This was a busy year for Tim Heiman, who called games at a high quality, handled the heavy media relations requests that came from having Tim Tebow on his roster, and introduced the Eastern League Calls of the Week, which he produced, scripted, hosted and dispersed. Today, Ballpark Digest honors the Voice of the Binghamton Rumble Ponies (Class AA; Eastern League) as our deserving Minor League Broadcaster of the Year, carrying forth his own team responsibilities at an enviable standard while simultaneously uplifting his entire league.
“The Rumble Ponies made fantastic strides in 2018, and Tim was a major part of the continued growth of the organization,” said Rumble Ponies Managing Director and Assistant General Manager John “JB” Bayne. “Tim really took his game to a new level, particularly with all of the national media coordination, roster moves, and we can’t forget the 40-degree days in April. The entire organization is proud of Tim and the level he performed at this year.”
“At the core of our broadcaster awards, we value most the ability to call a great game, and Heiman certainly fit that criteria,” said Ballpark Digest Publisher Kevin Reichard. “To call a great game and take on all the other challenges facing the Rumble Ponies in 2018 was truly an amazing achievement. Plus, it means even more when you consider his honor comes after a lobbying campaign from his peers.”
“Thank you very much, it’s an honor,” Heiman said. “It’s very funny, I didn’t even consider it—and [New Hampshire Fisher Cats broadcaster] Tyler Murray tweeted about it… That was when I thought, okay, maybe there’s a chance.
“I’m really glad I was picked.”
From College to the Booth
Heiman grew up in Smithtown, N.Y., where his family’s lack of cable forced him to turn to Bob Murphy and Gary Cohen’s radio broadcasts in order to keep up with his favorite team. “My routine: I’d do my homework, I’d have the Mets on in the background, and then the Mets game would become the postgame show, and that would become Steve Somers, who hosted a talk show late night, and I’d be off to bed.”
His older brother had attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, N.Y., majoring in electrical engineering, and so Heiman followed suit with a focus on mechanical engineering. During his first week on campus, he came upon the college radio station, WRPI, at an activities fair.
“Originally I had signed up to do a music show,” he recalled. “So I showed up for their orientation and one of their first questions when they introduced everyone was, ‘Does anyone like sports?’ which to me was an easy question to answer. Of course I did. I was the only one that raised my hand, though. It was a tech school, after all.” By force of necessity, Heiman was assigned work.
His first gig came two weeks later in the form of RPI women’s hockey play-by-play. Less than a month afterward, he began a four-year tenure as the voice of the Division I RPI men’s hockey team, the showcase team on campus. A year later, the mechanical engineering major had an epiphany. “I realized I like broadcasting a lot more than I like doing all these complicated math equations and all these formulas and all this nitty gritty engineering…I was a broadcaster.”
But after graduating, the plumb hockey broadcasting position that he had expected to gain never materialized. Instead, his opportunity to put his foot in the door came from the New York-Penn League. “I’d reached out to Auburn, interviewed over the phone with them, and the way they had structured their internship was that you’d get to do the road games, play-by-play, the home games you’d serve as the official scorer. They’d provide housing, but it wasn’t paid.
“So they hired me, I reported, I went straight from RPI after graduation, went right to Auburn, and never went back home.”
Being the official scorer was difficult. “I just didn’t know the nuances of the game at that point in time,” he said. “I hadn’t covered a professional team. I had done maybe 20 to 30 Division III college baseball games for RPI, which did not give me any sort of trained eye for this sort of stuff. And let’s just say that short-season baseball can be a little bit rough at times, where guys aren’t exactly steady defensively and consistent. It was rough. I was chewed out by many a manager in my course of being an official scorer. There were a couple of instances that are still with me. Let’s just say that I’m happy I’ll never have to do that again.”
With no hockey position waiting, Heiman was free to job-search within the baseball landscape the following offseason. He landed not too far away, joining Matt McCabe in Binghamton as the B-Mets’ No. 2 broadcaster. This proved to be another fortunate opportunity—2011 was McCabe’s intended last season in baseball.
“It became a five-month job interview. There was a lot of motivation to really dive in and show that organization I could handle life as a guy with just two years of experience being a No. 1 at Double-A. When September of 2011 rolled around and the season was over, I felt confident that I was ready for that.” Heiman has served as the Voice of Binghamton ever since, an Eastern League staple.
Managing the Tebow Effect
This season provided challenges, most notably handling the crush of attention brought by someone who shared his first name, Minor League Baseball’s most famous player: Tim Tebow.
“It felt as close to the big leagues as this job ever has,” Heiman said. He worked with Tebow on establishing expectations, “a really good routine where he would speak with the media the first day in to every road series and the first day of every homestand. And once that became routine, it was easy. You know, of course we got flooded with emails. Everyone wanted him to make appearances and speak with this person and speak with that person, and we tried our best to accommodate that, but Tim was great.”
In the midst of such constant work, Heiman added a new item to his list of responsibilities: The Eastern League Calls of the Week. “What I was looking to do,” he said, “was find a way to give exposure for all the league’s radio guys and also remind us that we’re all in this together. So mid-May rolls around and one morning before heading over to the ballpark, it kind of popped into my brain, Wouldn’t it be nice for the league to have a weekly segment, it doesn’t have to be long, for pregame shows, where it’s just highlights from around the league?” He contacted his fellow broadcasters around the EL for their standout audio clips—the walk-offs, the comebacks, the great catches—establishing a Wednesday night/Thursday morning deadline, followed by the creation of the package, carefully scripted and arranged in a process that took anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours, and then posted for league-wide use.
The reaction was terrific. “It became a staple of maybe nine to ten other teams in our league that used it in their pregame show and promoted it,” said Heiman. “For fans that follow Minor League teams, they’ll listen to that Minor League team’s radio guy, and that’s all that they know about the league. What I was hoping to do was introduce listeners to all of the other radio guys in this league, covering the same league and covering the same teams that they see roll through playing the team that they root for….The guys bought in [and] the fans loved it.”
For his work in front of and behind the microphone, for both the Binghamton Rumble Ponies and the Eastern League as a whole, Tim Heiman—the aspiring engineer who only intended to host a music show—is a deserving recipient among the scores of talented Minor League Baseball broadcasters this year.
Past Ballpark Digest Broadcaster of the Year winners:
2017: Mick Gillispie, Tennessee Smokies; Howard Kellman, Indianapolis Indians
2016: Sean Aronson, St. Paul Saints
2015: Josh Whetzel, Rochester Red Wings
2014: Steve Klauke, Salt Lake Bees
2013: John Sadak, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders
2012: Donny Baarns, Visalia Rawhide
2011: Jay Burnham, Trenton Thunder
2010: No award
2009: Mike Capps, Round Rock Express
2008: Paul Edmonds, Winnipeg Goldeyes
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