At Tropicana Field this season, one of the biggest stars wasn't wearing cleats or a uniform. She was wearing heels and lipstick. We tagged along as fans took pictures and got autographs from Rays sideline reporter Laura McKeeman, who also happens to be Miss Florida.
"You don't realize the level of sports knowledge she has," said Lenny Fraraccio, a Rays fan. "And, she's a sweetheart, a really nice person."
RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME
McKeeman is 24 and was a senior at the University of Florida two years ago when she landed an internship with FOX's Sun Sports, the cable outlet that carries the Rays. She said one day somebody on the regular crew didn't show up.
"They said, 'We need you to go do some interviews, you think you can handle it?'" McKeeman recalled. "I said, 'Well, yes I can!' But I went home and said, 'Can I handle it?'"
She's been an on-camera regular ever since.
McKeeman's parents were surprised by her fast accomplishments in sports broadcasting.
"People who knew her growing up are just blown away by the sports thing," said Deborah McKeeman, Laura's mother. "She was 100 percent ballet, classical ballet, and very serious about it."
Laura studied ballet for years and attended a prestigious ballet academy in Washington, D.C. during her high school years.
"I was dead set on being a professional ballet dancer," Laura said.
After joining a professional ballet company in Nashville, Laura realized a ballerina's life was not for her.
"I had this dream. I thought I could attain it. I just realized eventually it wasn't going to work out for me, but it didn't mean I wasn't going to dance."
In fact, she performed ballet in the talent portion of the Miss Florida Pageant, which she won earlier this year.
Laura says, growing up, she never imagined that she would become a beauty queen or a sports reporter. But, after giving up her quest to become a professional ballerina, she decided she wanted to get a job on the radio station at the University of Florida.
The only opening was for a sports talk show host. When she got the job, she had to cram.
"Within two weeks, Laura had piles of information from the internet on hockey, basketball, and football," recalled Robert McKeeman, Laura's father. She turned herself into a walking sports encyclopedia.
BATHING SUITS AND EVENING GOWNS
Laura had never competed in pageants before the preliminaries for Miss Florida.
"The swimsuit and the evening gown -- I have to be honest- - do not come naturally to me," she said. "I'm a very casual person. Having to stand properly and do all the things like that, I'll definitely be working on before Miss America."
VEGAS AND THE TROP
Laura will represent Florida in the Miss America pageant in Las Vegas in January. But, win or lose, she says she will come back to the Trop.
"You have to peel me away from the ballpark. You have to peel me away from the field," she added. "I never want to leave, and I absolutely thrive in this environment."
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