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Joe Davis Gets The Chance To Be The Voice Of Baseball

“It was one of those things that was like, ‘Okay, I’ll believe this when I see it.’ I imagined Joe Buck would be at Fox calling the World Series and the Super Bowl forever.”

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As the Los Angeles Rams came back to defeat the San Francisco 49ers in the 2022 NFC Championship Game, a conversation was being had behind closed doors in The City of Angels. The NFC Championship Game could very well have been the final time Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, an iconic duo spanning two decades in the booth together, would broadcast a game on Fox Sports. Aikman’s contract with Fox Sports expired at the conclusion of this past season, and after negotiations, he inked a five-year deal to call Monday Night Football on ESPN. Buck followed soon after. That opened up two jobs to a pool of candidates – the network’s lead football and baseball announcer.

Fox Sports announced the promotion of Kevin Burkhardt as its lead football play-by-play announcer in late March, making him the voice of the Super Bowl for two of the next three seasons. Now it was up to the network to tab its new lead play-by-play announcer for its coverage of Major League Baseball.

Taking the seat of a legend is nothing new for Joe Davis. As the television play-by-play voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Davis replaced Vin Scully at 28 years old and has been a distinctive part of the soundtrack of signature moments for baseball’s most consistent contender over the last five years.

Davis’ interest in broadcasting began at a young age, growing up as a sports fan in Potterville, Michigan. His father was a football coach and sports were a consistent part of everyday life, making it easy for Davis to envision himself working in sports in the future.

While majoring in communications and journalism at Beloit College, Davis honed his skills both on the field as a quarterback and in the booth as a broadcaster. As an undergraduate student, Davis was the voice of Beloit Buccaneers baseball and basketball during the winter and spring, and played quarterback for the school’s division-three football team in the fall. Having an understanding of the perspective of an athlete as a broadcaster is something that has served to benefit Davis throughout his career thus far, especially in realizing his place in certain settings.

“It gave me a sense for my place in the clubhouse or in the locker room having been on the other side [and] knowing what exactly goes into being a player and where I stood once I became a broadcaster,” said Davis. “Not being a nuisance [and] kind of being seen but not heard, especially at first.”

As a result of his work ethic and desire to improve his skills, his rise in the industry was expeditious, to say the least, upon his college graduation in 2010. In the span of seven years, Davis served as the play-by-play announcer for the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits, called college sports for ESPN and Comcast Southeast and worked as a studio host for the Baylor Bears. In 2014, Davis was hired by Fox Sports to call both college football and basketball games, along with appearing on select Major League Baseball broadcasts.

Throughout his time in college and early days in the industry, Davis developed somewhat of an announcing style, or as he refers to it, discovering just who he was on the air and allowing for him to show his personality. Calling multiple sports and maintaining that identity, as daunting as it may sound, is something Davis has embraced, allowing him to move far into the industry at a rapid pace.

“From sport to sport, I love that I get to do multiple sports,” said Davis. “They’re all so different in the prep and then in the act of actually calling the games. I think that it’s nothing but a good thing.”

Davis has worked with the Dodgers since the 2016 season, albeit his beginning in a limited role as an alternate play-by-play announcer. During Vin Scully’s final season, he and Dodgers radio play-by-play announcer Charley Steiner filled in for Scully on games he was unable to call. Upon Scully’s final game of his legendary career, the Dodgers announced their new broadcast booth for the 2017 season, featuring 1988 World Series Champion and all-star pitcher Orel Hershiser as the color commentator with Davis as the primary play-by-play announcer on Spectrum SportsNet LA

Every day he enters the Dodgers’ television booth, Joe Davis recognizes the magnitude of the role and the weight Scully’s legacy garners, keeping him inspired and motivated to perform the role to the best of his ability.

“Knowing that when I sit in that Dodger chair everyday, I think about the fact that for 67 years, the best ever to do this job was in that chair, and the responsibility that comes with being the person to follow Vin is a big part of what makes the Dodger job special,” said Davis.

