Who are you?
Hi! My name is Mike. I’m the broadcaster for the Tacoma Rainiers – the Triple-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners.
Oh yeah, that’s right, I clicked on this. How long have you been doing that for?
My first season was 1999, and I’ve called almost every Rainiers game since then. Going into the 2011 season, I’ve missed fewer than ten Rainiers games in the last 12 years.
Do you travel with the team?
Yes, I fly on the team flights and stay in team hotels. It’s not as cool as it sounds – the Rainiers fly commercial flights around the league, and most of our flights depart between 6:00 and 7:00 AM – which results in a lot of 4:00 AM wake-up calls, after you just worked until 11:00 the night before.
Plus, there are not direct flights from Seattle to most of the PCL cities, so there is a lot of plane-changing. Sometimes entire PCL teams will cross paths in the terminal at Denver International – usually resulting in someone suggesting we break out the bats and balls and start a game right there, in Terminal C.
On the bright side, most PCL teams put up the visiting club in a nice upper-quality hotel, so we usually get excellent lodging. Hotels have really improved over the course of my 12+ years in the league.
Huh. I thought the minor leagues were all bus leagues. What’s up with this flying?
Until a player reaches the Triple-A level, he plays in bus leagues. Virtually all lower-level road trips are done by bus. I spent five years working for teams at Class-A and below, and we took some mammoth bus rides.
Every minor league player with a few seasons under his belt has a story about the time the bus broke down, and the whole team was standing on the side of route 82 or whatever, waiting for hours for a replacement bus. This usually happens when its 100 degrees, or the middle of the night.
But the Pacific Coast League is too far-flung to use busses much. It would take us almost a week to bus from Tacoma to New Orleans – you just can’t do that. So, we fly.
OK, so you jet around the nation with a Triple-A team, staying in decent hotels. Which are your favorite cities to visit?
On this subject, the PCL has two divisions – the Las Vegas/New Orleans division, and the other 14 cities. Vegas and New Orleans are just too much fun – you actually have to make sure you bear down and get your work done in these towns.
As for the rest of the league, I like the Southern flavor of Memphis and Nashville. I was born and raised on the west coast, and these cities are just so different from what I’m accustomed to.
Closer to home, Salt Lake City is much more fun than you might think. The downtown area where we stay and where the stadium is located is clean and nice – with plenty to do.
Do you get to spend much time enjoying places you visit on the road?
A little bit. By the very nature of the job, I am a night person. I need to be at my most alert from 7 to 10 pm, when the majority of the games are played. After work, I’m too wound up to sleep – I usually can’t crash until 1:00 am or later. So, I sleep late.
I try to be up and at my computer preparing for that night’s broadcast by 10 AM. That takes three or four hours, and then I’ll wander off to grab a late lunch – this is when I might spend an hour exploring the town.
Then, it’s time to head to the ballpark. For road night games, the Rainiers manager schedules two shuttles from the hotel to the ballpark. One is usually at 3:00, and the other at 3:30 or 4:00. I always take the later one, because the early one usually involves 20 large professional athletes trying to squeeze into a 12-passenger van.
There are a few PCL cities where you can walk from the hotel to the stadium – this is always the best situation. Sacramento, Fresno, Reno, Memphis, Oklahoma City, and Iowa come to mind.
What about minor league ballparks? Which ones do you like the best?
Without a doubt, my favorite PCL stadium is Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City. This is a bit of an upset, too – because it’s an absolutely wretched place to broadcast a game from (someone decided to put six-inch thick bars separating tiny little windows in the booth, so you always have a giant post obstructing your line of vision).
Bricktown Ballpark has everything – when they built the park, they spent all kinds of extra money on little artistic flourishes. The outfield fence has crazy angles and differing wall-heights. Each row of seats has a little design on the aisle. The upper deck wraps around the right field foul pole – you can hit an upper-deck home run. There are beautiful bronze statues of Hall of Famers from Oklahoma around the grounds – Mickey Mantle in full swing, Johnny Bench decked out in catcher’s gear. The open-air concourse is wide and spacious. There is a sports bar in the left field corner with a deck open to the field – and the other side is open to the street. The stadium houses an actual pizza parlor that serves delicious slices.
