|Greg Giombarrese, image via Greg's Twitter profile|
Greg Giombarrese has been one of my favorite people in baseball for roughly a decade. Currently the Director of Communications for the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws, he's the long-time radio voice of the club as well. Sharp and rousing, Greg is always a standout among professional baseball play by play talents.
Recently, Giombarrese was kind enough to answer several questions about his career, how he got his start in broadcasting, horse racing and more. Read ahead for this wonderful interview.
- Do you recall your earliest memories of broadcasting and what appealed to you most?
I never really did much before I got to college, except for the occasional calling of plays in my head off the television. It was when I got to Fordham in the fall of 2002 that I really began broadcasting. I went to the radio station on campus, WFUV, and started there. The first game I ever “called” was a demo broadcast, into a tape recorder only, of a Fordham football game that fall. I was always a big sports fan and I had a pretty good idea pretty early on that an on-field career wasn’t going to happen. I wanted to stay in sports one way or another and broadcasting appealed to me. The opportunity to work at WFUV was what drew me to Fordham in the first place.
- When did you first consider broadcasting as a career path?
In high school for sure, but I had been listening to broadcasters before that. I knew if I wanted to stay in sports it was going to be off the field.
- Is there a standout play by play voice from your lifetime that your either picked up methods or skills from or that made an impression on your approach to the profession?
Mike Breen – he called Knicks games on the radio and then on television, and he is now the lead voice of the NBA on ABC/ESPN. What has always stood out to me listening to him is that you can easily determine the importance of any sequence within the game simply from listening to the tone of his voice. I was fortunate enough to meet him several times when he would come speak to the sports department at WFUV.
- Can you tell me about your earliest broadcasting assignments?
My first ones were at Fordham doing Fordham football, basketball, and baseball games, but my first one out of school was working for USOpen.org Radio at the US Open tennis tournament. I mainly worked as a producer but got to broadcast a little bit each day. Tennis on the radio is hard at first until you realize you can’t call every shot.
- You've been at it with the BlueClaws for more than a decade. What would you say is your most memorable game that you've called with Lakewood?
The championship-clinching games in 2009 and 2010 were great of course, but I think the most memorable game was Spencer Howard’s no-hitter in the 2018 SAL Northern Division Championship Series. You could tell right away he had his best stuff, and Kannapolis didn’t make a lot of solid contact in the early innings. But his pitch count was getting up there, and it wasn’t until he threw eight pitches in the seventh inning did you really think he’d get through all nine. Then he threw four pitches in the eighth and had no trouble in the ninth.
The craziest inning happened three days (one game) later in Game One of the SAL Championship Series. The BlueClaws were down 5-0 in the ninth inning and went single-single-home run-home run-home run to tie the game, and then won in the 11th. I’ve never seen a game flip on a dime quite like that. Those were a crazy few days for sure.
- I think I've tweeted this to you before, but you're literally the only person I know that cares about horse racing all year round. You'll regularly call some mascot races at FirstEnergy Park and that love of racing is clear. What is it about horse racing that appeals to you so much and what are people that only follow the Triple Crown events missing out on?
I like the mental challenge aspect to the sport. You look through the form and there are all these horses and it’s up to you to figure out who’s going to win, what long shots are in there that have a chance, the vulnerability of the favorite, and ultimately how to play the race. There are so many different elements – the trainer, the jockey, the way the track is playing, how fast is the horse, what kind of trip they got in their recent races, what kind of trip might they get in today’s race, and many others – and then you put it all together. Your opinions get tested in a minute and 10 seconds and then you do it all over again. There’s nothing quite like it.
- Best road park and city in the Sally League? They can be different answers.
The best road park is Greenville. Everything about it is top-notch. It’s a mini-Fenway Park complete with Monster Seats – they are a Red Sox affiliate. I always liked how their suite level hangs over much of the seating bowl below. It creates an echo chamber and really helps get the crowd noise pumping through the park. It’s a modern ballpark but they maintained that old-time feel to the stadium. You even have a railroad track behind right field and get a freight train rolling through every so often.