Throughout his time with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team has finished with a winning record; in fact, the team has not finished with a losing record since the 2010 season. Davis realizes that he has been and remains fortunate to call games for a franchise in a large media market with a steadfast commitment to winning and the resources to do it on a year-by-year basis.

“We talk all the time about how lucky we are to be doing Dodgers games. I say [that] half-jokingly – but really it is only half-jokingly; I’m somewhat serious,” said Davis. “I think part of the reason I’m still here [and] people haven’t run me out of town is because I’m delivering good news. People like to hear good news and people like to watch a winner, and thankfully this team since I’ve gotten here has been so, so good.”

In covering a talented team with bona fide superstars including Mookie Betts, Clayton Kershaw, Freddie Freeman and Walker Buehler, along with a surplus of quality depth at both the major league and minor league levels, high-pressure situations yielding dramatic “Hollywood-esque” finishes are abundant. An aspect of Davis’ announcing style is his ability to thrive in these situations, something his predecessor Scully did exceptionally well. Part of the reason Davis has made iconic calls early in his career highlighted by exclamations including “Absolute madness” and “You are ridiculous” comes from advice Scully gave him, along with his own background as an athlete.

“You almost have to think like a player and take a deep breath and really relax and not put pressure on yourself,” said Davis. “I don’t think you script big moments, but I do think it’s important to anticipate the big moments coming and then think to yourself, ‘If this big moment that I’m anticipating coming happens, what is the bigger context around that?’”

By recognizing the context surrounding big moments – such as win streaks, changes in the standings, career milestones, etc. – Davis has been able to succeed behind the mic no matter the scenario. Whether it be a spring training game, the regular season or the postseason, he knows how to appropriately articulate a moment for his viewing audience; however, it requires being prudent and giving each moment of the game some forethought.

“I’m not smart enough to have that moment happen and do it justice – to put a proper caption on it,” said Davis. “I think that it requires doing a little thinking [in] anticipating the moment coming.”

Recognizing his audience is indeed consuming the game both visually and aurally, Davis has been able to differentiate between calling a game on television despite getting his start in radio. Throughout his career, Vin Scully called Dodgers games on television while the team simulcast the first three innings of every matchup on the radio during his final season. A salient point Davis underscores though, especially when talking to younger broadcasters making a transition from one medium to the other, is not to overthink their multitude of differences, but rather to embrace their similarities.

“There are obvious differences [and] there are subtle differences, but… I don’t think it’s good to overthink the difference. I hear a lot of times when people are making that transition from radio to TV and [when] I listen to the TV tape, I can hear them thinking: ‘Okay, I need to talk less. I need to call it this way because it’s TV, not radio.’ I don’t think it’s healthy to overthink it.”

Another point of differentiation between the two mediums comes in the implementation of the analyst into the broadcast. The Dodgers television booth had not had an analyst in recent memory prior to Herscheiser, as Scully called the games solo over much of his career.

Davis’ most memorable moment as a broadcaster came while filling in for Joe Buck on Fox Sports’ broadcast of Game 7 of the 2020 National League Championship Series. Ironically enough, Davis’ local team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, faced the Atlanta Braves with a World Series-berth on the line. After Enrique Hernández hit a home run to tie the game 3-3 in the sixth inning, Dodgers slugger Cody Bellinger crushed a towering home run to right field to put the team on top 4-3, sending the franchise to its first World Series since 1988 – one they would eventually win in six games.

“It was a special thing… because I was sitting in Joe’s chair and I got to send a team to the World Series,” recalled Davis. “The icing on the cake was that it was the team I cover on a daily basis.”

The exhilaration of that moment on a national broadcast was something Davis hoped to be able to experience again in his career. High-pressure situations are where Davis has historically thrived in the booth, and he recently stepped into another one with his ultimate career goal in the balance.

