On the Road with Minor League Broadcaster Doug Greenwald

Back in July we ran an article reprint about SABR member Doug Greenwald, a SABR member who is the radio voice of the Fresno Grizzlies, the Triple-A affiliate of the Houston Astros.  Doug is also the son of long-time Giants broadcaster and Media Committee member Hank Greenwald. That article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and was written by John Shea.

Now comes to us an original article written by Gary Herron, another SABR member who specializes in New Mexico baseball history.  Gary corraled Greenwald as he was passing through Albuquerque with the Grizzles, who’d come to take on the local Isotopes in a Pacific League tilt. Gary submitted the article to Jacob Pomrenke, who then passed the article along to us for publication here on SABRmedia.org, and we are very pleased to do so here.


 

On the road with minor-league broadcaster Doug Greenwald
By Gary Herron

When the subject of father-and-son baseball broadcasters comes up, it’s easy to rattle off the Bucks (Jack and Joe), the Brennamans (Marty and Tom) and the Carays (Harry, Skip, and Chip.)

How about the Greenwalds?

Hank, the patriarch and a SABR member for more than 35 years, got some run in Curt Smith’s The Storytellers, first about seeing his batboy/son Doug picking up a bat dropped by the San Francisco Giants’ Brett Butler in 1989 and fearing pitcher Rick Aguilera was about to pitch to him, and later when he laments the drudgery of a pre-game show — and how a “lady of the evening” said she’d do anything for $100, and it was suggested she do the pre-game show for a week.

Weaned on the voice of Tigers broadcaster Harry Heilmann while growing up in the Detroit suburbs, Hank got his start on the air in 1957 while attending Syracuse University and describing the football exploits of Jim Brown and Ernie Davis.

After college, Hank called games for the Hawaii Islanders franchise of the Pacific Coast League, plus basketball games for the NBA’s San Francisco Warriors.

In 1979, KNBR hired him to work San Francisco Giants games, but after some problems with management at the radio station, he went to the other coast to do New York Yankees games for two seasons. He returned to San Francisco to do Giants games in 1989, working there until retiring in 1996.

All told, Hank broadcasted ballgames for 20 years. Yet despite his love for the game, son Doug says his father tried to discourage him from the wandering life of a baseball broadcaster.

The biggest difference between the two: Hank, now 80, didn’t care to get out and see the sights and, despite living in San Francisco, he’s never visited Alcatraz — “a place for bad guys,” is how he views it, Doug says.

Doug, 40 years old and the voice of the Fresno Grizzlies of the Pacific Coast League — a Giants farm team for 17 years until the big shuffle that preceded the 2015 season — can’t wait for an off-day to see the sights.

His Facebook friends are privy to his day trips before heading to the ballpark — and invariably there will be at least one post office among the photos, displaying its ZIP code. Ever heard of Sandia Park, Tijeras or Cerrillos in New Mexico? Greenwald recently ventured there, taking photos of post offices at each village, and visiting what is said to be the first ballpark west of the Mississippi to get lights. That’s found in Madrid, New Mexico, which, to Greenwald’s chagrin, didn’t have a post office. (Some scenes in the film Wild Hogs were filmed in Madrid.)

Doug Greenwald outside of the old ballpark in Madrid, NM, said to have been the first park west of the Mississippi to feature lights for night games. Photo: Gary Herron
Doug Greenwald outside of the old ballpark in Madrid, NM, said to have been the first park west of the Mississippi to feature lights for night games. Photo: Gary Herron

Doug has a fascination for post offices, and has a collection of at least 3,500 photos of different POs. And, yes, he has been told he should write a book: “Going Postal” has been a frequent suggestion for the title.

Born in Sydney, Australia, in 1974, where his parents had ventured hoping Hank could find a job, Doug was schooled in the Bay Area and later educated at Boston University.

It wasn’t hard to admire his father’s work, as Doug loved hanging out at ballparks.

“He did the Golden State Warriors for eight years, him and Bill King,” Doug explained. “Bill King was the man — and still is amongst all Bay Area broadcasters. Bill did the A’s, the Warriors, the Raiders. Bill was like an uncle to me.

“Baseball was always (my dad’s) first love,” he said. “The Warriors were his first major sport, on the West Coast.”

Candlestick Park, where the Giants played before AT&T Park was built, was remembered as “cold.”

“It was really where I grew up. It certainly wasn’t the prettiest ballpark in the world; even the ‘cookie-cutter’ ballparks of the 1980s were prettier,” Doug said. “I was pretty much, once school was out, at every Giants home game. … There were times when the Giants were on the road for an extended period of time and my parents would ship me off to summer camp. But I’m not into the wilderness, I’m into the ballparks.”

Candlestick Park “wasn’t the prettiest place in the world, the neighborhood wasn’t great, the weather was awful for baseball. There’s no dispute about that,” he said. “It is really where I cut my teeth.”

