It’s not often that a young kid dreams of being on his hometown professional baseball team and then actually achieves it. It might be even less often when the kid wants to be a broadcaster instead of a player, and the hometown team is the local High-A ballclub.
That’s what has happened with Joe Ritzo, the young radio (and sometime TV) broadcaster for the San Jose Giants of the California League. Sure, he’s looking to make the move up to the majors at some point. Every kid wants to be a major leaguer when he grows up, and every minor leaguer eventually wants to be a big leaguer, too, whether a player or not. The majors is always the ultimate goal for any baseball professional serious about his craft.
In the meantime, though, Ritzo seems very happy to be toiling for his hometown’s minor league Giants, as evidenced by the story below that first appeared in the Los Gatos Weekly-Times, part of the Bay Area News Group, and written by Dick Sparrer. You can read the story on its original website here, if you prefer.
If you are also a fan of our Working The Game series, pay particular attention towards the end, in which Sparrer briefly describes Ritzo’s typical day when there is a 7:00 pm home game. Spoiler alert: it’s a really long day, and there’s more to it than just talking into a microphone.
Baseball dream leads to the broadcast booth
By Dick Sparrer
It’s not uncommon to find youngsters scrambling around the grounds of Municipal Stadium during San Jose Giants games, proudly wearing their baseball caps and gloves while chasing down foul balls and playing catch between innings as they play out their dreams of one day making it there themselves.
Joe Ritzo was no different … well, maybe just a little.
He cherished his time at the ballpark as a kid because he loved the game of baseball so much. It’s just that he left his glove at home and brought his tape recorder along instead.
As it turns out, just as those boyhood dreams came true for guys like Joe Panik and Matt Duffy as they flashed leather on the infield at San Jose Muni on their road to become Major League baseball players, so too is the dream coming true for Joe Ritzo, who pushed the record button on his way to earning his place as the play-by-play broadcaster for the San Jose Giants.
“I always felt that I could talk a good game,” said Ritzo. And now he does, at least 140 times a year–mostly from his small perch in the booth atop Muni Stadium, but also from some less glamorous locales throughout the California League.
Still, while there may be more exciting places to visit than Rancho Cucamonga or Bakersfield, and more pleasant ways to get there than by riding a bus, Ritzo is very happy to be a Giant, even if it is at the Single A level. Because San Jose won four Cal League championships in over a six year span (from 2005-2010), and many of those Giants who have gone on to win three World Series titles played for those teams as they passed through San Jose on their way to San Francisco.
“All of us here have a real sense of pride, not just because they’ve made it to the majors but because of the success they’ve had,” said Ritzo of the Giants. “It’s been an unbelievable ride.
“They were very successful here, so no one was real surprised after seeing the talent that rolled through here,” he added. “They were all great and a pleasure to be around. They were all approachable and very respectful people. We were lucky to have a great clubhouse.”
In that clubhouse were the likes of Panik and Duffy, Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner, Brandon Belt and Andrew Susac, and so many more.
“We knew we were seeing something special when [Posey and Bumgarner] were here,” said Ritzo. “Posey was still trying to feel his way out, but he was a quiet leader, and [a 19-year-old Bumgarner] was still learning how to deal with the media and fans when they talked to him.”
And who were his favorites? Panik and Susac ranked near the top.
“I really liked talking to those guys,” said Ritzo. “They each have a lot of personality.”
Ritzo got a chance to reacquaint himself with Susac recently with the young catcher back in San Jose during an injury rehab. Of course, this time Susac came back as the owner of a World Series ring.
“It’s almost like they come back and they’re all grown up,” said Ritzo of the rehabbing big leaguers. “Our players really look up to these guys and watch how they prepare for a game and everything else they do.”
But it’s not only the young players who get enthused when the San Francisco Giants make appearances in San Jose–the fans like it, too.
“We try to take advantage of that opportunity for our fans,” said Ritzo. “There’s always a buzz; it’s electric.”
Especially when guys like Susac and Belt return to San Jose and blast home runs like they did this year during their rehab stints.
“We have a very passionate fan base,” added Ritzo. “We see that on a regular basis, but it really comes out during a rehab.
“We have knowledgeable fans, and I’m entrusted to tell that story and try to make it interesting and entertaining every night,” he said. “Every game is its own entity, and I try to paint that picture as best as I can.”
In the true tradition of line, “I saw it on the radio,” from Terry Cashman’s song “Play By Play,” Ritzo can paint a picture with his words.
