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Meet John Sadak, New Reds TV Voice

Courtesy John Sadak
John Sadak (left) is frequently works with former Xavier University basketball coach Pete Gillen on CBS basketball telecasts.

A few things to know about John Sadak: He grew up in New Jersey wanting to play sports, not broadcast them. From 2007 to 2017, he was one of the hardest working sports announcers you've never heard of, doing up to 250 broadcasts a year, often driving to them from his Delaware home.

Sadak, 42, the Reds' new TV announcer for Fox Sports Ohio, finally has a big league gig after nearly 15 years calling minor league baseball. And not a minute too soon. He was out of work for eight months last year after the pandemic shut down college basketball and baseball, and delayed the start of college football.

Before he makes his Reds debut calling games 8 p.m. Friday, March 5, and 3 p.m. Sunday, March 7, with analyst Chris Welsh,we talked about the long and winding road to his dream destination, a Major League town. He's anxious to see Cincinnati, because the Reds hired him through Zoom sessions. He's heard glowing reports on Cincinnati from old friends Tommy Thrall, WLW-AM afternoon host Rocky Boiman and former Xavier basketball coach Pete Gillen, with whom he does college basketball.

Credit Courtesy John Sadak
John Sadak did Wilmington Blue Rocks baseball games on radio with Matt Janus.

Sadak and Welsh also will do the Reds-Royals game 3 p.m. Wednesday, March 10.  Hall of Famer Barry Larkin joins the Reds TV team on Opening Day, 4 p.m. Thursday, April 1.

Here's what you need to know about the Reds new play-by-play announcer:

SCOUTING REPORTS: "The biggest thing that Tommy made sure to underscore to me was: You're going to a great baseball town," Sadak says. He was calling Wilmington Blue Rocks games when he met Thrall, then radio voice of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

"Gillen said Cincinnati was just an awesome town, especially to raise a family. He said Cincinnati is the greatest town he's ever lived in, and he's coached in Hawaii, at Virginia and Providence, and he grew up in New York."

Credit Courtesy John Sadak
Sadak did TV play-by-play for the Chicago Bulls.

IMPRESSIVE RESUME: Sadak has nearly 15 years of minor league baseball experience from the Low-A Lakewood (NJ) BlueClaws; the Advanced-A Wilmington (DEL) Blue Rocks; and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (PA) RailRiders. He moved to Delaware in 2006 for the Blue Rocks, from where he commuted to radio games for Westwood One and telecasts for Fox, ESPN, CBS Sports Network and Chicago Bulls telecasts. Since 2012 he has done baseball, football, basketball, ice hockey, soccer and lacrosse play-by play for CBSSN.

In 2019, he did 16 fill-in radio play-by-play on some New York Mets games on their flagship station, WCBS-AM in New York.

And he's been the voice of Princeton's men's basketball and the University of Delaware women's basketball teams – at the same time!

"There was a stretch when I did 200 plus – and sometimes 250-plus events a year – for about 10 years, until my last full season of minor league baseball in 2017," he says.

Credit Courtesy John Sadak
John Sadak interviewing University of North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams for CBS Sports.

ROAD WARRIOR: "For a long stretch I did two Division I basketball teams simultaneously – Princeton men's basketball and Delaware women's basketball. It meant some crazy driving. Delaware could be in at VCU in Richmond on Thursday, and them I'm at Dartmouth for Princeton, and then I've got to drive back to James Madison for a noon tip on Sunday.  I really enjoyed it, and I think I got better because I did a ton of games."

Before flying to Arizona Wednesday, he drove 4-1/2 hours Monday to the University of Connecticut to call a women's basketball game, and then drove home. He'll also do some NCAA basketball tournament games later this month, for a seventh straight year, on Westwood One. But he can't call the women's Final Four on radio April 2 and 4, as he's done since 2015, because it conflicts with his full-time Reds job.

NO PLAY, NO PAY: "I went almost eight months with no work and no income (last year). It wasn't super fun. My last game was the Patriot League championship in Hamilton, NY. Boston University beat Colegate. I was scheduled to work the Big Sky tournament that weekend, but that was canceled before I even got on a plane. And in another day or so the entire NCAA tournament got wiped out. It had a major financial impact for me.

"On the TV side, according to what was printed, everyone got paid – all the technicians and everybody. But radio just doesn’t have the revenue that television does. If you don't do games, you don't get paid. So I got nothing.  And I normally did some spring college events – lacrosse, college baseball. That all got annihilated."

Credit Courtesy John Sadak
John Sadak broadcast the women's NCAA basketball Final Four 2015-19.

