Kelly Crull won’t return as Atlanta Braves field reporter in 2024

Kelly Crull covered the Braves for four seasons. File photo

Kelly Crull covered the Braves for four seasons. File photo

Four years ago, in her first few months on the job as the Braves field reporter, Kelly Crull worked to navigate challenges stemming from COVID-19. At that time, reporters had less access because of health and safety concerns. But Crull, new to the gig, had an entire clubhouse and organization to learn.

And at one point during that year, she received a call from Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos.

“I’ll never forget taking that phone call being like, ‘Oh man, I’m only three weeks into the job, surely I haven’t done something wrong already, right?’” Crull says now, laughing.

Anthopoulos called to see how he could help. He knew that COVID restrictions probably made it more difficult for Crull to do her job, and Anthopoulos wanted Braves fans to be as informed as possible during the team’s broadcasts.

So he had a basic question: How can I help? Anthopoulos offered to talk to Crull before every homestand and road trip.

“I thought to myself, ‘Holy smokes. This is the general manager of the team. What a thoughtful, kind gesture,’” Crull told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution over the phone.

This story – simple, but meaningful – symbolizes why Crull cherished her four seasons with the Braves so much. She felt accepted and welcomed by everyone. This chapter of her journey is over, but she’ll always remember it.

On Thursday, Bally Sports South and Southeast announced its full broadcast team for the 2024 season, from the broadcast booth to the field reporters and more. Crull’s name wasn’t mentioned.

Her contract ran out. The networks did not renew it. As a matter of company policy, Bally Sports doesn’t comment on contract negotiations.

Diamond Sports, Bally Sports’ parent company, filed for bankruptcy last March. Since then, Bally Sports has undergone cost-cutting measures affecting broadcasts and on-air talent.

As she leaves this step in her career, Crull, 40, does so with gratitude. She’s not bitter for how it ended. Instead, she’s grateful for the opportunity given to her.

“The biggest thing is just being able to thank Braves Country,” Crull said. “Truthfully, words can’t express the gratitude for the support and the appreciation that they’ve given me the last four years. It kind of brings me to tears to talk about this. But I think about, together, we went through one of the toughest, most challenging seasons, with COVID, and trying to get familiar in that year was just so difficult – but they gave me so much grace through that period, right? And just a year later, we were witnessing and sharing – all of us – a joy unlike any other with the Braves winning a World Series championship.

“It was just a wild, beautiful ride, and one that I will cherish forever.”

In 2024, the Bally networks will use three field reporters: Hanna Yates, Wiley Ballard and Ashley ShahAhmadi.

Yates, who will be new to Braves coverage, likely will end up working more games than the other two. But fans probably will see Ballard and ShahAhmadi more than Yates earlier in the season.

Yates is a reporter and host covering the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes for Bally Sports South. Before that, she covered the St. Louis Cardinals as a sports anchor and reporter for KSDK, the local NBC affiliate in St. Louis, from 2019-22.

Ballard, the voice of Georgia Tech baseball, enters his first year as a reporter. The networks used him on “Braves Live” – the networks’ pregame and postgame show – for “Wiley’s Wheelhouse,” a segment that saw Ballard do breakdowns using advanced statistics.

ShahAhmadi worked certain games as a reporter last season. She’s filled in as host of Braves Live for the past two years.

Crull had been the Braves’ field reporter since 2020, when she replaced Kelsey Wingert-Linch at the start of the season. Wingert-Linch now is a host and reporter covering the Rockies.

Before coming to Atlanta, Crull served as the Cubs field reporter for NBC Sports Chicago. And before that, she covered the Padres and the Oklahoma City Thunder of the NBA.

But Atlanta, and the Braves, soon separated themselves from her previous stops, as fulfilling as those were.

“The talent in that clubhouse is obvious, and it’s unmatched, really. But I don’t know that I’ve ever had the pleasure of feeling embraced by a group that is such a tremendous group of humans,” Crull said. “They’re just the nicest, most thoughtful, insightful group of athletes that I’ve ever been around. And that, for our job, makes every day such a pleasure to go to the ballpark, and you look forward to getting to see those guys and talk to those guys every day. And a coaching staff that felt like having six uncles that you could talk to about anything, whether it was baseball or life. I learned so much from them beyond the game of baseball. And for that, I will forever be grateful.”

In addition to covering the Braves, Crull also helped Bally Sports South/Southeast as a host for Hawks coverage.

You might still see or hear Crull in Atlanta. She promised this: She won’t be a stranger.

“I plan to still be seeing fans and hopefully getting to chat them up at the ballpark occasionally,” Crull said. “And really, that’s because I plan to stay in Atlanta right now. It’s where I bought a home, I consider it home, I love the community. I have other opportunities that I would just say, stay tuned.”

Wiley Ballard (right) speaks to former Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson at halftime of a game. (Danny Karnik/GT Athletics)

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As expected, play-by-play man Brandon Gaudin and main analyst C.J. Nitkowski will headline Bally Sports South/Southeast’s Braves telecasts from the booth. Nitkowski replaces Jeff Francoeur, who stepped back to spend more time with his family. Hall of Famer Tom Glavine also is slated to return.

Collin McHugh, the former Braves reliever who retired over this past offseason, will join Braves Live as a contributor for select games.

For the past 14 years, Crull worked the sidelines as a reporter covering different teams. It required many hours and tons of travel. She loved it and reaped the rewards, but there were, of course, sacrifices.

As sad as she is not to be covering the Braves, she’s excited for what this year could hold for her. It will be different, but that may not be so bad.

“I took a step back this offseason and really did some soul-searching,” Crull said. “I’ve been so blessed over the last 14 years now – it’s wild to think that. I’ve been on the sidelines for some of the most spectacular ballparks, amazing arenas. I’ve covered two World Series titles and an NBA Finals. It’s been a dream come true, but it’s also come at the cost of living out of a suitcase for the last 14 years.

“There’s a part of me that’s like, I’m really looking forward to this next chapter of my career and also being able to balance that with more time spent with my family, my friends and my loved ones. That is most important for me moving forward.”