The Life of a Baseball PA Announcer
I've always loved baseball. I've always loved being behind the microphone. My dream is to one day combine those two activities in a career of baseball play-by-play announcing on radio or tv. Until then I've stumbled upon the next-best thing: Baseball Public Address announcing. The audience size is considerably smaller at the stadium than listening on the radio, but it allows me to relax, go through typical growing pains & you can see immediately the impact you have on the crowd and the team.
My love affair with baseball goes back to my tee ball days. I was never very good, but I always loved playing. My love affair with the microphone goes back to my high school days. As a sophomore I tried out for the high school baseball team. Two players were cut. I was one of them. The other player that was cut hadn't played baseball since he was seven years old. After my sophomore year in high school my father got stationed at Tinker AFB in Oklahoma City. I decided to play baseball my junior year, and while no one was cut from this high school program, I was relegated to the lower JV squad and just never got any better.
Prior to my senior season I decided I was going to give up sports and spend my senior year having fun and preparing for college. I was asked prior to the start of the season if I'd like to be the PA announcer for the varsity team. I jumped at the opportunity despite never having actually thought about doing PA work. I enjoyed my time in the press box immensely, as I was able to kick back, drink some coffee & smoke a few cigarettes during the game (I've since given up the nasty habit of smoking... I still love my coffee, though). People enjoyed my work. I enjoyed doing it. I liked getting the crowd pumped up and playing around with the other team. I'd crack jokes, mispronounce names and generally act like someone that had no intention of ever doing it again after high school.
Between that time during my senior year of high school and last year (17 years, if you're counting) I'd never again do PA work at a sporting event. I did plenty of play-by-play for baseball and football, but the only PA I'd done that entire decade-plus was for Belton High School girls softball during early spring 2012. That one softball game is the only game I'd done in 17 years.
In the meantime I fell in love with the on-air side of sports, and to this day there's nothing I'd rather do more than call baseball or football games on the radio. I got to call multiple baseball playoff games for Rogers High School, including their first-ever state championship. I also did play-by-play for semi-pro baseball, high school football and even Arena football with the Centex Barracudas.
While briefly working for the flagship radio station for Baylor University athletics I was called one Saturday afternoon and asked, as a last resort, if I could do PA that evening for the baseball team as their normal guy was out of town. Desperation... it's come to my rescue more than once in my life.
In announcing that first Baylor game I was quite a bit more professional in my on-mic behavior than I had been during high school. Still, all I had to go on in terms of style or delivery was my memory of how baseball games were supposed to sound based on games I'd attended over the years. Apparently I did a decent enough job, because I got a call the next day asking if I was available to fill in on a more permanent basis. It's not that the other PA guy wasn't good... he is. He's just very busy and had committed to doing the same job for the softball team. He's already the basketball & football PA voice for Baylor so his plate was full. I was a solid 2nd-choice.
I was told the head coach, Steve Smith, liked my delivery. I'd say my delivery is a little closer to basketball or football because of the energy and volume at which I deliver starting lineups and announce batters at the plate. The energy was appreciated, and Baylor just so happened to be in the middle of one of the more impressive regular season runs in college baseball history. Baylor lost the game prior to me starting. They didn't lose another game for 24 more games. That 24 game winning streak broke just about every imaginable record on the books at Baylor & the Big 12 Conference. It was a lot of fun, and people seemed to enjoy the tiny part I contributed. Once I moved on from Baylor's radio flagship I assumed my time at Baylor was done. A Facebook message from someone in charge of the baseball operations asking me to come back for 2013 was exciting to receive. In the meantime, I'd been invited to work PA for Belton High girls soccer & varsity baseball. After a few calls to make sure the Belton games I'd committed to could be covered by someone, I agreed to work Baylor PA again for the 2013 season.
What's a day in the life of a PA announcer like? As I have to drive from Temple to Waco along the ever-unpredictable I-35 I leave two hours prior to the game's start time. Not making it to the game because of a traffic jam or flat tire is what wakes me up at night in a cold sweat. Just yesterday I had to divert through the city of Hewitt to avoid traffic caused by an accident and I thought I'd never make it on time. I did. I'm Mr. On-Time, and it stresses me to no end when I can't get where I want to be in a timely fashion.
After arriving at the ballpark, I put my press pass around my neck and head for the world's slowest elevator. Immediately upon sitting down at my seat in the video control room (that's the hub for any and all radio/tv broadcasts of the game) I begin to panic because I don't yet have a roster or starting lineup. Once I get the starting lineup it's a race against time to be ready to go 23 minutes before first pitch. I hand-write the starting lineups for both teams, write down umpire names, write down the weather and then complete pregame prep by finding and writing the home towns of all the starting defensive players for Baylor. In addition, my old-school love for baseball has me filling out my score book so I can score the game and keep track of runs, hits, errors and runners left on base for my end-of-inning recap.
If the game is a 6:35 first-pitch, my work begins at 6:12 with "readers", the pregame announcements on fan behavior, upcoming events and sponsor mentions. I'm a fast reader, so the "readers" that are supposed to take ten minutes only take four minutes. Then I wait. At 6:22 I announce the starting lineups for both squads, introduce the umpires and give the weather forecast. Then I wait. Again. At 6:32 I announce the defensive starters for Baylor as they run on the field. This is the part I enjoy more than anything else because I get to be loud and over-the-top. The fans seem to be at their loudest at this point, and I enjoy that as well.
Once game time comes my job becomes cut-and-dry. I intro batters, announce lineup changes and read promotional announcements between innings. People might be amazed to see behind-the-scenes in the booth I work from with ten other people doing ten different jobs. If I was in a booth by myself, or even with my immediate supervisor that runs the music & coordinates mid-inning promotions on the field and off, I'd have no problem taking the words on the page and sending them out of my mouth. Unfortunately, there's audio from the radio broadcast at a high volume, people talking to camera operators, talking to each other, making jokes, and generally making the "happy place" from which I'd like to work nothing more than a pipe dream.
I've messed up doing radio. I've messed up doing PA. Despite thousands more people listening to me on a daily basis on my radio show than at a baseball game, I still get more nervous for PA than I do radio. Obviously, I've done radio a lot more than I've done PA, so I'm more comfortable with that. Even more than that, though, is that you can't see the faces or hear the comments of those that listen to you on the radio. Working PA you instantly know if you mispronounced a player's name, if you announced the wrong batter or if you didn't announce the correct number of hits in that half-inning. It's painful. People think I'm just an idiot (I probably am, to be honest), but more than likely it's because I'm being distracted by ten different voices coming from three different sides as I try to keep up with the action on the field.
At the end of the night, once the final pitch has been thrown, win or lose, my job comes to a screeching end. I announce a few final numbers/stats, clean up the paperwork I have strewn about the booth and head for the exits. I'll repeat these steps 25+ times this season, and once the season is over I'll breathe a sigh of relief, spend a few weeks saying, "Boy, I'm glad I actually have Saturday off this weekend", before looking at the calendar and counting the months until next baseball season... or at least count the weeks until football season.