Once it had been reported that Fox had given Joe Buck permission to pursue other jobs after it had lost Troy Aikman to ESPN, Joe Davis knew he had a legitimate shot to take over lead play-by-play duties, but was unsure whether he would be granted the monumental opportunity. The anticipation of this moment, potentially being afforded the chance to call baseball’s marquee matchups including the World Series, was something Davis had been dreaming about since he was in his youth.

“I started to read all the same stuff that all of us were reading as far as ESPN being interested in Joe Buck,” said Davis. “It was one of those things that was like, ‘Okay, I’ll believe this when I see it.’ I imagined Joe Buck would be at Fox calling the World Series and the Super Bowl forever.”

 Just as he does in high-intensity moments within the scope of a game, Davis tried not to get too ahead of himself as the process of finding Buck’s successor was underway. But with the possibility of a promotion he so genuinely desired looming in the background, Davis admitted that he struggled to remain calm throughout the process.

“[I] was checking my phone all the time; waiting for updates; waiting for calls; and hoping that something would break. It seemed like forever before anything happened.”

As his apprehension grew and a resolution neared, Davis remembered how as a child, he would watch the World Series and listen to Buck call the games, aspiring to one day follow in his footsteps.

“One of the coolest things for me has been to go from looking up to him [and] not knowing him – just admiring him and wanting to be a little like him – [to] getting to meet him as I came to Fox, and now being able to call him a friend and a mentor,” said Davis.

The time had finally come. While Davis was in Las Vegas calling the Pac-12 Basketball Tournament, Fox Sports President of Production/Operations and Executive Producer Brad Zager flew in from Los Angeles to deliver him a message – one that he had been waiting to receive since he was 10 years old.

“‘I’m here to offer you a chance to be the voice of baseball,’” Davis recalled Zager telling him in their meeting.

Earlier this month, Fox officially named Joe Davis as its lead play-by-play announcer, a role in which he will join National Baseball Hall of Fame member and 1995 World Series champion John Smoltz in the booth. In his new role, Davis will be the voice of the World Series each year, along with announcing other premier matchups and special events, including the 2022 MLB All-Star Game and MLB at Field of Dreams Game. Additionally, he will remain the voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers on Spectrum SportsNet LA.

“If you had asked me when I was 10 what do you want to do, I would have told you: ‘I want to call the World Series,’” said Davis. “A World Series Game 7 would be just incredible, but… looking at my regular season schedule, it’s awesome. It’s all the marquee teams and the marquee games…. I’m not going to stop pinching myself – that’s for sure.”

Davis will make his debut as Fox’s lead MLB play-by-play announcer on May 28 when the Philadelphia Phillies take on the New York Mets. The game will be played at Citi Field, which is modeled after Ebbets Field – the former home of the Brooklyn Dodgers – the place where Vin Scully got his start on the airwaves.

“I have fun covering these games,” said Davis. “Letting that love and joy for the game come through on the air; presenting the current game as one that is special; and these people and these players within the game – presenting their stories as special. I think the foundation to it all is genuinely loving the game as it is right now.”

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Would Local Radio Benefit From Hosting An Annual Upfront?

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How many times have you heard this sentence uttered at conferences or in one of the trades; radio has to do a better job of telling its story. Sounds reasonable enough right? After all, your brands and companies stand a better chance of being more consumed and invested in the more that others know about them.

But what specifically about your brand’s story matters to those listening or spending money on it? Which outlets are you supposed to share that news with to grow your listenership and advertising? And who is telling the story? Is it someone who works for your company and has a motive to advance a professional agenda, or someone who’s independent and may point out a few holes in your strategy, execution, and results?

As professionals working in the media business, we’re supposed to be experts in the field of communications. But are we? We’re good at relaying news when it makes us look good or highlights a competitor coming up short. How do we respond though when the story isn’t told the we want it to? Better yet, how many times do sports/news talk brands relay information that isn’t tied to quarterly ratings, revenue or a new contract being signed? We like to celebrate the numbers that matter to us and our teams, but we don’t spend much time thinking about if those numbers matter to the right groups – the audience and the advertisers.