My runners-up are Memphis, Albuquerque, Salt Lake City, and Iowa. It will be interesting to see how the renovated Cheney Stadium stacks up.
Outside of the PCL, the California League park in Lake Elsinore was a real gem back in the late 1990s when I worked in that league – check it out if the opportunity ever arises.
In your blog you often use the acronym “RG.” What does that stand for?
RG means Radio Guy. There is one longtime PCL radio guy who often uses acronyms for common phrases, for the purpose of goofy humor, and he’s been calling us RGs for years. It’s caught on so much that if I go up to any PCL veteran player we might acquire – say, a Mike Koplove, and introduce myself “Hi, I’m Mike, I’m the RG, it’s nice to meet you,” he’ll immediately know what I my job is.
How do you get all the information to prepare for the broadcast?
I do most of my research in the hotel room or my home office before heading to the stadium. This is when I research the player backgrounds, and track the statistical trends of the hitters on both teams.
Once I get to the park, I’ll visit with the Tacoma coaching staff, and often the opponent’s manager or pitching coach. I’ll also talk to a few of the guys around the batting cage, or in the dugout before batting practice.
If we have a former player whom I know on the opposing team, I’ll track him down and get the scoop on how his club is playing.
I read both team’s media notes before each game. Also, on airplanes I usually read the next opponent’s media guide, looking for tidbits.
It’s surprising how much information you can get just chatting with a player while sitting at an airport gate, or riding the bus to the park.
Also, a good 15-minute information exchange with the opposing team’s radio guy always helps.
Another good resource for information is scouts, who I see all season long. There are a few who have covered the PCL for years, and they can provide some very interesting information – although as an announcer, I need to be careful how I present it.
Do you hang out with the players on the road?
Not much anymore. When I was younger and in Class-A ball, the players were around my age and we would sometimes do things together. It’s a different dynamic when thirty 23-year-olds overtake a Motel 6 in Modesto, CA.
Nowadays, I hang out with the coaches on the road. Our manager is only a few years older than I am, and we get along well. Plus, the players are always doing things that I’m not interested in – like going to the gym, or trying to find a healthy restaurant, or staying in their hotel rooms all night playing video games.
Do you work for the radio station or the team?
I work for the team – the Tacoma Rainiers (not the Seattle Mariners, who have different ownership and management). In the minor leagues – and in most major league cities – the broadcasters are team employees. There are rare instances when the announcers work for the flagship radio station – for example, I think the Chicago Cubs broadcasters work for WGN, not the team.
Why don’t you have a broadcast partner?
Money, money, money. Minor league teams work hard to turn a profit, and it’s difficult for a minor league GM to determine that he will get value by paying two broadcasters instead of one.
Most PCL teams have two announcers work together for home games, but send just one on the road. That’s something that we have not tried here.
We do add a second announcer – a former player – as an analyst for the TV games. And in 2011 we will no longer simulcast the TV broadcast on the radio station, so we will have a separate radio broadcast, with a proper radio announcer calling the action (I’ll do the TV with the ex-player). These things all cost money so for radio-only games it’s just me. All nine, all the time!
Hey, I’m willing to work for free. Can I broadcast the game with you?
How did you get this job, anyway?
The team hired me in early December, 1998. I was working in the California League for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, which at the time was the Advanced Class-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres. I did radio, PR, and some sales for them for three years.
Word got out that the Rainiers were looking for a new announcer. It was word-of-mouth back then – you couldn’t just go to a website like www.staatalent.com and see what jobs are open.
I sent in my cassette tape of highlights and my resume to Kevin Kalal, who was in charge of the hiring. I realized that I knew the Tacoma pitching coach at the time, Jeff Andrews, from his prior job as a Padres roving instructor – so I had him call Kevin just to tell him that I wasn’t a wacko (Andrews was willing to lie on my behalf).
