Broadcasters navigating unique path in 2021
When Minor League Baseball returned to fields in May, it also came back to a place it feels almost as much at home on -- the radio. In doing so, broadcasters across the baseball landscape have had to adapt to new ways of doing things. With limited travel opportunities and
When Minor League Baseball returned to fields in May, it also came back to a place it feels almost as much at home on -- the radio.
In doing so, broadcasters across the baseball landscape have had to adapt to new ways of doing things. With limited travel opportunities and access to players, it has been a more challenging endeavor in the pandemic world, but it’s baseball. It’s broadcasting. And it’s back.
“It’s just been completely different,” veteran Minor League radio voice Adam Pohl said. “As a broadcaster, when you’re in the lifestyle of Minor League Baseball, you’re just so used to the rhythm of being in one place for three days, another place for four days, and obviously never having a day off. The ability to have a day off a week I think has been a great asset to the industry and especially to the players.”
Pohl has been a lead broadcaster in the Minors since 2005, when he got his start in the Appalachian League. Since then, he’s spent time in High-A and Double-A, first as the voice of the Frederick Keys, formerly of the Carolina League, and currently with the Bowie Baysox. Like so much of Minor League Baseball headed into 2021, the sport’s calendar is different. Gone are months with as few as one or two off days. Now, teams play six-game series with an off day at the end of each. The weekly breathers are more than welcome, though lengthy series come with their own challenges.
“How you try to keep things fresh when you’re playing the same team six times in a row is difficult, and the reason it’s so difficult is because one of the things you see from an outstanding broadcaster is somebody that’s really prepared,” Pohl said. “The majority of people that are listening to a Minor League broadcast are not listening to one game and then not listening again. The people that are listening are the people that are really ardent fans and are really tied to the ballclub in one way, shape or form.
“You want to try to say different things about different people daily. You don’t want to come out and say the exact same thing about the exact same person every day. When you are in a six-game series, it is a little bit tricky to try to approach a guy that’s going to be in that three-hole in the opposing lineup every day and try to approach them in a different way every day, have a new story to tell or a new angle to provide daily. That part of it is tricky.”
There is a flip side to that.
“If you put your preparation aside and more of your color commentator hat on, you actually kind of get to know the opposing position players extremely well when you see them over and over and over for a week,” Pohl added. “Being able to speak to ways that they can beat you or ways that you’ve seen guys get them out, things like that, the aspects and nuances of their individual games for visiting teams, you’re able to pick up those on easier because you’re seeing these people for an entire week.”
Teams across the Minors are handling their 2021 broadcasts individually based on vaccination rates, travel protocols and other factors. Whereas nearly all broadcasters used to travel to away games with their clubs, the 2021 season has been much different.
“The reality is when I started in Minor League Baseball, there was a manager, a pitching coach, a hitting coach and a trainer and then there was basically a 25-man roster,” Pohl said. “Now there’s like 10 guys (on staff) and a 28-man roster, and the bus is the same size. It’s really tricky in a year of social distancing.”
Limited contact with team members has been thorny at times, as had been broadcasting road games from remote locations off video feeds (Pohl and fellow Baysox broadcaster Paul Fritschner called their first games from the road at Richmond from July 30-Aug. 1).
Thanks to @treywilson757 and @McCormickPxP for the hospitality in Richmond this weekend!— Paul Fritschner (@PaulFritschner) August 2, 2021
Great to finally be on the road! pic.twitter.com/nd3YhP1T2I
“I think that the biggest difference for us has been the accessibility to the players,” he said. “The majority of broadcasters have not been on the team bus for the majority of the year, been doing remote broadcasts where you don’t have the actual sound of the game you’re watching, you’re just running fake crowd noise. It has been a unique challenge. We’ve had great listenership to those games, but it’s been a unique challenge.”
Still, while media and community relations have changed along with broadcasts for front offices around the Minors, the 2021 season has transpired at a much more realistic pace. A Minor League season in Double-A used to consist of 140 games across 151 days with three or four of those 11 precious off days coming over a league’s All-Star break. That left a maximum of eight off days for the other 21 weeks of a season. Now, staffs get a chance to catch their breath more often.
“Most Minor League broadcasters operate in the way of ‘when the team’s playing, you’re working,’” Pohl said. “If a team has a day off every week, it really is an enormous asset to the mental health of broadcasters. We’re in a mental health world now. It’s an enormous asset to the realistic expectations of an employee that’s in a position like that.”
Tyler Maun is a reporter for MiLB.com and co-host of “The Show Before The Show” podcast. You can find him on Twitter @tylermaun.