JOB SEARCH: "I wrote every MLB team and most teams in the NBA, and largely got no response. I knew it would happen because I've done it many times before. Most teams don't even respond … Months later, my agent heard the Reds were soliciting for applications, that the job was open. He put in my tape and I didn't hear anything for a while. The first of week of January he called and said, 'How would you like to interview for the Cincinnati Reds television job?' He had spoken with FSO, and they were at the interview stage. It went pretty rapid fire."

GREAT DUDES: "I think what helped was that the demo tape I submitted was me doing a college game for CBS with Danny Graves, who had some part-time roles with the Reds (broadcast team), a known commodity to them, and a good dude. I had only done a small handful of games with Graves because CBS doesn't do much college baseball. Oddly enough, the other analysts I did games with include Todd Coffey, a former Red, and also a great dude.

Credit Courtesy John Sadak
Sadak with former Reds manager Lou Piniella in 2017.

DREAM DEFERRED: When Sadak got the Reds job, he said "calling Major League Baseball games full-time has been my career and life goal for many years."  But his first ambition was to play the game.

"I watched a lot of Yankees and Mets games on TV growing up in New Jersey. For baseball it was Gary Thorne, Phil Ruzutto and Al Trautwig. To be honest, as a kid I wanted to be a pro athlete.  I didn't think as a kid about being an announcer.  I never listened with that ear like, 'This is what I want to do.' I wasn't that kid who was doing hockey (broadcasts) into a tape recorder."

LEFT OUT: "I was terrible. I played little league baseball – second base, right field and left out, normally. I'm pretty sure I led the league by a lot getting hit by a pitch. I played every sport for years, and I liked it. I played recreation league flag football, basketball, tennis and soccer. I was a JV hockey player, and played rec league hockey. I played hockey the most, and that's where I probably was the most competitive, until I tore up an ankle playing roller hockey. Then I got into high school theater."

HOMEWORK: Sadak only saw a couple of current Reds when they were coming up through the minors – infielder Mike Moustakas outfielder Mark Payton. 

"I need to learn as much as I can about this year's team, in a fairly compressed time, along with kind of registering as much as I can about the team's history," he says.

"The greatest challenge for any announcer, even the incumbents," is to get to know all the players and coaches. That's much more difficult during a pandemic, when the media can't be in the clubhouse. So they do Zooms with players and manager David Bell every day. "You've got to treat (the Zooms) like being in the clubhouse. It's important to be on that Zoom every day ... That's how you begin to try to build relationships until, ideally, we're back in the clubhouse at some point."

John Sadak
Credit Courtesy of Fox Sports Ohio

MONITORING THE GAME: When the regular season starts, Reds TV announcers will describe away games by watching TV monitors from Fox Sport's downtown Cincinnati studios. He has some experience doing that in the past year, calling some NFL games for Westwood One and more than a dozen college basketball games remotely off monitors.

"The hope is perhaps we could be able to travel (with the Reds) at some point this year. But like the rest of the world during this pandemic, everything is day by day."

ROCKY ROAD: WLW-AM afternoon co-host Boiman made his football analyst debut with Sadak in 2012 for Westwood One radio, when Alabama blew out Arkansas. They also did some ESPN3 games together, before Sadak went to CBS Sports Network.

"He made me as good as I could possibly be at the early stages of my career, when I wasn't very good," Boiman says.  "He's super prepared. He knows the material and the story lines, but he doesn't force the information into the game.  He lets the play on the field dictate his call. John Sadak was born to call games. He loves the craft, the process. He's paid his dues. I couldn't be more excited for him."

PAIRED WITH LARKIN: Sadak calls working with Larkin, the Reds' Hall of Fame shortstop, for 81 home games this year, a "pinch-me moment that I don't think you can top. It was hard to top the idea of calling Major League games, and then you add in a living legend? And you can pick his brain? You can watch the game alongside him? And learn through him? It's just incredible."

Welsh or Jeff Brantley will do road TV games, plus radio games with Thrall.

OPENING DAY: "I knew Opening Day was a big deal, but had no idea how large-scale a celebration it was until I watched an archived telecast of the parade on YouTube and saw some of the wide-angled still images of how immense the crowds are. I hope that kind of event and energy can return sooner than later."

NEW HOME: Sadak is looking forward to learning more about Cincinnati. He has been here for Westwood One to do Bengals games and the Division II basketball championship game from Northern Kentucky University. Until this week, he had never been to spring training. And he's not seen the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum.

"I'd like to spend multiple days there (at the Hall of Fame). I'd like to make it part of my routine, depending on the time and day of the game, to find a way at least once a week to go for a little bit of time, and just kind of focus on certain sections and eras."

Sadak, his wife and daughter will move here this summer. He doesn't plan on moving again.

"I'm in this position, hopefully, for the rest of my working life. That's not entirely my decision. I need to perform, and I hope I will be able to. But that's my intention, that's my plan."

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.