Q&A with Tom Nichols August, 2018 (unedited version)

 

 

Complete interview with Tom Nichols, veteran minor League baseball broadcaster, now the Voice of the Dayton Dragons (August, 2018)

 

Who are the broadcasters you grew up listening to? 

I grew up in a sports family in Muncie, Indiana during the early years of the Big Red Machine.  The world has certainly changed since those days in more ways than you could ever begin to describe, but I remember walking home from school in October of 1970 when World Series games were still played in the afternoons, even on weekdays.  How did I find out who won that day’s World Series game between Cincinnati and Baltimore?  As school was dismissed and you started to walk home, you could hear echoes of kids who had just gotten the same information I was seeking, yelling “Orioles, Orioles, Orioles” to indicate Baltimore had come out on top that day.  The process repeated itself each day throughout the rest of the series.

My dad often had the Reds game on the radio.  We could easily pick up the Reds flagship station, WLW, and starting in 1971 at the age of seven, I became a nightly Reds on Radio listener.  In those days, of course, only about 15 games per season were televised, so radio was your connection to the team.  The Reds radio broadcast team consisted of a young up-and-comer from the west coast named Al Michaels and legendary former Reds pitcher Joe Nuxhall, a very colorful character known for being the youngest player in Major League history at age 15 during World War II.  Nuxhall stayed with the Reds as a full-time broadcaster until 2004.  Al was a tremendous baseball broadcaster and stayed with the Reds through the 1973 season.  When it came time to select a replacement for Al Michaels, the Reds hired the announcer from the Triple-A Tidewater Tides, Marty Brennaman, who is still with the team to this day. 

Marty was the voice of the Reds during their glory years, when baseball on radio was king, and more than anyone else, he was my model for what I wanted to be as a broadcaster.  Al Michaels was great, but he was gone as a Reds broadcaster before the 1974 season.  Marty became a part of the lives of every Reds fans on a daily basis, and his broadcasts were masterpieces.  As a kid, Reds on Radio was so popular that you could ride your bicycle through your neighborhood and listen to the game continuously, because as you moved away from one house where the owner was sitting on the front porch listening to the game, you would soon approach another house with the radio turned up, with a guy sitting outside doing the same thing.

After the Reds pennant-winning seasons of 1972, ’75, and ’76, they produced a full-length 33 1/3 record album that told the story of the season.  It was narrated by Michaels in 1972, and by Brennaman in ’75 and ’76.  Each album included a chronological trip through the regular season and then the post season, complete with play-by-play highlights of the most exciting games.  I wore those records out.  I would come home from school and put one on the stereo, so many times that I had every call memorized.  I would call the play just as Al or Marty was calling it.  Same words, same inflection, and maybe most importantly, same emotion.  I was enjoying those moments again each time I played the record, just as the announcer had enjoyed them live.  Decades later, after I had been broadcasting baseball for years, I heard one of those record albums again.  I noticed something that I never realized as it had happened.  Many of the phrases used by the Reds broadcasters to describe plays during my childhood years were the same phrases I was using as an adult broadcaster.  It happened without intention, subconsciously I guess.  But more importantly, the emotion and drama from those record albums became part of my profile as a broadcaster, maybe my best quality if you ask some of my listeners.  Many people have commented to me that they appreciate my ability to build the drama of the game and then deliver the emotion and enthusiasm.  That came from those many nights listening to the albums, and the live game broadcasts themselves. 

Can you share a handful of whacky and zany incidents (as many as you would like) that you’ve experienced in your years of MiLB. It can cover the realm; from on-air events, on the field, while traveling and the like. 

