The awarding of Ballpark Digest’s Broadcaster of the Year is a highly competitive honor, one that takes into account the skill, diligence and innovation that a broadcaster shows both on and off the airwaves. The 2021 Ballpark Digest Awards choice for Broadcaster of the Year is someone who exemplifies this balance: the Voice of the Amarillo Sod Poodles (Double-A Central), Sam Levitt.
“Minor League Baseball is a special place, it’s a special place to work,” said Levitt. “…[T]here are literally hundreds of Minor League broadcasters who work tirelessly and are so talented and quite frankly so many that would be equally deserving of an award like this, so I really appreciate it.”
“We’re so happy to recognize what a young broadcaster like Sam Levitt has accomplished and look forward to his continued growth in the industry,” said Ballpark Digest Kevin Reichard. “We’re in the midst of tremendous changes in how baseball is broadcast, and Sam’s efforts both on the airwaves and social media shine a path on that future.”
“We could not be more proud of Sam and I can’t think of anyone more deserving to be named as Ballpark Digest’s 2021 MiLB Broadcaster of the Year!” said Tony Ensor, President and General Manager of the Sod Poodles.
“Sam understands and has succeeded in utilizing his skills through both traditional and digital broadcast mediums to create a tremendously enjoyable game experience for our fans, and his unique, personable style leaves all listeners feeling like he is calling the game straight from their living room. It’s that colloquial delivery that makes Sam a one-of-a-kind sports professional and a very beloved talent across the world of baseball, but especially here in Amarillo! Perhaps that is why our fans have branded him as the ‘Prince of the Panhandle’!”
We sat down with Levitt in this week’s Ballpark Digest podcast. Here’s the video version: scroll down for information about subscribing to the audio version.
Levitt is a product of Northwestern University, where his chosen career path took a sudden turn from his initial expectations. “I thought I would be likely pre-med when I went to Northwestern,” he recalled. “The reason I even got into WNUR, the student radio station at Northwestern was because I didn’t make the club baseball team….I wasn’t a very good high school player, I probably had no business going out for even the club team at Northwestern, but it seemed like a fun thing to do. To really not my surprise, I didn’t make the team. And I went to the student radio station and I started doing sportscasts on the news in the afternoon and doing the weekly sports talk show, and it took off. I ended up switching into the Medill School of Journalism and going to the Cape Cod League.”
Upon graduating, Levitt served as a No. 2 broadcaster under Adam Young with the Frontier League’s Gateway Grizzlies in 2014, moving into the role of Voice of the Grizzlies when Young departed for New Mexico State University.
It was with Gateway in late August 2016 that Levitt memorably called a Brandon Thomas grand slam that traveled into the players’ parking lot and smashed the windshield of a truck–Thomas’s own truck, as it happened, which he discovered to his dismay later that night. Word spread to Levitt who rushed to the lot, took a photo, and shared it on social media. By the next day, Thomas was being interviewed on SportsCenter amid a slew of national media attention. “It’s one of my favorite memories of being with the Grizzlies,” said Levitt. “It does show you, in a funny way, and I guess it’s not early social media but it’s already five years ago, the power of putting things out and being active on social and why it can be a huge benefit for a team.”
Following the 2016 season, Sam Levitt entered affiliated ball as the No. 2 broadcaster with the Corpus Christi Hooks, working with Michael Coffin. “…[T]hat was a huge moment for me,” Levitt said. “When I was in independent ball, one of my big questions was how I was going to get above that, because even if you spend a few seasons, it can be a difficult jump.”
The city of Amarillo, Texas, might have known something of how he felt. The affiliated Amarillo Gold Sox had suited up from 1977-1982, but in the succeeding years, the city was represented by the independent Amarillo Dillas, a member of the Texas-Louisiana League, Central League and United League from 1994-2010, followed by the Amarillo Sox, relocating from Pensacola in 2011, who played in the American Association for five seasons, the last as the Amarillo Thunderheads in 2015. In June 2017, during Levitt’s initial summer with the Hooks, the baseball-less city located ten hours to the north received a dose of welcome news: Elmore Sports announced a triple relocation, moving Rookie Helena to Colorado Springs, sending Triple-A Colorado Springs to San Antonio, and bringing Double-A San Antonio to the city of Amarillo (“Open Spaces | Endless Opportunities”). Just as Levitt had gone from indy ball to the Double-A Texas League, so too was Amarillo leaving behind its independent memories for the rivalries and road trips of the Texas League.
For their inaugural season of 2019, the Amarillo Sod Poodles chose Sam Levitt as their lead liaison to the burgeoning community of Sod Poodles faithful. “Going to Amarillo is easily the best decision I’ve made in my broadcasting career,” Levitt said. “It’s a tremendous place, tremendous job….I truly believe that I have one of, if not the best job[s] in Minor League Baseball, for a variety of different reasons.”
With Levitt at the microphone, serving as the public face and voice to connect the Sod Poodles to the community, the franchise has enjoyed a sensational start to its young history, beginning with the 2019 Texas League title. “Watching that season unfold, watching the way the fans gravitated to this group, to the manager, to the ballpark. I mean, the place was sold out 40 nights. It was an excellent place to call the game, there was such excitement every night–and that’s carried over into this past season as well, especially with not having any games in 2020–to the ending, of winning it, and the way that the Sod Poodles won the championship in dramatic fashion, in a final game of the championship series, and having five elimination games throughout the posteason, winning each and every one, it was like a fairytale ending.”
At the same time, during his time in Amarillo, Levitt has accumulated success in a wholly different manner: He has over 350,000 followers on TikTok, where his videos take viewers behind the broadcast curtain and chronicle his travels, his foibles, his flubs, and his best efforts to fulfill word-game requests during Sod Poodles broadcasts while maintaining his job security.
“I wouldn’t say there was any great science to it,” he admitted. “I started posting and people liked it. It was different. I spent a lot of time on it. I will be the first one to say there were nights where I have to go on air to do my TV pregame show when we’re at home at 6:25, where at 6 p.m., I’m literally editing the TikTok, or writing in the final text of the TikTok and trying to get it posted. Because once I go down for the pre-game show, forget it….”
“I’ve always had that mindset of wanting to be more than just a Minor League radio broadcaster, but be a little bit more forward thinking….Baseball is trying to appeal to a younger audience and become a sport for the youth. I do think that meeting those fans, and those potential baseball fans, where they are, is really important. We see it with sports being broadcast on all these different apps and platforms and nonlinear traditional places. I think that’s the way it’s going, and I think it’s wise to roll with that.”
To the everlasting benefit of Amarillo, MiLB fans, and TikTok users alike, Sam Levitt is certainly rolling. Pre-med’s loss, baseball’s gain.
The Ballpark Digest Podcast is also available as an audio-only podcast. You can subscribe to the Ballpark Digest podcasts here:
Past Ballpark Digest Broadcaster of the Year winners:
2019 (MLB): Marty Brennaman, Cincinnati Reds
2019 (MiLB): Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, Lansing Lugnuts
2018 (MLB): Pat Hughes, Chicago Cubs
2018 (MiLB): 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 (now voice of the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets)
2021 Ballpark Digest Award Winners
2021 Editor’s Choice Award: Jesse Cole and the Savannah Bananas
2021 Promotion of the Year: The Wonders reunite at Erie SeaWolves game