A few weeks later, Kevin called and told me they liked my tape, and I was in a group of five finalists they were interviewing. We then spent about 30 minutes talking – mostly about Pac-10 basketball. Apparently, that was my interview – because a few days later, Kevin called with a job offer.
Thanks for your cool little story about getting lucky, but that doesn’t apply to me. I want to be a sportscaster. What do I do now?
When starting out, the key is getting experience – which is also the hardest thing. The best way to get actual on-air experience is to volunteer at a non-profit, community radio station. Often these are college student radio stations.
I went to a huge school (Cal) that had no broadcast journalism department, but it did have a very active student radio station that had a sports department. I volunteered there before attending my first class, freshman year.
The student radio station was the only station that carried live play-by-play of Cal baseball and Cal women’s basketball. By the time I had graduated, I had called over 75 baseball games and 50 basketball games while also doing plenty of sports updates during the news. I had also travelled to nine of the Pac-10 campuses (we sold radio sponsorships to local businesses to pay for the travel).
This radio station, like many college radio stations, does not require you to be a college student to volunteer. There may be opportunities like this in your own community.
When you are starting out, you really need to record everything you do, and listen to it and critique it. I sat in the bleachers at baseball games, calling the game into a tape recorder, at least ten times as a freshman in college before the senior running the sports department allowed me to do a game on the air.
My senior year Cal reached the College World Series and I travelled to Omaha to broadcast the Bears two one-run losses. I decided I wanted to pursue baseball broadcasting, and was willing to go to the lowest minor league team, anywhere in the country, in order to do it.
For minor league baseball job seekers, the Winter Meetings is the place to be. I travelled there, interviewed a few times, and didn’t get a job. But I made friends with a fellow job-seeker – a guy ten years older than me, with lots of restaurant and hotel management experience, who was looking to run a minor league team.
Fast forward two years, I’m working a temporary job in San Francisco, and the guy I met at the Winter Meetings calls and says, “I just got a job as the General Manager of a new independent league team in Lafayette, Indiana. The season starts in three months. If I can get a radio station to air our games, are you coming?”
Three weeks later he called back, radio station contract in hand, and I moved to Lafayette. That’s when things got really weird, but there should be a book about that – maybe I’ll write it someday.
So, for baseball announcing, one path is: get experience, most likely through community, non-profit college radio (alternate: attend a broadcast journalism powerhouse college, like Syracuse). Practice a lot, and be a harsh critic of your own work while letting more experienced broadcasters critique you. Soak up everything you can learn, and get yourself on-air as much as possible. Keep your eyes and ears open at all time, looking for any tidbit that might help you improve. Network with people at all levels of the game. Be willing to move anywhere, and don’t expect a big paycheck.
Why aren’t you in the majors?
It’s really, really, really hard to get a Major League Baseball broadcasting job. Heck, it’s hard enough just to get a Triple-A broadcasting job.
There is so little turnover in the major league broadcast booths that openings are very rare. When a play-by-play job does come open, the team receives hundreds of applications – and at least fifty are from fully qualified candidates.
MLB teams do hire Triple-A announcers, but they also hire from different pools. Sometimes they hire a local TV sports anchor, or a local play-by-play announcer who does a different sport in the same city – for example, the Colorado Rockies had an opening prior to 2010, and they hired the Denver Nuggets play-by-play man.
Keep in mind that I am talking about play-by-play jobs – the analyst, or ex-player role, is a separate category. That is a different job, and there is no crossover – I can’t do the ex-player’s job, and he can’t do the play-by-play job (unless he is Duane Kuiper).
When I was younger, I used to constantly beat myself up, losing sleep while trying to figure out how to get to the majors. With age comes perspective, and now I’m perfectly happy to have the privilege of calling games in the world’s second-best baseball league as my job. If a promotion to the major leagues happens, that would be great, but it’s not something I need in order to feel successful in life.
One thing is for certain: if I ever do get a major league broadcasting job, there will be a rather massive party in Tacoma.
Thanks for answering all of these questions. What if I think of more things to ask?
I will occasionally update this FAQ. When I do, I will make a note of it on the main blog page.