If you work long enough in Minor League Baseball, you think you have seen everything…until the next night when you see something you swear you’ve never seen before.  The craziest game I have ever called came on July 28, 2000 when I was broadcasting for the Mobile BayBears.  We were on the road in Chattanooga, Tennessee, playing the Chattanooga Lookouts.  The night began with a long rain delay that lasted about two hours.  It was the last meeting of the year between the two teams, so every effort was going to be made to get the game played.  The first pitch was thrown around 9:00 p.m.  Chattanooga built an early 3-0 lead and carried that lead into the ninth inning, which started around midnight.  The first two Mobile batters in the inning were retired easily enough, and I looked over at Larry Ward, the Chattanooga broadcaster in the next booth and a guy who was a friend to me, and he was quietly beginning to pack his materials as his team, like ours, was set for an overnight bus ride to the next city.  We would both have to wait quite a while longer.  The next Mobile batter hit a mile high infield popup that was going to end the game, but the Chattanooga shortstop who was camped under the ball, Wilmy Caceres, had the ball pop right out of his glove for an error, and the game continued for another batter.  The next Mobile hitter bounced a ball to the left side of the infield, and as the throw went across to first, it again appeared that the game was over.  But the throw to first actually broke the webbing of Chattanooga’s Ben Broussard, and the ball went right through his glove.  With the tying run now at the plate and two men on base, Chattanooga went to their bullpen and brought in their all-star closer, Bo Donaldson, to face Mobile’s five-foot eight infielder, John Powers.  Donaldson delivered the pitch to Powers, and whack, high, deep, and gone!  Three-run home run, tie ball game.  I heard Larry Ward next door slam his fist against the table.  It might have been midnight, but we were going to extra innings. 

We went to the 10th, then the 11th, and the 12th.  Both teams would eventually run out of pitchers.  In the bottom of the 13th, it looked like Chattanooga finally had the win.  They loaded the bases with two outs with their last available pitcher, Brett Haring, batting.  Haring took a full swing and managed to hit a dribbler down the third base line that rolled dead about 30 feet from home plate as the runner from third raced in.  The Mobile third baseman, Alex Pelaez, was not even going to field the ball, but as Haring ran to first, he pulled a hamstring so badly that he could not even limp to the bag.  He went down to the ground half way to first as Pelaez picked up the ball and tossed it across the diamond to end the inning and send us to the 14th. 

By that time, Chattanooga had no available pitchers.  They brought their right fielder, Andy Burress, to the mound, and they put the previous day’s starting pitcher, Eddie Priest, in right field.  Priest wanted no part of any defensive action.  He took his position about two steps to the left of the right field foul line and the Lookouts basically went with a two-man outfield.  Burress actually pitched a scoreless 14th inning, but in the 15th, he walked five guys in a row and had to be replaced by catcher Brad King.  At that point, Chattanooga had their catcher pitching, their right fielder, Burress, catching, and a pitcher playing right field.  Mobile was able to take advantage of Burress’ wildness to capture one of the most improbable victories you could ever see.

One more story involving a bigger name.  In 1994, I was with the Fort Wayne team in the Midwest League and our league featured the professional debut of the number one overall draft pick from the previous summer, a young 18-year-old shortstop from Miami named Alex Rodriguez.  He was with the Seattle Mariners affiliate, the Appleton Foxes. 

The Foxes came to Fort Wayne early in the year.  The Minor League pitching coordinator for our affiliate, the Minnesota Twins, was a former big league pitcher named Dwight Bernard, and he happened to be with our club for the series when Rodriguez and the Foxes came to Fort Wayne.  Dwight was a guy I liked and enjoyed talking with, and he was very outspoken.  He was skeptical about first round draft picks in general and felt they had reputations that had not yet been earned with performance on the field.  So when I asked him what he expected from Rodriguez, he went on a tirade, saying he did not think we would have much trouble with him, first round picks are all over-rated, and the Appleton manager would probably have him hitting about seventh in the batting order to keep the pressure off him.