Having covered the sports and news media business for the past seven years, and published nearly eighteen thousand pieces of content, you’d be stunned if you saw how many nuggets of information get sent to us from industry folks looking for publicity vs. having to chase people down for details or read things on social media or listen to or watch shows to promote relevant material. Spoiler alert, most of what we produce comes from digging. There are a handful of outlets and PR folks who are great, and five or six PD’s who do an excellent job consistently promoting news or cool things associated with their brands and people. Some talent are good too at sharing content or tips that our website may have an interest in.

Whether I give the green light to publish the material or not, I appreciate that folks look for ways to keep their brands and shows on everyone’s radar. Brand leaders and marketing directors should be battling daily in my opinion for recognition anywhere and everywhere it’s available. If nobody is talking about your brand then you have to give them a reason to.

I’m writing this column today because I just spent a day in New York City at the Disney Upfront, which was attended by a few thousand advertising professionals. Though I’d have preferred a greater focus on ESPN than what was offered, I understand that a company the size of Disney with so many rich content offerings is going to have to condense things or they’d literally need a full week of Upfronts to cover it all. They’re also trying to reach buyers and advertising professionals who have interests in more than just sports.

What stood out to me while I was in attendance was how much detail went into putting on a show to inform, entertain, and engage advertising professionals. Disney understands the value of telling its story to the right crowd, and they rolled out the heavy hitters for it. There was a strong mix of stars, executives, promotion of upcoming shows, breaking news about network deals, access to the people responsible for bringing advertising to life, and of course, free drinks. It was easy for everyone in the room to gain an understanding of the company’s culture, vision, success, and plans to capture more market share.

As I sat in my seat, I wondered ‘why doesn’t radio do this on a local level‘? I’m not talking about entertaining clients in a suite, having a business dinner for a small group of clients or inviting business owners and agency reps to the office for a rollout of forthcoming plans. I’m talking about creating an annual event that showcases the power of a cluster, the stars who are connected to the company’s various brands, unveiling new shows, promotions and deals, and using the event as a driver to attract more business.

Too often I see our industry rely on things that have worked in the past. We assume that if it worked before there’s no need to reinvent the wheel for the client. Sometimes that’s even true. Maybe the advertiser likes to keep things simple and communicate by phone, email or in-person lunch meetings. Maybe a creative powerpoint presentation is all you need to get them to say yes. If it’s working and you feel that’s the best way forward to close business, continue with that approach. There’s more than one way to reach the finish line.

But I believe that most people like being exposed to fresh ideas, and given a peak behind the curtain. The word ‘new’ excites people. Why do you think Apple introduces a new iPhone each year or two. We lose sight sometimes of how important our brands and people are to those not inside the walls of our offices. We forget that whether a client spends ten thousand or ten million dollars per year with our company, they still like to be entertained. When you allow business people to feel the excitement associated with your brand’s upcoming events, see the presentations on a screen, and hear from and interact with the stars involved in it, you make them feel more special. I think you stand a better chance of closing deals and building stronger relationships that way.

Given that many local clusters have relationships with hotels, theaters, teams, restaurants, etc. there’s no reason you can’t find a central location, and put together an advertiser appreciation day that makes partners feel valued. You don’t have to rent out Pier 36 like Disney or secure the field at a baseball stadium to make a strong impression. We show listeners they’re valued regularly by giving away tickets, cash, fan appreciation parties, etc. and guess what, it works! Yes there are expenses involved putting on events, and no manager wants to hear about spending money without feeling confident they’ll generate a return on investment. That said, taking calculated risks is essential to growing a business. Every day that goes by where you operate with a ‘relying on the past’ mindset, and refuse to invest in growth opportunities, is one that leaves open the door for others to make sure your future is less promising.

There are likely a few examples of groups doing a smaller scaled version of what I’m suggesting. If you’re doing this already, I’d love to hear about it. Hit me up through email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com. By and large though, I don’t see a lot of must-see, must-discuss events like this created that lead to a surplus of press, increased relationships, and most importantly, increased sales. Yet it can be done. Judging from some of the feedback I received yesterday talking to people in the room, it makes an impression, and it matters.

