Since he was 10, Tommy Thrall dreamed of being the play-by-play voice of a Major League Baseball team.
His 25-year dream, delayed four months by the coronavirus pandemic, finally comes true at 6:10 p.m. Friday on WLW-AM and the Reds Radio Network.
"It's crazy that it's finally about to become a reality," says Thrall, 36, who joined the Reds radio team last year for Marty Brennaman's 46th and final season. "Sometimes you have to pinch yourself that it's real."
So he's been pinching himself for four months, waiting for the Reds to play?
"That's right! No question. It really made you think: Is this going to really happen? Or is it just a dream? There was a lot of wondering if this would ever happen. It was obviously kind of weird coming back from spring training, when everything was shut down."
After calling minor league games in Kansas City, Myrtle Beach, Quad Cities and Pensacola, the Missouri native will be at the microphone with Jeff Brantley for the Reds-Tigers game opening an abbreviated 60-game season in an empty Great American Ball Park.
Friday's opener will be a little different from the way Thrall envisioned as a kid in Smithville, MO, about 30 minutes north of Kansas City, or doing his first paid baseball gig as a Northwest Missouri State University sophomore calling college baseball on radio. (Here's a link to my introductory profile last year, "Meet Tommy Thrall, Reds New Radio Announcer.")
"With the Reds expected to be as good as they are, and to go through what has the potential to be a very exciting season -- perhaps without fans there -- is going to be very unique. It's just one of those things where you have to adjust and roll with the punches," he says.
"Part of the excitement of being involved in live sports is the excitement of the crowd. You're going to miss that kind of energy which helps you build the drama in a moment, to the radio listener as well," he says.
So Thrall will bring his own enthusiasm and adrenaline to the broadcasts. He learned that from broadcasting minor league games on weeknights in almost empty ball parks.
"I've certainly done some minor leagues games where it sounded like there was nobody in the stands… like the times you'd do a midweek game in Mobile. You learn not just to rely on the crowd for your energy. You immerse yourself in the game, you really focus in on the action on the field, and you kind of tune everything out.
"With the piped-in ambient noise that they're using, I think it definitely feels a little bit more natural with the crowd noise. We'll have to experiment with it, just like the teams will have to experiment with it and figure out how it's going to work," he says.
Thrall was 35 when added to the Reds radio booth last year. Brennaman was 31 when he debuted with Joe Nuxhall in 1974.
"To follow a guy like Marty Brennaman is quite the honor. It's really, really humbling and hard to put into words, to be honest with you, because of how special it is. I'm just privileged to be part of it," he says.
He's been ready to go for months.
"I was really excited about this season for a lot of reasons. Obviously the personal reason, but also working with Jeff, seeing this team come together and being excited for this team. This group is very promising," he says. In the winter, the Reds added outfielders Shogo Akiyama and Nick Castellanos; infielder Mike Moustakas; and pitchers Pedro Strop and Nate Jones.
He's spent the last four months exploring Greater Cincinnati. From his Mount Adams apartment he walked to Downtown, Over-the-Rhine, Eden Park, Covington and Newport. He drove to Devou Park, Alms Park and various neighborhoods. Normally players and club employees only have a couple of days between spring training and Opening Day to get settled.
"I'm a positive person overall, and I try to make the most out of any circumstance. This (delay) gave me a chance to see the city in ways that I ordinarily wouldn't have the chance to do it. In the spring it was so beautiful, with all the foliage blooming. I was just stunned at the natural beauty of this city all over. It was really cool. I got to see the city in a whole different way."
Ironically, he sounded like Brennaman, a Virginia native who in recent years has often said that people who grew up here don't fully appreciate Cincinnati's many offerings.
"I've been stunned. It is a really, really great place with a lot of unique architecture and character. The more I see this city, the more I love it," Thrall says.