Well, the first indication that he was wrong in his analysis came when the lineup for the first game of the series came out, and Rodriguez was hitting third.  He hit his first professional career home run in that series, so I guess I can say that I was the guy who called the first of many, and I probably have that call on a cassette tape somewhere.  Rodriguez obviously looked like a guy who was not exactly getting by on reputation.  He was a star from day one.  In fact, later that same season, which was the year of the player’s strike, he was in the big leagues as a teenager.  So the series ended and we were about to head out for a new set of games in South Bend, which was about a two hour bus ride from Fort Wayne.  Dwight had his truck with him, he was going to drive to South Bend, and he asked me if I wanted to ride along.  I got in the truck and noticed a baseball in the front seat.  I looked at the ball and saw that it was autographed.  I looked at the autograph and it said, “Alex Rodriguez.”  Dwight had asked the 18-year-old kid to sign the ball.  That told me all I needed to know about what Dwight thought of the player later known as A-Rod.

Of your responsibilities off-air, which do you enjoy the most and which do you dread?

When I was hired in Dayton, part of the role of the broadcaster was to also serve as lead speaker for the team’s Speaker’s Bureau, and it is something I have really come to enjoy.  I speak to local service organizations like Rotary, Kiwanis, Optimist, or any business group.  I also speak to school classes, from college sports marketing classes to elementary age kids.  The speeches allow me to give a 30-minute presentation on Minor League Baseball in general as well as our relationship with our affiliate, the Cincinnati Reds, and our organizational philosophies.  I also get to share some of my favorite stories from my career in baseball.  It gives me a chance to have direct interaction with my audience, something that you do not often get as a broadcaster.  There is always a Q&A session, and that is often the best part.  The Dayton baseball story is a great story to tell.  As you may know, the team holds the all-time record for consecutive sold out dates at more 1,300, and the streak is still alive.  Robert Murphy, the president of the team, and Eric Deutsch, the Executive Vice President, have been with the Dragons since before the first game was played in 2000, and their vision is largely responsible for one of the most uniquely successful baseball operations in sports.  It means a lot to me that all of my co-workers, every player to ever play for the Dragons, and every fan who has attended a Dragons game, can say that they were part of something that has never been matched in any league, in any sport.

I do not dread any part of my job, but any broadcaster would tell you that he has made sacrifices.  I have not had a Saturday off during the summer time in 30 years.  You are basically putting in 80 hour weeks for five months.  It is an enormous time commitment, but it has been very enjoyable for me.

How do you know that you recently celebrated your 4,000th broadcast?

That was the easy part because I missed only two games over my first 27 years as a full-time announcer.  So all I had to do was go to Baseball-Reference.com and look at the won-loss records for my teams, count the number of games each season, add in the playoff games, and the six all-star games hosted by the teams I was working for, and add the two partial seasons when I worked part-time with Howard Kellman in Indianapolis.  It took less than 10 minutes to get the number and the date for 4,000.

Which of the leagues you’ve covered presented the most challenges to broadcast?

Well, things have become much easier in any league as the years have gone by.  For my first 10 years or so as a baseball broadcaster, your audience was limited to listeners in your home market who could pick up the signal off the radio.  Those days are long gone.  When you got on the team bus and left the ballpark for the hotel, as soon as you walked in the hotel lobby, players would scramble for the pay phones to call home and tell their parents or girlfriend how the game went.  Now, of course, by the time I get on the bus after the game, players are talking on their phones to their parents, who listened to me broadcast the game, or watched the game on the computer with instant replays, and the parent might be explaining a play to the player because the parent had a better angle on the TV broadcast.

Now, we have so much more access to information to utilize over a full broadcast that will include a 30-minute pre-game show, a three-hour game, and then a post-game show with a player interview, play-by-play highlights, and scores.  We have quick access via the internet, for example, to a player’s college media guide bio with interesting notes that we can weave into the broadcast.  That is a long way from the days when you had a roster, one page of stats, and if you were lucky, the Major League media guide which might have career stats on each player.