I don’t claim to know how many ad agency executives and buyers returned to the office from the Disney Upfront and reached out to sign new advertising deals with the company. What I am confident in is that Disney wouldn’t invest resources in creating this event nor would other national groups like NBC, FOX, CBS, WarnerMedia, etc. if they didn’t feel it was beneficial to their business. Rather than relying on ratings and revenue stories that serve our own interests, maybe we’d help ourselves more by allowing our partners and potential clients to experience what makes our brands special. It works with our listeners, and can work with advertisers too.

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BSM Writers

Brandon Kiley Doesn’t Pretend To Be Someone He’s Not

“There was a time where the audience probably said, this guy isn’t a St Louisan. But this is home for me now and I’ve adopted it.”

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There must have been something about Brandon Kiley that everyone saw as a young aspiring sports radio host. Nick Wright saw enough to bring him to Houston at SportsRadio 610 as an intern for a summer. Will Palaszczuk saw enough to urge him to apply for his old job in Columbia, MO at KTGR. Ben Heisler saw enough to know he’d fit perfectly with Carrington Harrison in afternoon drive at 610 Sports in Kansas City. 

Maybe you can chalk it up to Kiley being able to make such great contacts. Or maybe it’s just that he was supremely talented at a young age. Odds are it’s a combination of both. But he was destined to be a sports talk host somewhere, it just turns out he’s having success over the air in a city he never imagined he’d work in. 

A Kansas City kid, Kiley knew at 16 years old he wanted to be a sports radio host. He was even more sure of it when he started doing college radio at Mizzou. But it was in Houston where he got his real taste of what sports radio was like.

“I went to 610 in Houston for the morning show with Nick Wright,” Kiley said. “He basically just assigned me as an extra producer. We had known about each other through Twitter and I had a little bit of a relationship with him beforehand. I think he knew I was willing and able to take on more tasks than a typical intern would usually do. Essentially, I became an extra guest booker, cut audio for them, and came up with topics at night. It was like he had an extra producer for the summer and it was my first real experience doing something like that.”

Imagine the confidence he left Houston with as he traveled back to Columbia for another year of college at Mizzou. Few, if any, on campus could have claimed the kind of summer Kiley just had. He parlayed that experience into a once-a-week show at KCOU, the student radio station. The following semester, he pitched the idea of doing a daily show

“I told them I’d take any time slot available,” Kiley said. “The one that I got was the very glamorous 6-7 am time slot. There weren’t a whole lot of college kids that wanted to wake up that early every morning. I ended up having a rotating cast of co-hosts and it ended up being super valuable because I learned how to work with a lot of types of personalities.”

He excelled as a host and found his style behind the mic, and soon after, he got his first big break. In March of 2014, Will Palaszczuk contacted Kiley and told him he was taking another radio job outside the market. The two knew of each other, seeing as both were in Columbia and covering the same games in town. Palacsuk told Kiley he needed to apply for the spot he was leaving at KTGR.

“There was literally one sports station and one sports show in town and it was that one,” Kiley said. “I applied to him the previous semester and said, hey man, if you guys have anything available I would love to come work there. It just so happened he got a job elsewhere and he called me up and said, ‘Hey man, I don’t know what your plans are, I’m about to take another job and they’re going to post my job available. I don’t know if they’re going to make it a producer or co-host gig, but I think you should apply because I think you’d be good at it’. Will’s good work helped a ton in terms of me landing the gig. I graduated and told them I wanted to make it full-time.I was essentially a producer and co-host for the afternoon show. I never even applied anywhere outside of Columbia”

For two years, Kiley stayed at KTGR and covered the Missouri Tigers. He was fresh out of college and living in a college town doing what he loved in his early 20’s. It wasn’t a bad life. But one night in Columbia changed his entire professional career. It just so happened it occurred on the rooftop at Harpo’s, one of the most well-known establishments in town.

