Josh Whetzel is in his eighth season as the radio voice of the Rochester Red Wings, the Triple-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, and his 15th in professional baseball. A graduate of the University of Kansas, Whetzel is widely regarded as one of the best minor league broadcasters in the country.
David Laurila: Where did you get your start as a minor-league broadcaster?
Josh Whetzel: My first job in minor-league baseball was in Albany, Georgia, which was an Expos affiliate — the Albany Polecats, in the South Atlantic League. That was in 1995 and it was a team that featured probably 12 to 15 players who eventually played in the major leagues, which is a ton of guys to make it to the major leagues from a team in the South Atlantic League. There were the likes of Vladimir Guerrero, Brad Fullmer and Javier Vazquez, and guys like Hiram Bocachica, Trace Coquillette and Fernando Seguignol. It was amazing, because a team with all of those good players wound up finishing about 20 games under .500. It was a lesson early on that a lot of times talent, especially in the minor leagues, doesn’t always win out, especially when you’re talking about a lot of guys who are very, very young for that classification at the time.
DL: What were some of the lessons you learned about broadcasting that summer?
JW: Well, I was on my own for 140-some games, so I obviously got a lot of repetitions calling games that year. You have to learn how to travel — that’s part of it. We were in the far southwest part of the South Atlantic League, so we had some pretty arduous bus trips that were tough to recover from. I remember one time we played in Savannah, Georgia one night and we had a day game the next day in Charleston, West Virginia. We didn’t get to Charleston until 10 in the morning, and fortunately the game got rained out so we didn’t have to worry about playing a game that day. But the travel was tough and learning how to kind of stay in shape in that regard is important, so that you can at least stay somewhat mentally sharp enough to call a game. I know with me, if I’m feeling mentally groggy, it probably doesn’t result in a very good broadcast that night, so it is always important to try to be as mentally sharp as you possibly can be.
DL: Where did your career take you from Albany?
JW: I went from Albany, Georgia to Kinston, North Carolina. The team in Albany was sold and moved to Salisbury, Maryland to become the Delmarva Shorebirds, so we all lost our jobs at the end of that season. I actually worked at a little radio station in Nebraska in the interim, but I was fortunate enough to get the job in Kinston and work for the K-Tribe for four years. Then I worked in Binghamton [New York] for the Binghamton Mets for three years, in the Eastern League, before getting the job in Rochester, in 2003.
DL: How does one go about getting a job as a minor-league broadcaster?
JW: I think there is a tremendous amount of competition for them, but you just have to send tapes out, or in this day and age, CDs. When I started out, I was sending cassette tapes, but now think people are sending out CDs or even emailing MP3s and you just have to hope that somebody likes your work. And like just about any business, it’s important who you know and that helped me a little bit in getting the job in Rochester. I knew the GM, Dan Mason, a little bit. My boss in Binghamton at the time, Bill Terlecky, was a former GM in Rochester and that helped pave my way in getting the job with the Wings.
DL: Who is in charge of hiring broadcasters?
JW: Most of the time it’s the general manager of whatever minor league team it is. The parent organization isn’t involved in it whatsoever, or at least they’re not most of the time. I certainly don’t know of any instances where the parent club has been involved.
DL: Do minor-league broadcasters have any contact with the front offices of their respective big league clubs?
JW: When I was in the low minors, I was also serving as the PR person for each team, so I would be in contact with the PR people for the major league organization. There are also the various field personnel who come in, whether they’re roving instructors, pitching coordinators, or those sorts of things. You also have contact with the general managers when they come into town. They’re a prime interview target, for example. When [Twins GM] Bill Smith comes into town, he’s always a guy I’m targeting to fill some time in the pre-game show.
Bill is unique in that he actually began in the minor leagues; he was a minor league general manager for awhile in the Midwest League. It’s always fun to see Bill come into Rochester, because he really does have an appreciation for what people in the minor leagues go through — not just broadcasters, but people at all levels of a minor league baseball front office. He has an appreciation for that and understands all of the hard work that goes into putting together a minor league season.
DL: Can you share a couple of good stories from the booth?
JW: My first year in Rochester, in 2003 — or maybe it was 2004 — I actually had to stream the internet feed myself, off the board and into a computer, with some program. Between innings, I would mute my board so that I could talk to the board operator back at the station, or to Joe Altobelli, who was my broadcast partner at the time, and people listening on the internet couldn‘t hear it. Well, one night during a game, a guy in our front office came over to me during the broadcast and said, “Hey, I just got an email from George Morneau, Justin Morneau’s dad. He’s listening on the internet and he heard you and Joe talking about the fact that you’re planning to go out tonight and have some drinks, and he didn’t think it was appropriate, in case there are any kids listening.” I said, “Wait a second, I mute my board every time,” but then I realized that there was a short in my board and I wasn’t muting the feed to the internet. I felt horrible about it, so the next day I went up to Justin during batting practice and said, “Hey, I want you to tell your dad that I apologize for saying that stuff in between innings last night, and that I really appreciate him sending the email and giving me a heads up about it.” He said, “Oh, don’t worry about it; he just wants to know if you had a good time last night when you went out.”
When you’re on the air, you don’t have an edit button — everything that you say is out there and you can’t do anything to change it. The pre-game interviews are taped, so if you screw those up you can always start over. My first year here in Rochester, I was interviewing Phil Roof, who was our manager at the time, and we were going through the pre-game show. We were about two minutes into it when I asked Phil a pretty simple question about something and all of a sudden he started responding with a bunch of curse words. He did it just to screw up the interview, purely for the enjoyment of the people who were standing nearby observing the interview. It was purely a practical joke, and usually about once a year somebody will do that just so you have to start all over again.