While I was covering the El Paso Chiuhuahuas during their three-game visit to Sacramento last week, I had the chance to speak with Tim Hagerty, the radio play-by-play man as well as the Manager of Broadcast & Media Relations for the team. He was actually the one who approached me and asked me about Gaslamp Ball. I had seen him on the field during batting practice before the first game, and we took the elevator back up to the press box, but I was too timid to bother him. The following day, he greeted me on the field and asked if I was with GLB. He had seen that we covered the prior day’s game, and I was flattered that he followed us on Twitter and had browsed my piece. We went on to speak about a myriad of things on the field, and so I asked him if I could do an impromptu Q&A session with him before the final game of the series. He was more than gracious to do so, and I’m proud to share this with you all.
RT: You grew up in Massachusetts. How did you wind up in El Paso?
TH: I was lucky that my high school had the town’s cable access station right there in the school, so students had the opportunity to do TV shows, do play-by-play, so I was calling games as young as 16 years old. I was lucky to know what I wanted to do pretty early. I went to college in Vermont, a small school that focused on broadcasting. I went to the winter meetings, and from there I got a job with Idaho falls.
RT: There’s a lot of job searching going on at the winter meetings.
TH: I remember finding the winter meetings job fair online and thinking I had this scoop, I had found this secret. I walked into this massive auditorium in New Orleans and I see about a hundred people that look exactly like me; early 20’s, males, they were all armed with CD’s. These days people use links, but you had a CD for your demo. There’s four jobs posted and there’s probably a hundred aspiring play-by-play guys, but I was lucky to go to Idaho Falls and get that opportunity. After that, I was in Mobile for three seasons. That was a great step. It was my first season doing 140 games, a full season. They were a Padres affiliate at the time, a lot of changes since then. Big prospect was Paul McAnulty. From there, I found out about an opportunity with the Padres’ AAA team in Portland, and I was there for three seasons. Then as the Major League soccer-ballpark transition happened, I was in Tucson for all three years of the Tucson Padres. I was the only broadcaster in Tuscon Padres history, so I have that going for me.
RT: ...which is nice.
TH: Then I was very lucky to get to go to El Paso. Great fan support, awesome ballpark, so that’s why I migrated to El Paso.
RT: What did you think of Portland?
TH: Awesome, I think it’s one of the best cities in the country. Unique, cool, strange place. I liked the ballpark, it was cool how you were below ground, you could see the MAXX cars going by. It was a helpful adjustment for me to be in a bigger market like that. That was the first place that I’d get fairly regular feedback, both good and bad. It was good to toughen me up. Idaho Falls and Mobile, they were smaller markets compared to Portland, so you have your loyal audience. They’re excited that the game’s on, there’s very little critiquing. All of a sudden you’re in Portland and even though it’s a AAA team, you’re in the 23rd biggest market in the country and a lot of people find those broadcasts. I definitely got some poking on certain phrases you might use or a certain style, so that was real helpful. That’s a good part about El Paso too, you’ve got the most Facebook fans in all of minor league baseball. These people passionately follow the team, they’re not solely out there for a night out to watch the fireworks. They’re into the wins and losses, and that’s been helpful for me as well to be in that environment where I’m sitting at a lunch table and somebody comes up to me and asks about a pitcher that just made it to the big leagues. Some people follow these games close, so it’s motivating. Last night, it’s a perfect example, it’s a Tuesday night and back in El Paso it’s midnight at the time that our postgame show starts because of the hour time distance and the twelve inning game. Even in moments like that, you can’t mail it in, you can’t go through the motions because our fans are so good, you know there’s a group of people listening.
RT: How did you find your voice? I know some people go through a process to find a presentation that works for them.