“My roommate at the time, we both worked at the radio station in Columbia,” said Kiley. “He worked at the hit music station and I worked at the sports station. We all went out one night at Harpo’s and he said, ‘Hey, I just want to let you guys know I’m getting out of radio and moving to Kansas City.’ I was like, oh shit, what am I going to do? Our lease was up in two months, so the timing worked out well and I was looking at Barrett Sports Media looking where I could go next.”

“My girlfriend at the time, now my wife, was from St. Louis and there was a job available there. I had always thought, that’s not a place I want to live, why would I ever want to live in St. Louis? They didn’t have a football team, it just didn’t seem like a great fit for me. But my buddy tells me he’s moving and I’m like, St, Louis it is! That night I ended up applying for the job and got a call back from Chris “Hoss” Neupert, who at the time was the PD here, and asked if I would be interviewed with him and Kevin Wheeler, whose show I would be producing.”

So off to St. Louis he goes. For three and a half years, Kiley embraces his new city and tries to work his way up at 101 ESPN. 

But the Kansas City kid felt a pull back to his hometown. Oddly enough, Ben Heisler even reached out to tell him he was leaving the station to pursue another opportunity in sports. It felt like the perfect time to pursue his dream of doing sports radio at the station he grew up listening to.

“I’m from Kansas City and grew up listening to 610 Sports Radio,” Kiley said. “A guy I listened to growing up was Nick Wright. I also listened to a bunch of Carrington Harrison, Danny Parkins and Ben Heisler. Those guys had what I consider one of the best shows in Kansas City sports radio history. I got to know them through Twitter and Heisler sent me a text. He knows I’ve always been interested in moving to KC. He tells me he’s about to get out of radio and into more fantasy football stuff and his job is going to come open.

“I had applied for multiple other jobs in KC over the years and had never gotten any real consideration. When Heisler left, I knew Carrington and thought this might work out. I ended up getting in contact with their PD Steven Spector and it felt like a real opportunity. I got what I considered to be my dream job, producing in the afternoons and hosting a Saturday show at 610 Sports. I thought, what could there be more in life than this? This is the best.”

But life happened and he had to make a decision around three months after moving to Kansas City.

“2-3 months later it became clear, it was going to be difficult for my girlfriend, now wife, to move to Kansas City with all of the family ties she had in St. Louis,” said Kiley. “It was the decision of, do you stay in Kansas City and chase the dream or do we alter the dream, in terms of the job, and see if there’s anything in St. Louis?”

He never thought his best years and most successful years as a sports radio host would come in St. Louis but they have. It’s a city he loves and he’s worked hard in hopes it will love him back. But he’s also not going to pretend to be someone he’s not. Though it can sometimes be hard for St Louisans to accept someone that’s not from there, Kiley doesn’t act like he attended World Series games in 1982, listened to Jack Buck growing up or watched Kurt Warner at the Edward Jones Dome. He’s himself.

“That wasn’t my love and I can’t pretend that it was,” said Kiley. “Have there been times, especially early on where that was a potential issue for me? Yeah it was. There was a time where the audience probably said, this guy isn’t a St Louisan. But this is home for me now and I’ve adopted it. It does in a lot of ways remind me of Kansas City, where if you take the time to know what the soul of the city really is, in terms of sports, I think people can appreciate and respect it.”

Kiley doesn’t hold on to his Kansas City roots on the air, in terms of the topics he talks about. He’s a Chiefs fan and even writes for Arrowhead Pride, but he’s not going to talk a lot about the Chiefs in a city that doesn’t have an NFL team. He’s also a Mizzou grad and talks about the teams on Rock M Nation, but again, he’s rarely, if ever, going to do several segments a day on the Tigers. Instead, he knows the audience wants to hear about the Cardinals. Blues talk is clearly next in line. Everything else falls down the order if not off of it completely. 

