HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The day is finally here, Astros fans. It's opening day at Minute Maid Park, and everyone is swagged out in their gear and excited to watch their favorite players take the field. ABC13 caught up with another team favorite who isn't actually on the 40-man roster. She's the woman behind sharing our favorite players' stories and giving us an inside look into the game.
Julia Morales is celebrating her 10th season on the sideline with the Astros, as well as hosting the pregame and postgame show. But how did she get here?
Morales said that at the young age of 10, she knew she wanted to be a news reporter. But at that point, she still had not seen a lot of female sports reporters.
"Watching the news every night with my parents, they were really into watching the six o'clock news, the 10 o'clock news. I caught the bug then," she said.
While studying journalism at University of Texas at Austin, she interned at a local TV station and that's when things shifted.
Morales recalled hearing the station was allowing a woman, who was working at the station and was trying to dip her toe in sports, to attend high school football games for coverage.
"I just so happened to be at the right place at the right time and heard this conversation, and I was like, 'Wait, you can be a woman and cover sports? Like you can go to Friday night games?'" Morales recalled.
That was 15 years ago. A time when there was not a lot of female representation at local stations' sports departments.
"I was going for something that might have been at the time seemed a little competitive, but it was just a dream all of a sudden," Morales said.
Let's not overlook the fact that she's a sports legend in her own right. A young Morales may have jumped into a competitive career, but she that competitive drive already lived inside her.
Growing up, Morales was a cheerleader and while at UT, she was a member of the Texas Pom Squad.
"It was who I was," she said.
The journey wasn't always easy.
"I was very paranoid in the beginning about knowing everything about everything," Morales said. "I was scared to make a mistake or ask a question that was going to come off the wrong way because I did have that fear of being treated differently because I was a female in a group of 25 men asking questions about a football game."
By this time, Morales was in Sherman, Texas, working her first job as the weekend sports anchor and reporter.
Though she felt an immense pressure to produce good work, she said she did not let any background noise affect her.
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"I guess I was so driven and so into putting together a great story and making sure that I was asking the right questions that if things were said to me or if I was treated a certain way, I think I just had my blinders on," Morales said.
Sure, the blinders helped some, but she also said there were some great men she met along the way who allowed her to ask the questions she wasn't comfortable asking.
"There were some great high school football coaches. Thank goodness for men like that because it's the only reason we are at this point and why we are this far along and why we have this many jobs. We talk so much about women uplifting women, but we need everyone, men and women to support us and say, 'Yes, you can' and trust us when we do get the jobs," Morales said.
A 2021 report by Associated Press Sports Editors evaluated the gender hiring practices of more than 100 newspapers and websites. It found that 79.2% of sports editors were white and 83.3% were men. In retrospect, it also found that the percentage of women sports editors increased from 10.0% in 2018 to 16.7% in 2021.
The further along she got, the better she became.
"I walked into rooms like I belonged and I had the confidence, and it just kept growing," Morales said.
Morales joined the Astros in 2013 and just a couple years into the job, she started getting recognized more, especially as the team improved. In 2015 when the team made their first postseason appearance in 10 years, their ratings started going up.
"I couldn't really leave my house without someone being like, 'You're that Astros reporter,' and it was really kind of strange in the beginning, but it was also such a great feeling," said Morales.
She said being a recognizable figure in such a big organization was a bit overwhelming at first, but it's why she said she loves Houston so much now.
"I became a Houstonian because of how welcoming people were to me. I know I said I couldn't leave my house before, but it's awesome now. I can't leave my hotel in Seattle without someone recognizing me as the Astros reporter, and knowing my name, and knowing my kid's name," said Morales.
That's right, the 37-year-old is also a mother to an 18-month-old girl.
With the travel picking up this season, Morales is hitting new territory.
Picture this: Several weeks in West Palm Beach for spring training. Then 24 hours in Houston. Hop on a plane and spend another two weeks away.
"I am spending seven total days in Houston in the month of April. That is extremely hard to do when you have an 18-month-old at home," Morales said. "At the same time, I know that she'd be very proud of me in all the work that I'm doing," Morales said.
Though she admits the separation crushes her at times, it's all worth it knowing her daughter is her biggest fan.
"She sees me on TV and says, 'Momma,' and that's a whole other feeling of joy and pride," Morales said.
Moral of the story?
"Don't shy away from what is really happening inside because it's a big part of who we are and what we do. Yes, I can be really good at my job and be a really good mom," Morales said.
The trailblazer has these three pieces of advice: Start with confidence, talk to and learn from as many people in the industry and show up prepared to do the work.
Morales said she's excited to continue challenging herself and bringing fans the stories they want to know about the players.
Speaking of the ball players, Morales said the guys have a challenging season ahead of them because the division looks a bit stronger.
"They are all coming for the Astros. They are sick of losing to them every year," she said.
We have Justin Verlander back, a healthy Alex Bregman, who Morales said has already looked fantastic on defense and offense, and the Jeremy Pena show to look forward to.
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"Everyone's watching to see what he's going to do in his first year in the show replacing a really great player. So far, he's answered the bell," Morales said.