The Boy of Summer: Joe Bourdow
Usually when two roads diverge and we take the one most traveled on, we don’t have the chance to go back later and take the other road—the one less traveled.
Not so for Joe Bourdow, who officially retired from his presidency with Valpak this year. In college, Bourdow was the radio announcer for the University of Virginia baseball team. He spent the next five years in Staunton, Virginia, as station manager of WTON, where he called the play-by-play for the Shenandoah Valley Baseball League—a league made up of top college prospects.
Talking sports for a living is a job 99.9 percent of sports fans dream about, unless they don’t want to live in a one-room apartment all their lives. Such was the reality Bourdow was beginning to face when he discovered Valpak and quit his radio job to become a salesman for the local distributor.
Fate tempted him in 1982 when the Richmond Brave’s announcer retired and he was offered the job. He asked how much it paid—$160 a week, plus travel—and decided “I had a good gig going with Valpak.”
Fate wasn’t done with him, however. Twenty-one years later, Valpak sponsored a night at the Carolina Mudcats minor league game and Bourdow was asked to throw out the first pitch. Part of the honor included a brief interview in the announcer’s booth. Bourdow had done his homework and offered some stats and insights for banter with the announcer. He ended up spending the game in the booth, and was invited back.
Bourdow has called 120 games for the Mudcats, the AA affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds and even traveled with the team to away games—on his own dime. “It was an expensive hobby,” he admits, especially since he lives in Florida.
Most embarrassing moment in the booth: “I forgot I was on three years ago. The weather was perfect; I was thinking ‘isn’t this wonderful,’ when a fly ball was hit to left. There was a long pause (dead air) and I said, ‘Oh, I’m the play-by-play announcer.’”
Baseball is made for radio, Bourdow says, adding that many people think it’s better on radio than TV. The description of the action is sometimes better than seeing it, he says, because it allows the imagination to take over. As an announcer, “you believe your listener is knowledgeable,” he says. It’s an insiders’ club where everyone knows the slang, euphemisms, history, batting averages, heroes and goats. “I like to think it’s a thinking person’s sport,” he says.
Bourdow doesn’t claim to be a pro—his partner Patrick Kinas is the true sports announcer—but he does know how to call a game and fill in the long pauses when nothing much is occurring on the field.
Returning to his dream career is the best of both worlds. In addition to starting his own company with Kinas, Play-by-Play Sports Properties, he’s also senior advisor to Valpak. One of his special projects is to beef up the franchise in Canada.
“There’s not many jobs for 58-year-old guys competing against kids your children’s age who are better than you are,” he admits.
But then again, he calls the plays and they don’t.
Here’s more on life after retirement:
What does your new company do? Play-by-Play Sports Properties approached the team (Mudcats) about licensing the rights to broadcast the games and sell advertising. We’ve attracted 45 advertisers (to date). We’re also going to do the Raleigh women’s basketball ad sales.
Do you have a catch phrase? No, you can’t manufacture one. When it happens, it happens.
What’s it like to throw out the first pitch? It’s the scariest thing. You practice and try not to think about it (when you’re on the mound). Throw high, the catcher will stand up. You don’t want to throw in the dirt.
How do you get ready for a game? Stats are provided in an organized, uniform way so you can have a routine to organize data. I read a lot. (During the game), you have to focus and pay attention. It’s a snail’s pace and then bang, bang, bang something happens.
What do the players call you? Sir.