All that being said, in the Minor Leagues, travel is always the most challenging element.  In 2005, I made a career decision to join a new company called Victory Sports Group, which was operated by some gentlemen I had worked for in both Fort Wayne and Mobile.  Their goal was to grow the company to acquire multiple teams at all levels, and I saw it as a chance to advance my career after eight years at the Double-A level with Mobile.  The guys had one baseball team for starters, and it was an independent professional team, the Gary SouthShore RailCats.  I broadcast games there for three years, and they turned out to be really enjoyable years because we won the league championship in 2005 and 2007 and went to the finals in 2006.  Independent ball is all about winning, and I enjoyed that quality very much.  Also, we had the same core group of guys all three years, and it was like a family under manager Greg Tagert.  But with independent ball, you are signing up for some long bus rides.  We had three Canadian cities in our league.  We flew to Calgary and Edmonton and bussed to Winnipeg, which was 17 hours.

In 2006, they began enforcing a law that anyone flying into Canada had to have a passport, and the new regulations created a huge administrative backlog.  We knew about the law well in advance and everyone in the team’s travel party that did not have a passport went through the process with plenty of lead time.  That included me.  Unfortunately, as our first trip to Edmonton approached, passports for three of us had not arrived.  The three without passports were our manager (Tagert), one pitcher, and me.  What were we going to do? 

We learned that it was actually possible to get a passport in one day if you traveled in person to the federal government office in Chicago, which was only about an hour from our ballpark.  The team had an off-day to travel to Edmonton, and on that day, the three of us took an early morning train into downtown Chicago, sit in a waiting room all day, got our passports, and made it to O’Hare with about 45 minutes to spare.  Unfortunately, though we made it to Edmonton, none of the team’s baggage got on the connecting flight out of Minneapolis.  The players were trying to figure out how to play a game with borrowed equipment, no uniforms, and all the stress that went along with showing up in a foreign country with nothing but the clothes on your back and whatever was in your carry-on bag.  Sure enough, an hour before the first pitch, a guy pulled up to the ballpark in a pick-up truck with all of our bags, including my radio equipment, and everything from that moment forward went normally.

When I hear a player complain about a long bus ride, I just smile.  As I mentioned, the trip to Winnipeg was 17 hours.  Most times, we either had an off-day to make the trip, or we played in Fargo, North Dakota on one side or the other of the series in Winnipeg, and the bus ride to Fargo was only about 12 hours.  But of course, there are always years when things do not go quite according to what would seem to be the most logical plan.  One year, we played in Winnipeg and had to travel home without an off-day, and they would not even schedule a day game on the last day of the series.  So we played a 6:00 p.m. game, got on the bus about 10:00 pm, and headed home, traveling all night and all the next morning.  We were on the bus until we arrived at our ballpark at about 3:00 the next afternoon.  I jumped in the shower, put on clean clothes, and went straight into pre-game preparation.  No travel situation today, short of the dreaded bus breakdown, could ever match that day

Do you still aspire to do MLB games?

Well, I certainly would not turn down an opportunity, but you do not see a lot of 54-year-old guys being hired, so that ship may have sailed.  The Birmingham Barons broadcaster, Curt Bloom, began his career at about the same time as I did, and we became close friends as the years went by, working first in the Carolina League when I was with Kinston and then in the Southern League when I was with Mobile.  Curt points out that when we were in our early 30’s, teams were looking for more experience, and we got to the point where he had the experience, it became more common to see younger guys being hired. 

About 20 years ago when I was in Mobile, there was a local high school pitcher who was making a name for himself as a possible big league prospect.  He was drafted by our parent club in Mobile, the San Diego Padres, and he pitched for our team on his way up the ladder.  He even worked in our office during the off-season, and we became close friends.  About 4:00 a.m. on a morning in 2002, as we were on a Southern League road trip, the phone in my hotel room rang.  “Tom, this is Jake,” said the voice.  “I am going to the big leagues!”  It was Jake Peavy, and to this day, he is the only player to ever include me on the list of family and friends he called to say that he had been called up to “the show.”  About 10 years ago, the Padres had a broadcast opening and by that time, Jake was a big name in San Diego.  He had won a Cy Young Award, won a pitcher’s triple crown, and started an all-star game.  Jake made a call on my behalf to the decision-maker with the flagship radio station and then called me to tell me what he told them.  He said he told the gentleman that he would put his own reputation on the line to endorse me as the guy they should hire.  It was a touching moment for me, but that was Jake, the most giving person you could meet.  But I never even got close to that one.  So sometimes you just have to be happy with what you have, and I certainly have enjoyed my career in the Minor Leagues.