TH: It’s funny that you ask me about my voice, I’m just coming back from losing my voice in Reno which was maddening, not really producing the play-by-play you want, but unfortunately it happens once a year, you get a sore throat. I still work on that. I think that calling a game is a very physical exercise, so I’m always evaluating my breathing, making sure that there’s no tension in my throat or my mouth. When I was younger it was hard work to eliminate the Boston accent, my family still has very strong accents. Sometimes listening back to old tapes I can feel like a forced tension like you’re consciously trying to speak in a certain way. You see that sometimes if you go to small markets. Watch like the 23-year-old meteorologist in Wyoming and they’re sort of forcing their lips, it looks unusual, and that’s what I did because you’re so focused on what you want it to sound like. It’s not natural. I think even this year, every year I think I’ve gotten better. If I listen to one of the El Paso Chihuahuas first games, just 2014, just a couple years ago, I kinda wince at the way that certain calls came out. I think the important thing is to listen to your work and have a very objective reaction to it. I heard this phrase one time called “barn blind” that apparently is a phrase in the horse racing community. It’s you and your horse every day at your farm, and you’re sure that you and this horse are going to win. You look at all of the strengths of this horse. All of a sudden you show up to the race track and you’re one of fifteen horses and you don’t win. Sometimes play-by-play guys get “barn blind.” They’re back at their hotel and they listen to that audio and they think that “that was a good inning. I nailed that.” You listen to that a year later, and no, you didn’t. I always try to listen to it as if I’m hearing it for the first time and being critical. At the end of the season, play-by-play announcers will think about what their top games were. In case there’s a job opening in the major leagues that’s what you submit for your demo, and it’s harder than I think. I sit here and we do 142 games, nine innings each, and it’s hard to find one inning that’s good.
RT: Growing up in Boston, were you still there when Don Orsillo came to the Red Sox?
TH: It’s funny, I told Don this story when I met him in spring training in 2016, he kinda laughed, but when I was in middle school, Don was the Pawtucket Red Sox play-by-play guy, and I lived about a half hour from Pawtucket, about 20 minutes from Boston, so I was able to pick up both radio broadcasts. I can remember Don’s voice on WSKO radio, I think it was 790, in Providence. He kinda laughed, so I told him that. So, yeah, I was in high school when Don was first hired by the Red Sox. That’s funny, the first time I heard him call games was in Pawtucket and it’s the same thing that Padres fans enjoy now: good voice, good preparation. I remember even in high school, not knowing how the business worked, not being surprised that it was Don that got that job.
RT: You talk about listening to your own broadcasts. Do you listen to other broadcasters to compare your style against theirs and try to pick up tips & tricks?
TH: I do, I love listening to other games. Vin Scully said, “You don’t want to water your wine,” I think you don’t want to ever mimic anybody, but the way they describe certain plays, I remember a couple years ago hearing a broadcaster saying “He sends it in,” I thought that was a good verb for a pitch, little things like that you pick up on. I have the MLB app. Whenever the time zones allow, I love listening to Ted & Jesse, but also other AAA games. I listen to Rochester’s broadcaster, Josh Wetzel, as somebody on the east coast with the time zone difference that works out. I like listening to him in the early parts of his games when we’re leading into a game in Mountain Time in El Paso. I think there’s a group of consistently 8-10 teams I like to listen to. I like listening to a game right before our game as a reminder of how blind the listener is. Because I’m a listener leading into the game, make sure we remind people the colors of the uniforms, what the ballpark looks like that day, make sure you’re giving a “10,000 feet above the ground” view of where the team is in the standings, where we are in this road trip, the important things in today’s game.
RT: You mentioned Ted and Jesse. Jesse calls a pretty straight game, Ted’s all over the map. What are your opinions on Ted Leitner?
TH: In 2010 it was the first time I had worked for a Padres minor league affiliate, in Mobile, so that was the first time I had ever heard a Padres broadcast. I used to listen online to Ted and Jerry at the time. When Ted did the play-by-play, I remember thinking I’d never heard anyone call a sporting event like this, it was such a unique style. But something funny happened. The more I listened to him, the more I found myself laughing. The more I found myself wondering “what is this guy gonna say next?” And now the Padres are my favorite team to listen to and he’s a big reason why. I have this running joke in my head where, “okay, I’m about to press play on the app for a Padres radio broadcast, what’s the first thing Ted’s going to talk about?” I remember listening a couple of weeks ago and in one inning he brought up Steve Finley, the country of Colombia, and a wedding he went to, all in one half inning! All different stories! I think he’s great. Sometimes I think that maybe I need a little bit more Ted Leitner in me - not in the pattern in which he speaks, I’m not going to mimic that, but as far as the willingness to talk about something off the wall. I think that advice that inevitably always comes up when it comes to broadcasting is to be yourself, and he nails that. He is himself. I’ve had a chance to briefly meet him at spring training, and he has that same energy in the way he talks. He was really nice to me, asked me about El Paso.
RT: What do you think about analytics and advanced stats being brought into radio broadcasts?
TH: I think it’s important to share with the fans new ways that the game is being evaluated. I read Fangraphs, I like Brooks baseball. On radio, the most important thing is: do I know the score, the inning, and the visual description. Then we get into the analytics. I think that it’s important to mention them, but only when the listener is clear on the status of that game.