When he said on an Aug. 15 broadcast, “A bouncing ball snared by Kobernus as he drops to his knees … sliding, lunging to the ground on the infield dirt with a nice play,” we could almost see the dust fly as the third baseman made the play.
It’s just that sort of picture painting that could be Ritzo’s ticket to the next level.
“Just like a player, I have aspirations to get to the Major Leagues,” said Ritzo, who lives in Redwood City and will marry Emily Schwartz in October. “I like the aspect of being connected to a big league club. At the same time, it’s a very competitive field.
“I knew that going in,” he added. “If I never get to that level that’s fine. I love what I do and I’m happy to work for my hometown team.”
In that role he had the chance to join a Giants broadcast with Hall of Famer Jon Miller and his booth partner Dave Fleming in San Francisco.
“I got the chance to jump in with them to talk about our team here,” he said.
For a 31-year-old who grew up a Giants fan, that was a moment to remember.
“I never had idols,” he said. “I would get to a game and turn to look at the booth to see what the broadcasters were doing.”
So while Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent, J.T. Snow and the other Giants were going about their business between the lines, Ritzo was paying more attention to Miller, Hank Greenwald and Ted Robinson.
Robinson “had a real influence on me,” he said. “He was great. He would talk to me about the things I could do to improve.”
It’s not like Ritzo never played the game. He grew up in a baseball household. He is named for his paternal grandfather, Joseph Ritzo, who played the game professionally, and his father Dale, a doctor in San Mateo, was a pitcher at USC. Young Joe played on the infield and pitched a bit in the Palo Alto Little League and later the Babe Ruth League before playing at Palo Alto High School.
“It was in my blood,” he said of baseball. “I grew up loving the game.”
As a player, he said, “I was OK, but I always knew I wanted to get into broadcasting; that’s where my heart was.”
“I always knew that I had a good handle of what was going on,” he added, “even if I couldn’t play.”
So there was never a thought in Ritzo’s mind to pursue baseball as a player; he had his sights set on the broadcast booth. In pursuit of that goal he headed to Santa Clara University to major in communications “and get involved in their radio station.”
He did that and then some. Growing up in Palo Alto he was a Giants fan, and in addition to attending games at Candlestick Park he went to many San Jose Giants games–with his tape recorder, of course. But he also attended many games at Stanford University as a teenager and managed to find his way into the press box.
“They even let me jump on [the broadcast] for an inning, and I loved it,” he said. “They said, ‘You’re pretty good. Why don’t you do a little more?’ So here I was a 17-year-old high school junior doing Stanford games. I was very fortunate; it was really exciting that I had that chance.
“That’s probably how I got the job here,” said Ritzo, who sent his tapes to Giants executive Mike McCarroll in 2003, just a year after his high school graduation. “He said that my tape sounded great, and I came in to do six or seven games. I was 19 when I started here, and by my senior year [of college] I was doing half of the home games.”
It was only a few years later when his position went fulltime. That was 2007, and he has been doing all of the home and road games ever since.
A TYPICAL DAY
For Ritzo, his day includes more than just a few hours in the broadcast booth. His typical day begins at 1 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game. He provides coaches with statistics and other information, visits the clubhouse to talk to players and coaches to gather facts for his broadcast, “grabs someone for the pregame interview” that he tapes for airing before the game and compiles packets for the visiting media.
“Then I spend a fair amount of time preparing for the broadcast,” he said. And when that radio broadcast begins, he’s all alone on the air (Joe Castellano joins Ritzo for color commentary on televised games).
But Ritzo’s night doesn’t end when the umpire signals the final out–far from it, in fact. There’s the full post-game show, followed by a write-up of a game recap that he sends to the media and posts on the team website and social media sites.
After having dinner at home at about midnight, he puts together game notes, and his usual day ends at about 2 or 2:30 a.m.
It’s that sort of work ethic that will serve Ritzo well as he attempts to live up to the claim on the San Jose Giants website: “Listen to the stars of tomorrow today.” That, and the fact that he comes across as a no holds barred, tell it like it is play-by-play man–which can’t always make those long bus rides home with the very players and coaches he critiques too comfortable.
And on Aug. 24 he’ll be back on that bus, heading south to San Bernadino to call the play-by-play for the Giants in a game against the Inland Empire 66ers that night, so that local fans can “see it on the radio.”