Any big-league broadcasters whom you’ve turned to for guidance? How have they responded?

Early in my career, I received good advice from the legendary hall-of-fame voice of the Tigers, the late Ernie Harwell, who was as fine a man as you would ever meet.  One comment he made stuck with me.  He told me to always remember that the listeners are tuned in for the game, not to hear about me.  He said when you forget that, you are cheating your listeners.  I never forgot that.  John Gordon of the Twins also gave me a lot of advice early in my career.  In recent years, Jim Kelch, who was with the Reds for eight seasons, offered some good suggestions.  All of the Reds broadcasters, including Marty Brennaman and his son Thom, as well as Chris Welsh and Jeff Brantley, have always treated me like a champ, which has meant a lot to me.  I do not go to them for advice or assistance because they are getting hit up for that from every direction, but when I see them from time-to-time, they offer nothing but respect.  Chris Welsh made mention of my 4,000th game on the Reds telecast, and I got tons of immediate texts on my cell phone.  They have all been very gracious to me, and that has been sincerely appreciated.

Howard Kellman, the voice of the Indianapolis Indians since 1974, is technically not a big league broadcaster, though he has done some big league games, and certainly had the talent to work in the big leagues decades ago.  Howard gave me my first opportunity to work in baseball and he is the person to whom I owe the greatest debt of gratitude in all of sports. 

I had a great interest in Minor League Baseball long before I ever called a game.  If you grew up in the 1970’s, you did not get much information on players that are now commonly referred to as “prospects.”  When the Reds called up a player like Ken Griffey Sr. in 1973, you had heard a little about him, but not much.  Your information was limited to what you heard on the Reds radio broadcasts, and what you had read in the Sporting News.  In those days, if you were a baseball fan, the Sporting News was your link.  I was a subscriber even before I turned 10 years old, and when it came in the mail on Fridays, I read it from cover to cover.  Then in the early 1980’s, I saw an advertisement in the Sporting News for a new baseball publication, All America Baseball News, and I became an immediate subscriber.  A year or so later, that magazine changed its name to Baseball America, and of course, that publication made its mark with coverage of Minor League Baseball and prospect rankings.  I was a Baseball America reader practically from day one.

In the late 1970’s, with my growing interest in the Reds prospects, I started listening to the broadcasts of their Triple-A team, the Indianapolis Indians, and Howard Kellman was their broadcaster.  Howard’s style was a perfect fit for me as a listener.  In fact, I would say in some ways, he was the broadcaster I would eventually become.  He focused on the game and the players, without a lot of outside distractions.  Long before I ever met Howard, I had listened to hundreds of his broadcasts and his style of announcing became my style, not so much because I was trying to copy what he was doing, but because his focus on his broadcasts connected with the same things I was interested in. 

In February of 1988, I did something that was difficult for me to bring myself to do.  I was a shy, mild-mannered recent college graduate, and I knew one thing:  I wanted to get into baseball.  There obviously were no web sites to assist you with job information as the internet was still years away from having an impact on daily life.  One day, I decided to try to get in touch with Howard and ask if he could offer any advice on getting into baseball.  I called the Indians office and left my number, and sure enough, he called back.  God only knows how much different my life might have been if that message had gotten lost or he had simply not taken time to call me back.  I asked about getting into baseball, and he told me that February was too late in the off-season in most cases to start talking to teams, but that the Indians might have some games available that season.  Howard’s broadcast partner at that time, Tom Akins, was the principal timpanist for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and on nights when they were performing, Mr. Akins was not available for the broadcast.  Howard asked me to send a demo tape and he would give me consideration.  A few weeks later, he called back and told me he could guarantee me one game, which was actually the Indians home opening night game in April of 1988. 