RT: San Antonio is getting a AAA affiliate. How does that affect the shuffle of all of the other teams?
TH: It’s interesting, there’s multiple cities in play. The Pacific Coast League announced that San Antonio will join the PCL in 2019. Colorado Springs, the Brewers’ AAA team will move there, and then the San Antonio Missions will move to Amarillo and join the Texas league. From what I understand, San Antonio will keep that name - “Missions” dates back decades. In an era when we see a lot of minor league teams switching to off-beat, attention-grabbing names, San Antonio is sticking with that tradition.
RT: I’ve always liked that we have the Missions as the AA team and the Padres as the Major League team. That was a nice continuity from a culture standpoint.
TH: According to Branch Rickey, the Chihuahuas and the Padres are the only two team names in professional baseball that are the same in English and Spanish.
RT: Do you see players struggling to make an adjustment from the Pacific Coast League to the Major League due to the ballparks, the level of play?
TH: It’s really unpredictable. There have been times that I see a player go up from the Pacific Coast League, and you kinda wonder in your head, “Why did they pick this guy over that guy?” And they go up and they excel! They show why the scouts and the GMs are where they are. They have a knack for predicting performance, even away from the statistics in AAA. Similarly there will be guys who look like stars in AAA baseball and maybe it doesn’t translate up there. It’s really hard to predict. There are some guys that their statistics are even better in the majors than here. In the major leagues, suddenly you’re on TV, massive crowds, there’s such a financial opportunity for the players, and some players get tight. They get nervous. Ask any player about their major league debut. Even the best, if they’re honest they’ll admit that they were very nervous. Some players can snap out of that, and some players are gripping that bat so tight that I think it harms them.
RT: I guess that’s why we see people bounce back and forth, and maybe the second or third time they come up they figure out how to relax.
TH: No doubt. Relaxing is key, and I think the Padres have done a good job of that. They have employees who focus on mental skills, visualization, it’s been interesting to see that evolution in baseball. Teams are really focusing on the mental side of the game. Speaking of SABRmetrics, there’s this “clutch vs. non-clutch” debate. While SABRmetrics sites haven’t been able to develop a definitive way to evaluate it, some confuse that with “it doesn’t exist,” but you talk to any professional manager in August and say, “do you want that guy up, down by a run in the ninth inning, with a guy on third and two outs?” He’ll have an answer, yes or no, and it doesn’t always match who the best hitters are. I think the word you used, “relax” is big. Can they calm down that moment?
RT: You mentioned managers. You’ve had a chance to talk with Andy Green quite a bit, I’m sure you’ve interfaced with Rod Barajas a lot. Can you give your thoughts on the two managers and their coaching styles?
TH: Both are very personable which is important as a manger in 2017. They’re communicating with fans, there’s more media attention. They played together in the Diamondbacks system, so they go back a long ways. Andy Green came to El Paso with the Padres in 2016 for the exhibition game, March 31st, 2016. I remember interviewing Andy, and Andy played in the previous major league exhibition game in El Paso which was in 2003, the Diamondback vs. the then-AA Diablos. I remember thinking in my head, “I can’t ask this guy about an exhibition game he played in 13 years ago, I’m just not gonna do that.” As he spoke, you could tell he was such a sharp buy, I figured what the heck. I brought up that game, and he said, “yeah, I hit a double into right-center against Oscar Villarreal.” That’s the kind of memory this Padres manager has, I asked about this exhibition game thirteen years earlier when he was in AA and he remembered the pitcher, the result, and where the ball went.
RT: I love those El Paso Diablos throwback uniforms, by the way.
TH: Yeah, the General Manager of the club, Brad Taylor, wanted to make sure for a couple of years we really brand the team as the Chihuahuas. Yes, honor the history of El Paso, but have our own identity. Now that we’re in our fourth year and we’ve solidified that, he thought it was to go back and honor El Paso’s baseball history in an even bigger way with those Diablos throwbacks.
RT: What did you think of the Chihuahuas name when they first picked it?