Kiley grew up watching baseball, so he can easily break down what issues the Cards’ offense may be having in the middle of May, but hockey was different. He didn’t grow up around the game and the transition to having in-depth conversations on the Blues was a more difficult task. 

“When I came here the first time it was during the middle of a Blues’ playoff run. At that time I was just plopped into this thing, and I didn’t know shit about hockey. I had probably watched about 10 hockey games in my entire life. I’m looking at Kevin Wheeler like, I’ve got to be honest I don’t have a lot on hockey I’m going to be able to help you with. If you could help bring me along with it, that would be great. Over the years I’ve been able to take it in. I used to host a show with Jamie Rivers, who’s a former Blues player. If you told me five years ago I’d be able to do that, much less enjoy doing that, I would have said you’re out of your damn mind.”

Whereas most sports radio shows in football markets are searching for content to help fill segments, this is one of the sweetest times of the year for Kiley and everyone at 101 ESPN. The Blues are deep in the playoffs and the Major League Baseball season is underway. His show BK and Ferrario covers it all every weekday from 11 am – 2 pm. 

Kiley never thought this would be his life, but he loves what he’s built in St.Louis and doesn’t give off the vibe he’s looking to leave anytime soon. He’s a great example of someone who didn’t pigeonhole himself into just one market. He was willing to look outside of his hometown and has found true success. 

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BSM Writers

Will Middlebrooks Has Been The Breakout Star Of The Red Sox Season

“If I was going to work for an organization or a regional sports network, why not the Red Sox, for someone that I’m actually a fan of?”

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The Boston Red Sox experience in 2022 is just different. In every way.

The team has struggled out of the gate. They certainly aren’t the team that was two wins away from the World Series last year.

Fenway Park doesn’t even accept cash anymore.

But it’s not just that the Red Sox are different on the field or at the ballpark – they are different on television too.

When loveable, longtime Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy died in October 2021 at the age of 68, we knew that consuming the Red Sox on TV would never be the same.

There is no replacing Jerry Remy. One person can’t do it. No way.

And the fans know it.

The bosses at the NESN know it too. They haven’t tried to replace Remy on the broadcasts with just one person. 

In fact, they’ve brought in several new people to the broadcast team. A group of people just rotating in, giving viewers a different experience and a different perspective every night. 

They’ve added former Red Sox players Kevin Youkilis and Kevin Millar to the broadcast booth roster. They’ve added Tony Massarotti of 98.5 The Sports Hub as well.

And in the pre- and post-game studio, they’ve taken a similar approach, which is an extension of previous years, mixing and matching host Tom Caron with a slew of former Red Sox players including Jim Rice, Tim Wakefield, Ellis Burks, Lenny DiNardo, and former Sox infielder Will Middlebrooks, who will be in the studio for about 40 games this season.

I think that NESN has found a formula that works. It’s been fun and informative – and different. In a year that serves as a constant reminder of what’s been lost as a viewer, it’s refreshing to realize that these broadcast teams are giving you something gained.

A star is born.

When I mentioned to Caron that I wanted to write a piece on Middlebrooks, he said: “He’s a rising star.”

And it’s easy to see why he feels that way.

Will Middlebrooks is young (33), accessible, opinionated, active on social media, and he has the playing resume to legitimize his point of view.

But it took some real coaxing to get into the business in the first place. After a devastating leg injury ended his playing career in 2019, Middlebrooks was unhappy.

“I sat around and sulked and was angry about it for about three months,” he said. “And my wife, Jenny (Dell), finally said, ‘You need to get off your butt and do something, find not just, work, but find something you’re passionate about again.’”

He didn’t know at that time that he was passionate about media work, but Dell, who works for CBS Sports, volunteered him to do a show at CBS Sports HQ in Ft. Lauderdale, near where their family resides.

“She said, like it or not, you have a show in three days. You’re going to try it out, and if you’re good at it, they’re going to hire you,” he recounts of their conversation. “I was like, I don’t want to do it. I’m not ready to talk about baseball. I hate baseball right now. I just have such a bad taste in my mouth from everything that happened over the past year.”

