To say there’s a deep pool of talent in Minor League Baseball and independent-baseball broadcasting circles is an understatement. Today we continue our year-end review with a look at some notable broadcasters who carry on the proud tradition of baseball from the booth.
Yesterday we announced Tim Heiman as our MiLB broadcaster of the year; today we’ll follow up with a group of young broadcasters changing the rules of the game, as well as our 2018 MLB broadcaster of the year.
Before that, we’ll highlight the broadcasters deserving recognition for outstanding 2018 seasons. All of the broadcasters highlighted here have one thing in common: They all call a great game, and any team would be lucky to have them. But these broadcasters also excelled beyond just calling the games, as you’ll see: a MiLB broadcaster is by necessity a jack of all trades, serving as a voice of the team and then being the face of the team to other media and the community. (These listings, by the way, are in alphabetical order.)
Donny Baarns, Jeff Hem, Tom Nichols and Tommy Thrall
Readers of this site will remember when we named Donny Baarns our broadcaster of the year in 2012. Now with the Omaha Storm Chasers (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League), Baarns made some headlines this season when he received a call-up to the Oakland Athletics, for whom he calls spring-training games, when Ken Korach, the Voice of the A’s, was scheduled for a night off in late August.
He was not the only MiLB broadcaster to receive an MLB call-up. In June, the A’s called up Jeff Hem, the voice of the Nashville Sounds (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League), for a stint as an Oakland broadcaster. Hem is certainly one of the most accomplished voices in the game, so the recognition was deserved.
Also called up in August and September by the Reds: Tommy Thrall, voice of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos (Class AA; Southern League) and Tom Nichols, voice of the Dayton Dragons (Low A; Midwest League). (Also called up during the season among MiLB voices: the Harrisburg Senators’ Terry Byrom was called up in late April/early May by the Washington Nationals, and Memphis Redbirds voice Steve Selby spent time in the St. Louis Cardinals booth this month.)
Thrall has been the Voice of the Blue Wahoos for seven seasons, and this spring called some Cincinnati Reds spring-training games with Marty Brennaman and Jeff Brantley. But the Reds’ gig was far from the biggest accomplishment this season for Thrall, who worked on the expansion of the Blue Wahoos Baseball Network broadcasts from local radiocasts to a radio and nationwide regional television simulcast. In addition to all 140 games being carried on local radio, every weekend home game is carried live on local television. And, all Blue Wahoos home broadcasts are also carried on Cox Sports Television.
For Nichols, 31 years as a broadcaster raises him to the level of institution in the game, reaching in 2018 the achievement of 4,000 games called in MiLB during his career. Finishing his 11th year as the Voice of the Dragons, Nichols also serves as the “face” of the Dragons during the team’s 25 home-game telecasts on The Dayton CW, which has a household reach of 500,000 homes. He’s has led the television broadcast team for over 200 games. His call-up to the Reds came on August 28 from Great American Ball Park.
Alex Freedman, Oklahoma City Dodgers
Seven years into his gig as the Voice of the Oklahoma City Dodgers (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League), Freedman expanded his portfolio into television, calling play-by-play for 15 OKC Dodgers games on Cox Communications. We’re not sure when he sleeps: besides calling every game for the Dodgers, he also serves as the team’s Director of Communications and Broadcasting, a gig that includes press releases, roster management and game notes.
Roger Hoover, Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp
Another veteran MiLB broadcaster working as a spring-training announcer—in this instance, for parent Miami Marlins—Roger Hoover attracted plenty of media attention in 2018 when a foul ball flew into his Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Class AA; Southern League) broadcast booth and shattered the screen of his laptop. Here, we’ll recognize him for his ability to call a great game and for all the work he does for the Jumbo Shrimp: he calls play-by-play of all 140 games, authors and produces the broadcast theme, and maps out internal broadcast spots. Each home radio broadcast features a live in-game remote interview highlighting a person or event at the game, a live postgame interview with a player from the winning team, and postgame comments from the Jacksonville manager. Postgame interviews and highlights are included the online game recap, social media, SoundCloud and YouTube channel, which also features Hoover hosting the pregame “Shrimp Show” that airs on the videoboard.
Joe Ritzo, San Jose Giants
The play-by-play voice of the San Jose Giants (High A; California League) and a spring-training broadcaster for parent San Francisco Giants, Ritzo just completed his 12th season as the Voice of the San Jose Giants and serves as a face of the franchise via game broadcasts on the local Comcast channel, a bi-weekly podcast and a popular team blog. He’s also an expert on the entire Giants farm system, joining San Francisco Giants legend Jon Miller to assess player development on MLB broadcasts.
Dave Wilson, Akron RubberDucks
The Voice of the RubberDucks since 2012, Akron is the latest stop for Wilson, whose career has spanned 22 seasons and approximately 2,600 games. He’s also Director of Baseball Information for the RubberDucks (Class AA; Eastern League), handling press releases, game notes, and all roster updates, as well as a daily pre-game radio feature interview, the Saturday “Manager’s Report,” nightly game highlight calls, and he writing and distributing the post-game recaps He’s also a multisport threat, calling a variety of basketball, football, hockey and soccer broadcasts over the year.