I remember that night like it was yesterday.  Howard gave me two innings of solo play-by-play.  He stepped out of the booth and listened on a radio in another location in the press box.  At the end my second inning, he came back in the booth and spoke these immortal words to me:  “Tom, we have some more games for you.”  He gave me a list of the dates that Tom Akins was not available, and I told him to put me down for every one of them.  There was no pay, but that night, I was the happiest person on earth.  It was an 80 minute drive each way for me to Bush Stadium in Indianapolis, but when I drove home that night, I do not think the wheels on the car touched the ground.  

Over my two years working with Howard, I soaked up everything I could from him like a sponge.  Use of inflection as a tool, ways to prepare for broadcasts, standard protocol for handling various situations, and most importantly, taking your role seriously.  He approached every broadcast as if he was announcing a major league game, and if there was one thing above all other lessons that I kept with me from my years with Howard, it was that one.  Four thousand games later, I can say that I also approached every broadcast like I was doing a big league game for millions of people.  That is the only way you can do it.

I have picked up something from many of the broadcasters I have worked with in the Minor Leagues over the years.  They all have dreams and are trying to get better.  And joining the Dragons organization has certainly made me stronger in many ways.  I like to say that one thing that Robert Murphy, our team president, will not accept is being average.  And I am a big believer that you learn great lessons from great people, regardless of their occupation, age, or position in life.  One of my most important lessons learned in recent years came from a young member of the Dragons staff who showed the ability to stay positive in the wake of life’s most challenging moment.  We are all surrounded by greatness if we take time to recognize it.

Are the Dragons’ broadcasts available on-line?

We broadcast all 140 home and road games on radio, and each of those broadcasts is available on a mobile device via the Dragons app or the iHeart Radio app as well as over the air in southwest Ohio.  You can also get the games on computer at WONE.com.  We televise 25 games per season on the Dayton CW affiliate, and those games are available on the MiLB TV package.  On the nights when we are on television, I move to the TV booth and my radio partner, Josh Hess, handles the radio by himself.

With the shrinking today of the sizes of newspapers, is it more difficult to generate publicity?

 You better believe it is.  As a sports organization, you have to find a means of becoming your own media outlet.  Through our team web site and our social media channels, we have to work to fill the gaps.  The downsizing of the newspaper industry has changed not only the way that events are covered, but also the way the information is consumed.  You have to adjust.

Who was one of the most unusual players you’ve covered and why?

Minor League Baseball has a lot of stories.  I like to say, every player has a story that can be told.  I will give you one that I thought was exceptional in terms of a player beating the odds.  There was a high school baseball player of apparently modest ability in Corpus Christi, Texas named John “J.J.” Trujillo.  J.J. was not an imposing physical specimen, standing no more than six-feet tall and I would imagine when he came out of high school, he probably weighed something south of 160 lbs.  There was not exactly a line of college coaches waiting to offer J.J. a scholarship.  He took an offer as a walk-on at Dallas Baptist University, which is now a strong NCAA Division I program, but at that time, it was NAIA.  At the end of college, the walk-on from an NAIA school had zero chance of being drafted, but he did impress someone enough to earn a spot on the pitching staff of the Johnstown Johnnies of the independent Frontier League.  You could not make this up if you tried.

In his season with Johnstown, J.J. developed a submarine-style pitching delivery that was becoming more and more effective as he gained experience.  There is not a lot of information available, but according to thebaseballcube.com, his ERA that summer was 1.58 over 39 relief appearances.  He caught the attention of the San Diego Padres and was signed to a contract, and assigned to their Midwest League team in Fort Wayne.  In his one season in Fort Wayne, he set a league record in saves with 42 that stands to this day, one of the highest single-season save totals in any league in Minor League Baseball history.  His ERA that summer, the year 2000, was 1.33.

Midway through the next season, after another strong first half and another sub 2.00 ERA in the California League , J.J. arrived in Mobile, Alabama to pitch for the Double-A Mobile BayBears, the team I was broadcasting for.  My first thought when I saw J.J. was that he looked like someone who was more likely to take your order at McDonald’s than to pitch to a Double-A hitter.  He had a good second half for us that summer, and then came back the next year, in 2002, even more experienced with his unique delivery style, and he was penciled in as our closer.

