013, covering a wildly tumultuous time for the team, including, of course, last year’s World Series win. In that capacity, she does daily interviews with players and team manager AJ Hinch, putting her deep baseball knowledge to use. But she’s equally known as the cheerful, try-it-all, eat-almost-anything member of the Astros broadcast team. “That’s me,” she says. “That’s just my personality.” 

Morales comes from a family of entertainers. Her parents met as dancers; her brother is currently starring in Magic Mike Live in Las Vegas; she herself grew up a versatile athlete, cheerleader, dancer, and A/V nerd, editing year-end videos for her volleyball team and senior class. “I had no idea how valuable that would be,” she says.

Morales’s dad Victor, a now-retired high school government teacher and coach in the tiny town of Crandall, just east of Dallas, nurtured both her love of the camera and her love of sports. But it was his political career—he’s a longtime city councilman in Crandall who ran against Phil Gramm in the 1996 U.S. Senate race—that inspired Morales’s dream of becoming a media personality.

“I was watching these reporters come in and out of our house. My eyes were big. I saw the red light go on, and I saw the reporters stand up a little straighter. I loved it,” she says, remembering her 13-year-old self. “It all goes back to falling in love with the media, reporters, live shots, and someone counting you down ‘3, 2, 1.’ I was really, really young, but I knew what I wanted to do.”

Morales went on to study broadcast journalism at the University of Texas, where her dream came further into focus. “I didn’t know you could be a sports reporter until I got into college,” she says. “There was a female sports reporter at the CBS station in Austin. It made me stop dead in my tracks.”

After graduating in 2007, Morales went to work in TV, first in Sherman and then Tyler, both near her hometown, covering sports while quickly learning to widen her definition of what it can be. “There’s a sportscast every night and somehow, you’ve got to fill it,” she explains. “In summers I’d find myself doing tomahawk-throwing competitions, anything I could turn into a sports story.”

In 2011 she went back to Austin to work for YNN-TV, a 24-hour cable channel, as a beat reporter covering the Round Rock Express, a minor-league affiliate for the Texas Rangers, while also riding motorcycles, swimming with beluga whales, and putting her fear of heights to the test on a trapeze—anything to keep viewers engaged—as part of a regular news segment she created called Active Now. “It was the easiest job in the world. You could zip-line or do antigravity yoga,” she recalls. “I’d be sweating, and I’d fall and I’d embarrass myself. I was just being me.”

During that era, Morales fell in love with not only baseball, but also with a player. “I wanted to do a story about the pitching coach telling the pitchers how to get his son out,” she explains. The coach was Terry Clark, and his son was Matt Clark, a minor league first baseman playing against the Express. The younger Clark hit a pair of homers during the three-game series, including a walk-off grand slam in the finale. Morales was impressed. “Now, I’m married to Matt. I blame Terry,” she jokes.

When she landed her gig with the Astros, in 2013, the team was in the midst of one of the franchise’s worst eras, losing over 100 games in three straight seasons. “They knew the Astros were going to be a tough team to cover in 2013 and 2014, so they wanted someone who would be willing to tell stories that weren’t just on the field,” Morales says. When she got the news, “Tears were streaming down my face,” she remembers. “This was my dream job.”

The first few years were indeed tough for both the Astros and their fans. But Morales excelled, and soon the team’s success mirrored her own. She quickly became known for her open, accessible personality and her willingness to try even things that freak her out, finally conquering her fear of heights while interviewing Hinch in Tampa Bay, standing on the catwalk near the roof of Tropicana Field. “I love it all,” she says, “once I do it.”

That almost always includes the stadium eats she gets to try as part of her job. “I’m a ballpark foodie,” she says. “That’s one of the perks.” Her favorite? “The breakfast burger I had at Pittsburgh,” she says, “is still the best thing I’ve ever had.” It’s a Krispy Kreme doughnut as the bun, a fried egg, a hamburger patty, and bacon. “I can’t wait to go back,” she laughs. “We don’t play them enough.”

Then there’s the grasshoppers, which she tried last year at the Seattle Mariners ballpark. “You can feel the legs,” she says, her hands over her mouth as she remembers the experience. “I can’t bite down on its thorax and feel good about myself.”

She’d do it again, though, right? Anything for entertainment’s sake? “No way,” she laughs. “That is one thing I am not doing again.” 

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