Mariners Radio and Living the Dream

A view from the visiting radio broadcast booth at US Cellular Field

I never really liked the word “dream.”

Dreaming that you can do something implies that you aren’t really working towards it. I dream that I can play major league baseball but my goal in life is to become a major league baseball broadcaster. It’s a singular focus of mine that has been unrelenting since I was around 11 years old. For instance, at age 13 I auditioned for a show called “Kids Talk Sports” (I got the gig by the way) and the guy asked me if I wanted to be a broadcaster when I grew up. I responded that I didn’t want to be one…I was going to be one.

As I grew older I realized that there are very few jobs in major league baseball for broadcasters. Also, everyone wants to be one. Becoming a major league announcer seemed more like a dream than ever before.

Rick Rizzs is living that dream. He’s the voice of the Seattle Mariners. He also happens to be best friends with John Dittrich, the General Manager of the Joliet Slammers. I work as the Media Relations Coordinator and sometimes broadcaster for the Slammers and when they hired me John told me that he would introduce me to Rick. I talked to Rick on the phone back in March and that in itself was a thrill.

But Monday, June 6 is a day I will never forget. I’ve been listening to the late Dave Niehaus and Rick all my life on the radio. Rick worked eight years in the minor leagues before being hired by the Mariners and this is the first season he’s been their number one voice with the passing of Niehaus. The Mariners opened a three game series with the White Sox on Monday and John arranged for me to go up to the press box and talk with Rick before the game.

The trip didn’t start so well. The traffic from Joliet to Chicago was unbelievably brutal and I got stuck on the highway while they cleared an accident up ahead. Words not fit for the radio were flying out of my mouth as I sat in my car on I-55. Luckily I got to the game in the nick of time and after a bit of confusion how I actually was supposed to get up to the press box (apparently I needed a ticket even though Rick had left passes?), I was there.

Rick was not though. He had stepped out of the booth for a few minutes. So I exchanged some awkward conversation with producer/engineer Kevin Cremin. Kevin is sort of a legend in my mind because he’s been in the booth on Mariners’ broadcasts for years but you never hear him. He also has a really cool name.

Rick arrived a few minutes later. He has a reputation for being one of the friendliest people you could ever meet and he more than lived up to that. When I mentioned that my favorite call of his was the Luis Sojo play in 1995…he repeated it verbatim. That was awesome. Rick also introduced me to Dave Valle, the color commentator for the game. He explained that Valle was a catcher for the Mariners back in the day (I knew this of course but I nodded politely). The number one piece of advice Rick has for aspiring broadcasters is to know the game inside and out. I could not agree more. If you don’t have a thorough understanding of the game and the team you are covering, you’re not going to make it no matter how good your voice is. He also emphasized that it’s important not to try and copy people. Find your own voice.

It should be noted that I brought a friend with me to the booth who is not my girlfriend, but I’m pretty sure Rick thought she was. So it was quite amusing to hear him tell me three times to “always listen to her.” But that’s good advice nonetheless.

Near the start of the game I made my move. I asked if he would give my demo CD a listen. He said absolutely, he would love to, so I gave him my demo CD with my business card inside the case as well. Rick reemphasized later as he was about to go on-air that he would definitely listen to it.

I hope he has a lot of feedback (well I actually hope he thinks I’m the greatest broadcaster ever and I should be in the big leagues right now, but there I go dreaming…) because that would be quite the thrilling email. Getting feedback from a major league announcer is not something very many people get.

The first inning started and Kevin gave me an extra headset so I could hear the call clearly. There was a crazy play in the bottom of the first where the M’s left fielder looked to have made an amazing catch up against the wall. But at the last second he dropped it. The White Sox runners became confused and at one point were both by second base. It was a crazy play and Rick was able to get through it like a pro. Watching him call it was hilarious because at the end he stood up and gestured to the field in excitement. I always like announcers who really get into the game because that’s my style as well, and that was a great moment.

Rick had other guests scheduled to come to the booth during the game (did I mention he’s very popular?) so we only stayed for the pregame and the first inning. But it is something I will never forget. They say life happens while you’re waiting for the next big moment; well that was a big moment, and I’ll treasure it forever.

The Mariners lost the game, but quite frankly I didn’t care. I think Chone Figgins did something stupid like getting picked off but I can’t be sure.

To paraphrase “Casablanca,” I hope this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Maybe I’ll get to go back to the booth sometime in the future and stay longer.

Maybe one day I’ll be the voice of the Mariners and live the dream Rick Rizzs is living.