View Full Version : Four Days in Peoria

01-06-2018, 10:47 AM
All I could see -- for miles and miles -- were corn and soybeans. Soybeans and corn. At that time, the corn was “as high as an elephant’s eye”. I was wending my way south from Chicago through “America’s Heartland” toward Peoria, IL (I remember reaching a town called El Paso. Have I gone too far?) But why? Why, in that summer of 2004, would I be headed west to Chicago then south to Peoria?

At 61-years of age I had recently retired from teaching. I wanted to shift gears. A lifelong dream. I wanted to become a play-by-play baseball announcer,

Weeks earlier, I had scoured the Internet looking for websites that might help me learn about play-by-play opportunities. I eventually found a site that was called “Call of the Game Skinny.” On that website, I read about openings for baseball broadcasters at the minor league level. I began putting together cover letters and resumes, and also sending out tapes. But I was getting nowhere. Even follow-up calls were being stopped dead in their tracks. I can’t be sure, but I have to assume that the combination of my age and lack of experience (I had called a handful of American Legion baseball games on a local Greater Boston radio station) were working against me.,

Shortly thereafter, I began posting comments on the “Call of the Game’s” forum. I indicated to one and all my plight (I needed experience) and how much I would like to get the chance to do play-by-play of minor league baseball games on the radio. One of the other posters responded to my inquiry. He said that he did play-by-play for the Single “A” Midwest League’s Fort Wayne Wizards (a then San Diego farm club) and that I was welcome to join him to, as they say in the trade, “to get some innings,” that is, if both our schedules permitted.

That afternoon, I brought up the Wizards website on my computer and settled on two or three possible dates that I could hook up with their announcer (I’ll call him “Lord Byron”). We finally settled on a late-July, four-game series between the Wizards and the Peoria Chiefs (then, a Cardinals farm team).

When that late-July day for the beginning of the four-game set arrived, I flew out of Boston Logan’s Airport to Chicago's O’Hare Airport. I then rented a car and drove about three hours south to Peoria. I remember arriving there about 3 PM. I made my way to where the Wizards were staying, the Holiday Inn on Jefferson Ave; it was about a mile from where the two teams would play their four-game series. The park was called O’Brien Field (I believe it was named for a large, nation-wide auto dealership).

About an hour after checking into the hotel, I walked over to O’Brien Field (not far from the Illinois River) and hooked up with “Lord Byron” (I’ll him “LB”) in the announcer’s booth. As we waited for the game to start, I couldn’t help but think of the movie “Field of Dreams.” I thought to myself, this place is truly a “Field of Dreams.” Everyone here is chasing their own baseball dream, not only the ballplayers, but also the announcers, front office personnel, even the umpires (only two umpires called the game). I learned that when an umpire was a good deal away from making a call, say an out at 2nd base, yet a play at 3rd, they’d call it “dialing long-distance”. The only people not chasing a dream were the spectators, and they may have had dreams of their own. I kept thinking: This baseball diamond is the site of one large audition.

What I recall most about the players on both the Wizards and Chiefs was how young they were. I don’t recall one player who was over 30. Most players were in their 20s, some were in their teens. One teenager who immediately caught my attention was the Peoria Chiefs’ catcher; his name was Daric Barton (he came from Vermont). I remarked on the air (I had said it earlier to “LB”) “This kid reminds me a little of Ted Williams.” I kept thinking that Barton has a chance of making it to the Majors (He ended up playing seven years with Oakland; his best year was 2010 with the A's. He led the AL in walks that year with 110).

Another player I noticed, although not a teenager, was a young man who played for the Wizards named Fernando Valenzuela Jr. He was indeed the son of Fernando Valenzuela who had pitched for the Dodgers. Valenzuela, Jr. had played his collegiate ball at UNLV and was trying to make it to the Big Leagues as a first baseman. One other name that came up was a Canadian-born catcher of Greek heritage named George Kottaras (he later caught for the Red Sox). At the time, Kottaras had been slated to temporarily leave the Wizards to play in the Athens Olympic games

As I think back to that weekend, I remember I did play-by-play of parts of four games; it was a chance to get a taste of what it would be like should I ever get hired as a minor league broadcaster

Personally, I would call my visit to Peoria an education. Yes, an education. A crash course in minor league baseball. And yes, I learned a lot about minor league ball during that four-day Peoria stay. I learned how different minor league baseball was from its Big League counterpart. I’m not only talking about the caliber of the players’ abilities on the field, but other factors, as well.

First and foremost, minor league broadcasters are also deeply involved in sales. In radio, we used to call that sales/announcer gig: “a combo”. Only here, in the minor leagues, sales numbers are much more important than broadcasting skills. Your job as “a member of the team” was not just calling games, it was selling spots, yearbook ads, and luxury suites. It was making sales presentations and calling on potential clients. Any illusion you might have had that you were just going to be the "voice" of the team would be quickly be dispelled.

Further, at the minor league level, you’re not selling players, e.g., Giancarlo Stanton, you’re selling an outing to the ballpark. The reason you don’t “sell” players is because the team’s makeup is changing almost on a daily basis (I quickly noticed that in Peoria). Players are constantly being promoted or demoted. Some leave the team of their own accord; others are sent elsewhere as part of a trade. It’s a revolving door — pure and simple.

What attracts fans to minor league ballparks are: giveaways, fireworks and comics, like Myron Noodleman; also kids running the bases, autograph sessions, clinics, and so on.

When those four days in Peoria came to an end, I knew that at 61-years old, I would never be able to complete a 140-game season, at least not one that would take me on road for 70 games. That point was driven home by the fact that “LB” and rest of the Wizards team were leaving Peoria that Monday night at 11 PM; they wouldn’t arrive back in Fort Wayne until 6 AM. Nowadays, a twenty-minute bus ride is about all I can take. Seven hours --- Fuhgettaboutit!

When I finally arrived back in Boston the following Tuesday, my wife asked, “How did it go?” I said, “Dear, if nothing else, I got an education.” I added, “Thank goodness, on this occasion, I was just auditing the course.”

01-10-2018, 04:58 PM
Just 'four' days, Teach?

I spent a week there one afternoon ... :lol:

01-10-2018, 07:27 PM
Between your write up on Fenway Park and this story, you should write a book.