To put it simply, J.J. Trujillo in 2002 was the most effective pitcher I have ever seen in Minor League Baseball.  He was absolutely unhittable.  He made 31 appearances with Mobile and gave up a total of three runs, an ERA of 0.66.  He earned 20 saves in a half season.  He was truly automatic.  When he came in the game with a lead, the game was over.  On June 11 of that season, the Padres were playing an interleague game in Baltimore, and they called J.J. up to the big leagues.  He went from a total nobody out of high school to the premier closer in all of the minor leagues, and now he was on his way to the big leagues.

Unfortunately, the best part of this story has already been told.  J.J. showed up the first day just before the first pitch and was told that he would not be used that night.  He did not even have his baseball cleats at the game, but was given a uniform.  However, the game went to extra innings, and he was sent to the mound in the bottom of the 10th inning, still weary from a day of travel, having borrowed a teammate’s shoes.  He got the count to two strikes on the first batter he faced, Tony Batista, and J.J. later told me he had every bit of confidence that he was about to strike out Batista, just like he had struck out so many Southern League hitters that summer.  He threw Batista his patented submarine slider, but in this case, J.J. told me it was the worst pitch he threw all season, a hanger over the middle of the plate, that any Double-A hitter would hammer.  Batista put it in the seats and the game was over.  J.J. joined the small, dubious list of pitchers to give up a walk-off home run to the first batter he ever faced in a major league game.  A few days later, he was back in the minors, his confidence shot, and he was never quite the same again.  But he had something that no one could take away, time on the mound in a major league stadium against a major league hitter.  It was sort of like the Moonlight Graham story in some ways.  What I remember most about J.J. Trujillo was that before he went to the big leagues, I never saw anyone better, and that’s true to this day.

Any broadcasters you got to know in all these years, at all these levels that are now in the big leagues?

Yes, there have been some.  Joe Block, now with the Pirates, was in the Southern League when I was there.  Brett Dolan and David Wills were in the Midwest League in the 1990’s.  Brett worked with the Houston Astros, David with the Tampa Bay Rays.  Matt Hicks was in the Carolina League when I was there and he is with the Texas Rangers.  My #2 guy in Dayton in 2011, Mike Couzens, is with ESPN and has a big future.  He has done some MLB games.  I am thrilled for all of those guys. 

I told my longtime broadcast friend, Curt Bloom, the Birmingham Barons broadcaster since 1992, that there is a stanza in the song by the Eagles, Sad Café, that was written just for veteran Minor League broadcasters like us.  “Now I look at the years gone by, and wonder at the powers that be.  I don’t know why fortune smiles on some, and lets the rest go free.”  I also told Curt that both of us got what we wanted, it just took us a long time to figure that out.  Heck, many of those Reds players from my early years of listening to baseball on WLW, like Joe Morgan, Ken Griffey Sr., Tommy Helms and the late Lee May, eventually did color commentary on my broadcasts in Dayton.  How do you beat that?

Other than baseball, what sports have you covered?

I did a lot of high school basketball and football years ago.  I had the chance to work with a NASCAR team as a media relations supervisor, and I really enjoyed that.  Mostly, it has just been baseball over the last 25 years.

 

Tom Nichols’ chronological history as a minor league baseball announcer

  • Indianapolis Indians, 1988-89 (part-time), AAA, Expos
  • Kinston Indians, 1990 (first job as primary announcer for a team), A, Indians
  • Peoria Chiefs, 1991-92, A, Cubs
  • Fort Wayne Wizards, 1993-96, A, Twins
  • Mobile BayBears, 1997-2004, AA, Padres
  • Gary SouthShore RailCats, 2005-2007 (simultaneously served as Exec. Dir. of Victory Sports Group, which owned the team), Independent
  • Dayton Dragons, 2008-present, A, Reds