TH: I remember being in Tucson in 2013 that summer when the five name finalists came out. They were Aardvarks, Buckaroos, Chihuahuas, Sun Dogs, ... Desert Gators was the fifth. I remember learning about the team name probably a week before we announced it because I was going to be the emcee. I remember thinking in my head, “This is going to get a mixed reaction,” and it did. But I remember that day, tracking the social media comments, listening to sports talk radio, it was big news in El Paso. It was October 22, 2013. it occurred to me that night that not a single complaint was uttered about the logos, and I thought that was a good sign. People like you and me that follow minor leauge baseball, we know about the Albuquerque Isotopes and the Lansing Lugnuts, but a fan in El Paso, if they’re picturing Dodgers, Giants, Yankees, tradition, Chihuahuhas was so shocking to them. Now that they’ve been to games, now that they have a hat, now that their kid has a memory, they can’t picture it being anything else. I think there’s probably a similar cycle to all minor league teams names that introduce something really unique. At first there’s shock, there’s anger, but then it grown on them.
RT: You mentioned the other leagues, how close do you follow double-A, single-A, to stay up with the players that you might see soon?
TH: I look at San Antonio the closest, just because that most affects El Paso. It’s funny, the Major League Baseball draft is in June and fans ask me, “Who do you think is going to come up to El Paso?” but the fact is, in professional baseball, AAA is so far from the draft. Any major league team, some of the guys that get picked in the 40th round will make it to the big leagues, some of the guys that get a lot of money in the beginning won’t make it to double-A. That’s not a Padres thing, that happens to all thirty teams. The lower levels, I mean I have an eye on them, I know Tri-City had a great winning streak at the beginning of their season. I look at the standings to see how they’re doing, but as far as seeing who’s standing out for Fort Wayne, I know Fernando Tatis but I don’t study that roster. A smart person taught me, when you’re calling a game, treat it as an individual event. Today when I woke up at the hotel, I’m thinking about Sacramento’s pitcher, El Paso’s pitcher, previous games between the two, and what’s happening in that inning? Who’s batting, who’s on base, what does the stance look like, what is the pitcher doing to try to get this hitter out? I think play-by-play is at its best when the main ingredient is that inning that’s happening right there, not who’s playing on next year’s team.
RT: Do you think the fans are paying attention to what’s happening at the big league level?
TH: Definitely. Fans in El Paso have said that. Fans have said, “Years ago, I didn’t know anything about the San Diego Padres, but now I love watching them.” Especially with the state of the Padres being a younger team, a team that’s building toward the future. On a regular basis, 6-8 of the Padres played for the Chihuahuas. If you include the rehab guys, the guys like Spangenberg who were optioned for a short period of time, Wil Myers has played for the Chihuahuas. There are days when I look at the Padres’ tweet when they post their lineup and all nine guys have played for the Chihuahuas, so that’s been cool.
RT: That whole championship team from last year basically moved up.
TH: Yeah I was thinking about that the other day with Solarte’s injury and Asuaje playing a lot now, for a couple weeks there you had Margot, Renfroe, Asuaje, Hedges. Four starting players that were all at AAA all of last year. Usually it’s a slower, sputtering wave as far as players going to the big leagues, but to have four regular players in El Paso become four regular players for San Diego one calendar year later, that’s really rare.
RT: If not for injuries and for slumps we might have had Jankowski, Dickerson, and Schimpf up there with them, too.
Explain to me what the “taxi squad” is. That was a new term for me.
TH: The “taxi squad” is a phrase where a guy goes to the big leagues but isn’t officially added yet. You hear it a lot with the major league doubleheaders where you can add a 26th player. Franchy yesterday was put on the taxi squad and was added to the majors today when Jose Valdez was optioned. What helps the minor league club in that situation is, they can then replace the player. Years ago, before the taxi squad, Franchy goes to the majors but until they add him, he’s still a Chihuahua. Because the transaction put him on the taxi squad, El Paso could bring up Nick Schulz to replace him. I do the roster for our team as part of my media relations role. There’s a lot to soak in with that in AAA. Players are transferred from one minor league club to another, players who are on the 40-man roster get recalled, players who aren’t have their contracts selected by the Padres, players designated for assignment have to clear waivers, players optioned are sent right here, players on outright assignment are sent right here. Casual fans will say things like “cut, promoted, demoted,” but there are actually six or seven phrases that have idiosyncratic differences.
It was an honor and a pleasure talking to Tim, and I was grateful that he took the time out of his busy day to speak with me. Tim is a professional through and through. The Chihuahuas and the Padres organization are fortunate to have him on board. I look forward to speaking with him next time he comes through town, and following him as his career takes him toward his dream job: MLB play-by-play announcer. I know he’ll be a good one!
Tim, thank you again, and best wishes from all of us at Gaslamp Ball!