Being the son of a broadcaster had its perks, like being able to take a bunch of friends to Giants games, chatting with ballplayers, even spending time in the opposing team’s broadcast booth: “Vin Scully, the Brennamans, Jerry Coleman, Bob Murphy, Joe and Jack Buck. You can go down the list — I know I’m leaving out tons of guys.”

Doug decided when he was in high school that maybe that, too, would be the life for him.

“Sure, ideally, I’d like to be out playing every day,” he said. “But I’d only known what my dad had done for a living since I was five years old.”

In high school, Doug did morning announcements. At BU, where Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane once played, “They didn’t have much of a baseball program; in fact, they did away with baseball a few years after I graduated.” The Terriers were better known for their hockey team.

“The site of where BU is, the football field, is the same site where Braves Field was,” he said. “It’s a really good school for journalism, there’s no doubt about it.”

Being able to see Boston Red Sox and Boston Celtics games enhanced the enjoyment of matriculating in Massachusetts.

Doug Greenwald earned his degree in broadcast journalism in 1996 and, he quipped, he minored “in sleeping.”

Next, he said, came “sending tapes everywhere and being willing to move.”

The first opportunity came in Bend, Oregon. As often happens in the real world, being in the right place at the right time is the key. Greenwald learned a friend of his had just left the broadcasting job in Bend; Greenwald made a few calls and had his first job.

“You take a short-season job to start, and then, from there, try to find a full-season job,” he said. “From there, Hawaii Winter League, 1996 and ’97. … Burlington, Iowa; Lafayette, Louisiana; Stockton, California … Shreveport, Louisiana, for two years.

“I found myself back in the Cal League in Modesto after 2001. It was ideally where I wanted to be, after being in the Texas League, but lack of openings or just lack of getting a job here or there,” he said. “I ended up in Fresno in 2003 and I’ve been there since.”

Greenwald has had a “handful of regular-season games with the Giants” and some spring training games broadcast exclusively on the Internet.

“You pretty much name the level, I’ve been there,” he said.

Greenwald also did Centenary University basketball games in Shreveport for about 10 seasons, until they dropped from Division I to Division III.

But, like his old man Hank, baseball is Doug’s first love, and his travels sometimes pop up, he said, in his play-by-play work, once describing a home run socked by Tommy Murphy of the Albuquerque Isotopes as possibly coming down in Santa Fe.

“I guess what makes me different is I like to share my experiences,” he said. “I’ll talk about that on the air. Most of the broadcasters in our league will joke with me: ‘Doug, what post offices did you see today?’

“I like to take advantage of, you know, we get to travel for a living on the company dime,” he said. “Yes, it’s a job; first and foremost, we’re at the ballpark three hours at a time — I’m not showing up (at the ballpark) a half-hour before a game, let me make that clear.

“But I take the early morning, let’s go out and see these places, let’s share what I’m doing today with the listeners. The listeners like you to paint a picture, not just of the ballpark, but what else is in the area?’ What other neat towns are in the area? There might be a fan out there, ‘Hmm, I’m going out to Albuquerque in two weeks. I didn’t know about this ballpark in Madrid. I didn’t know Santa Fe is unique because it’s more like an art gallery than an actual state capital.’

“What also might make me different is I like to get to know the players: Players aren’t [just] batting .267 with 12 homers and 70 RBIs; [rather,] players came from a college and learned from a certain coach. Players were raised by an insurance man and a baker, who took them to Little League. … If a player’s born in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and goes to high school in Hollywood, I’ll ask what’s the connection?

“I don’t know if there’s many broadcasters that dig into that,” Doug said. “I don’t think that’s too personal. … Anybody can read from a media guide.”

And anybody can visit that 95-year-old ballpark in Madrid, but only one has done it.

“They know me as Hank’s kid,” he said, proud of the Greenwald lineage and someday hoping to be at the mic full-time for an MLB team.

Maybe someday, these adventures — Hank Greenwald refers to his son as the “modern-day Charles Kuralt” — could pay off in another occupation.

“If I had to choose another path, I would have gone into furthering my education and becoming a U.S. history professor,” he said. “I’m speaking as the world’s worst student, but that was one subject that I did like. … And it ties into baseball, because baseball goes back to the Civil War and the small mining towns (like Madrid) and the development of the New York City area in the 1850s … Cooperstown is just up the block.

“My appreciation of baseball history ties into U.S. history,” he said, not ruling out a job as a tour guide. “As a baseball broadcaster, you’re informing; that way you’re informing and teaching.”

For now, though, it’s time to “Play ball.”

Doug Greenwald’s advice for aspiring broadcasters:

  • “Don’t get caught up with, ‘He’s in Triple-A, he’s the next guy going up,’” when it comes to broadcasting. Knowing as much as he’d like to be doing Giants games, there’s no guarantee.
  • “You don’t get rich in minor-league baseball.”
  • “Be prepared; at some levels, the hours can be very time-consuming.” In Burlington, he said, he hadn’t read the contract language — “They looked at me more like the janitor and the grounds-crew person and the handyman more than they cared about the broadcast being done. … I’ve learned to ask the proper questions.”

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