But that didn’t deter Dell from pushing her husband to take the chance.

“She said, well, I don’t care. I already told them that said you would do it,” he says. “So she kind of threw me to the wolves, but for the best. And I went in and I gritted my teeth and just got it done and then talked baseball. I did it a couple of more times and they said, ‘Hey, you’re decent at this. We’re going to hire you on for a year!” “And here we are, I’m four years into it,” he joked.

And over those four years, Middlebrooks has ballooned into one of the most recognizable follows for baseball fans. In addition to working at NESN and CBS Sports, he’s also one-half of the Wake and Rake podcast, has appeared on ESPN Radio, has done color commentary for college baseball, and has more than 155,000 Twitter followers.

Resonating with Boston 

When I ask Middlebrooks about landing the NESN gig for 2022, he beams through the phone. He says he wanted the challenge of working in Boston and he welcomed the opportunity to expand his media footprint.

It’s evident that he loves the Red Sox – and the city of Boston. How couldn’t he? He made his Major League debut with the organization, played parts of three seasons with the team, won a World Series with the Sox, and met his wife in the city.

“If I was going to work for an organization or a regional sports network, why not the Red Sox, for someone that I’m actually a fan of?” he said. 

While it’s clear that Will loves Boston, and it’s clear why NESN loves him, what needs more unpacking is the attachment that the Red Sox fans have to him considering he spent just those three seasons there and doesn’t live in New England full-time. 

Middlebrooks can’t quite figure out why the people of the region hold him so close, but he does have a good hypothesis.

“I think that if I left anything, it was people saying, ‘well, he played hard. He gave everything he had,’ he said. “And I know that’s really important in Boston, just the blue-collar mentality of ‘keep your head down, work, play as hard as you can, even if things aren’t going well, just bust your butt and be a good teammate and all that.’”

But there just may be something else at play.

“I think a lot maybe had to do with when the marathon bombings (2013) happened…I’m pretty outspoken on social media about that stuff and with my teammates, we all rallied around each other,” he said. “I think I was just lucky enough to be a part of a team that was really special to everybody in Boston. So they embraced me after that.”

The Family Dynamic 

Dell has been in sports media for more than a decade as a host and sideline reporter for CBS and NESN before that. She knows the business and its nuances. She understands when and how to look at the camera and when and how to ask questions of athletes. She knows the expectations of her husband’s current employers. She’s undoubtedly a great resource to have.

But as Middlebrooks finds his own footing in the business, and as his star grows, what is that dynamic like? She has the answers to the tests already, but how does he balance using that resource versus figuring things out on his own?

“I’m very open to anything she has to say,” he said. “I’ll come out of my office, like, ‘Hey, that was pretty good!’ And she’s like, ‘Yeah, it was good…but…”

“She always has something, and at first it used to really annoy me, because I’m like, man, I thought I was doing really good,” he said. “And she’s like, ‘No, you are doing good. I’m just trying to help you get to that next level. There are just little things here and there that you don’t know.’ And as a competitor, it’s really frustrating. But you know, after a couple of minutes I walk away, I’m like, you know what? I’m really appreciative to have that access to someone that can help.”

What’s Next?

At such a young age with such already vast experiences, it seems plausible that even bigger media steps could be in play for the former infielder. I asked him if he has a goal he’s working towards. Sunday Night Baseball? The MLB Network? Something else?

“One thing I’ve really learned is to not look too far down the road and kind of just live in the moment and enjoy the moment,” he said. “I’m really happy with being with with CBS and with NESN, and within that umbrella, of course, I would like to grow. Does that mean in the booth? Does that mean more games pre and post? Sure I’m up for anything where they want me, because what I’m doing right now, I feel like is a dream job outside of playing and I’m so happy with it.”

Middlebrooks has been on the NESN broadcasts all week and will continue through this weekend as the Red Sox host the Mariners in a four-game series.

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