Broadcasters are high-profile representatives of their teams, known for their skills behind the microphone, their ability to connect to their local communities, and for making an impact in the industry. Our 2019 Broadcaster of the Year is Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, the voice of the Lansing Lugnuts (Low A; Midwest League).
He was named the Midwest League Broadcaster of the Year in 2013 and has been nominated for this award several times over the years. The author of The Baseball Thesaurus and The Football Thesaurus, Goldberg-Strassler is known for his annual re-creation game, as well his hosting duties on the Around the Nest Toronto Blue Jays podcast.
(Editor’s note: These books are published by August Publications, which also produces Ballpark Digest. The selection of Goldberg-Strassler as Broadcaster of the Year was made by former winners of this award after he received the most nominations for the award in 2019.)
“I’m really excited and really proud to receive this award,” Goldberg-Strassler said. “It’s something that’s a really high honor and there are a lot of really great broadcasters. Thank you to our owner Tom Dickson, Nick Grueser, our team president, and Tyler Parsons, our General Manager. I couldn’t do what I’ve done without them. Thank you to all of my number-two assistants I’ve had through the years from Kyler Ludlow through Adam Jaksa. They have been so important in helping me out.
“Because of the initial years where I just understood that I wasn’t very good at this, it’s been a hard thing for me to wrap my mind around that maybe I’m better now,” he added. “There is still doubt in my mind. I’m still striving to improve the broadcast. People approve of the work that I’m doing, and it’s appreciated. That’s something I appreciate. It’s a wonderful, wonderful honor and I’m proud that I’m receiving it. There are so many amazing, great broadcasters out there and they inspire me.”
“We’re ecstatic and incredibly proud,” said Lugnuts general manager Tyler Parsons. “We’ve seen day-to-day and year-to-year how hard Jesse works. He’s constantly honing his craft and finding ways to get better and this award just reinforces that. Jesse is an incredible broadcaster and does an amazing job of connecting listeners to Lugnuts baseball. We’re incredibly lucky to have him here in Lansing and are excited for him to bring this award home.”
Born to Broadcast
Goldberg-Strassler grew up in Greenbelt, MD and was an Orioles fan where he grew to love listening to the games on the radio.
“I listened to baseball on the radio growing up. Every now and then the Orioles were on TV, but it was rare. I could listen to the games on the radio every night. Because of that, it got very much internalized. I would play out fantasy games in my head and I would broadcast them with a tiny tape recorder. I would record them and listen to them. Then I would broadcast myself playing basketball shooting hoops as I was shooting them.”
By high school, he was hooked and decided he wanted to be a broadcaster.
“I reached out to Dave Collins, who was then the voice of the Bowie Baysox. It might have been my father’s idea,” Goldberg-Strassler said. “I don’t remember how I got going in that direction, but we talked about doing a tape demo. I bought a mini cassette recorder and set up in this spare booth at Prince George’s Stadium. I remember there was a home run hit early and I blew the call so badly that I stopped my recorder, rewound it, and started up again to try the home run call again. After doing that, I gave the recordings to Dave Collins and asked him what he thought. I remember him being kind but said it was too sing-songy. I basically sang the broadcast. It was lyrical and melodic and didn’t sound like a broadcaster at all. It was really bad.”
Determined to improve, Goldberg-Strassler went to Ithaca College specifically for sports broadcasting and continued to hone his skills.
“All broadcasting was extracurricular. I worked my way up starting with sports highlights to forward operating to hosting to doing color commentary to doing play-by-play,” Goldberg-Strassler said. “It was really bad basketball, football, or baseball. I just remember thinking oh my gosh. This is harder than I thought.”
He graduated from Ithaca College in May 2004 and no matter how many tapes he sent out, wasn’t getting any bites for a job.
“I graduated and didn’t know what to do. All of my tapes were being rejected. Then on the advice of Bruce Murray, an NFL Radio host, I decided to go to the Winter Meetings. In December 2004, I interviewed for several teams at the winter meetings and was hired as the pre-game/post-game operator for the Brockton Rox in the Can-Am League.”
Goldberg-Strassler also had stops with the Montgomery Biscuits (Class AA; Southern League) and Windy City ThunderBolts (independent; Frontier League) before landing with Lansing, where he’s been since 2009.
One highlight of Goldberg-Strassler’s season is the annual re-creation game (listen to it on the clip above). Without seeing the on-field action, he broadcasts the game just like the broadcasters of old, complete with sound effects from baseballs, baseball mitts and mini-bats. It’s a special nod to the past, although he said he can’t take credit for the idea.