Greenville is also a great city, but the best city in the Sally League is Charleston, South Carolina. We stay outside of town but the stadium is in the downtown part of the city itself, so I love heading down there early in the day, walking around by the harbor, or the beautiful Pineapple Fountain in one of the parks, the open-air market they have, and then heading over to the stadium in the afternoon.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure the Sally League schedule-maker knows they are allowed to send the BlueClaws to either city! We haven’t been to Greenville in a few years and 2020 is the second straight year without going to Charleston.
- Least desirable road park or city in the SAL?
Hagerstown is the oldest stadium for sure, and it has this tiny press box on top of the seats accessible only by a spiral staircase at the rear of the grandstand but it does provide a really unique view. You’re so high up over the field and so close to home plate that it’s a cool perspective you don’t get anywhere else. Plus, once a year I’ll drive out there and spend one morning at the Antietam Civil War battle site which is about 10 miles outside of town.
- I know in the FEP broadcast booth you've got a pretty huge memento from BlueClaws history...the Valle ball. Can you share the story of that souvenir and maybe offer details on any other BlueClaws souvenirs you may have?
The “Valle Ball” you mentioned was the ball hit for a three-run home run by Sebastian Valle in Game 4 of the 2010 SAL Championship Series that broke a 1-1 tie in the fifth inning and gave the BlueClaws a 4-1 lead, and win, in the series clincher. We had it in the Champions Club, which is down the hall from the press box, but someone moved it out of there for some reason. It
ended up in the booth and I guess it’s never left.
My first full-time season was 2009 and the BlueClaws won the league title that year. I have copies of the dugout lineup cards – not the marked up ones, just re-prints of the original, pre-game dugout card – from the post-season that year, but nothing else too crazy.
- You have had plenty of guests in the booth over the years. Of the famed names that have joined you, are there any big moments or perhaps any blooper type moments that stick in your memory?
I grew up in north Jersey listening to Mike and the Mad Dog all the time so having Chris Russo in the booth with me was really cool – except the first time he was on, I somehow miscounted how many outs there were and was set to throw it to commercial after the second out. But he’s been on a few times over the years and it’s always great to have him on.
We talked about horse racing earlier – both Larry Collmus and Frank Mirahmadi were guests while they were announcers at Monmouth Park so that was a big thrill for me.
Anyone who grew up in the 1990's watching Saved By the Bell has to love meeting and having Mr. Belding (Dennis Haskins) on the air, which I was fortunate enough to do both in Lakewood and Asheville.
But the best guest of all is obviously you.
- Do you have a pregame ritual of any sort with your prep work or anything like that?
Not really. I try to get my scorebook filled out as early as possible, see if I can find a few interesting nuggets, but nothing special.
- What advice would you offer to individuals that are interested in getting into broadcasting?
Don’t be afraid to reach out to people, share your tapes and demo broadcasts, and ask questions that you might have. You never know who is going to be able to help you later on, so building a network either informally or by interning or working places is really invaluable. The other thing is of course to just broadcast. Everything doesn’t have to be this big formal production. Sit in front of the TV, put it on mute, and call the game into your computer or phone. The more comfortable you get describing live action, the better!
- How weird has this spring been without baseball for you?
The weirdest day was probably April 7th. The season was supposed to start on April 9th in Greensboro and the BlueClaws were going to fly up from Tampa on the 8th. So I was going to leave here, driving down in a cargo van on the 7th to get there a day early and meet them at the airport. Normally, of course, I take the bus with the team but we’ve done it this way a bunch of times when the team opens the season on the road. But that day it really hit me for sure. Then, the other notable day was April 16th, which was going to be our home opener, and the 20th Opening Night in BlueClaws history. Those were the two days that really stood out. I think we all miss being together and working and watching baseball but we obviously understand why we’re apart right now and wish the best to everyone that has been impacted by this terrible situation.
- What do you miss most about calling games?
Baseball is different than every other sport in that it's always there. The BlueClaws play 140 games in 152 days, so I miss having those three hours every day to sit there and call the game, or watch batting practice or talk with the players and coaches. The other part, of course, is that you never know what you're going to see and there's a decent chance you see something you never would have expected.
The other part is you miss the people, from the fans to the media to the press box attendees, to the production crew. And for me not just here, but all over the Sally League. One of my favorite parts about baseball is you see everyone a few times a year and are able to just pick up the conversation right where you left off days, weeks, or months prior, as if nothing happened in between.
But right now we just wait, do our best to stay healthy and safe and we'll be back at some point, hopefully better than ever.