“Jim Lucas, who was the team president of Brockton, assigned myself and Matt Meola, who was the other broadcaster, to do a game re-creation in 2005.”
That experience paid off when Mother Nature threw a wrench in Goldberg-Strassler’s broadcast plans during a game in 2008 with the Windy City ThunderBolts.
“The broadcast was Internet-only, and we were playing the Midwest Sliders,” he recalled. “They didn’t have a broadcaster, so I was broadcasting for both teams. We ended up not being able to call the broadcast in the press box because a storm knocked out the Internet.”
However, there was still Internet in the team offices, which meant Goldberg-Strassler left his press box perch to re-create the game close to the box-office windows.
“Nick Kovatch was relaying me information so I could do the first three innings. We switched so he could do the middle three and then we switched back so I would do the final three. It ended up being the team’s first no-hitter.”
Goldberg-Strassler doesn’t think he deserves the credit for the idea but does love making sure it’s a part of baseball history that keeps going.
“It’s fun to say this is something good,” he said. “One of the reasons I do it is I enjoy paying tribute to understanding how broadcasters used to call the game when they didn’t see it. They had to make it up. I love making sure that this doesn’t disappear. This is an art, and this is a craft. The other great thing about it is it reminds me just how important the visuals are. The day after a re-creation game, I realize I need to describe the pitcher’s hair, the batter’s stance, how the stadium looks. It revitalizes my artist’s eye as I’m gazing out at the field.”
A Broadcaster’s Value
Broadcasters have become voices and sometimes faces for the teams they cover. There have been so many legendary broadcasters over the years that the National Baseball Hall of Fame decided to start recognizing broadcasters with the Ford C. Frick Award, established in 1978 with the first honorees being Red Barber and Mel Allen. Over the years, broadcasters have become fixtures in their communities and add value to teams at both the major-league and minor-league levels.
“I think that to everyone who is in charge of a baseball team, value those broadcasters, understand what the broadcaster means to the community, the fan base, and everyone who cares about the team, value how they represent the team wherever they go, including on the road,” Goldberg-Strassler said. “Even though some broadcasters might not bring in money directly, there is value to them. For example, when someone thinks of the Dodgers, they might name some players, but they would probably also mention Vin Scully. I would like broadcasters to be valued for what we can be as the heart of the team. In the towns where they broadcast, that person represents something bigger.”
Goldberg-Strassler is certainly representative of the Lugnuts.
“I always joke around when I talk to people that Jesse is the unofficial mayor of Lugnuts baseball but he really is,” Parsons said. “He does so much more for our organization and is a staple in the community and a respected presence in our front office. He’s a big part of our marketing team and constantly coming up with ideas and ways for us to improve our fan experience and promotions. He’s a tremendous liaison with the coaching staff, both of the home side and the visiting side. He has great relationships with the media and is always putting the Lugnuts in the forefront and sending out story ideas. Then it’s the little things: helping with tarp pulls, emceeing events, and being a mentor to our younger staff. He’s an amazing asset to the Lugnuts organization.”
That includes the help of number-two broadcasters who also put their heart into the season to deliver the best product they can to the fans.
“I think it’s important for broadcasters to have assistance,” Golderg-Strassler said. “It’s important for them to have someone to keep them sane and also help them in whatever situations a broadcaster has to be in two places at the same time. Anywhere there is only one person, that person is carrying an enormous load. It’s very exhausting to talk three hours straight every night and then add on things like road travel and media relations. Everyone in this industry has obstacles, some more than others, but we’ll all in this together. I have such respect for broadcasters around the country.”
Goldberg-Strassler added that while he thinks he has grown a lot since the beginning of his career, he looks for ways to continue advancing his broadcast skills not only for himself, but his colleagues in the industry.
“I think shooting for this award as something to strive for is a really great goal. I want to see how far I can work to improve my craft, how much I can bring to this occupation, and do what I can help do to raise the level of broadcasting for me individually and for broadcasters across the league who are working at overcoming the same obstacles. I want to become the best broadcaster I can be, the best in media relations that I can be, the best teammate, and the best coworker. That’s what I’m working on. Whatever occurs while I’m working on all of those things, the better.”
Past Ballpark Digest Broadcaster of the Year winners:
2018: Tim Heiman, Binghamton Rumble Ponies
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
Promotion of the Year: Funko Fridays
Best Ballpark Improvement (Over $1M): City of Baseball Museum
Ballpark of the Year: Las Vegas Ballpark
Team of the Year: Las Vegas Aviators
Best Ballpark Renovation: American Family Fields of Phoenix