A few things to know about Tommy Thrall, new Reds radio announcer: He loves baseball and he loves radio. He grew up listening to Hall of Famer Denny Matthews call Kansas City Royals games.
And Reds fans have heard him a couple times – during spring training a year ago, and last September when Marty Brennaman was off hosting his annual golf classic.
After seven years working for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, the Reds former AA affiliate, Thrall joins the Reds Radio Network for Brennaman's 46th and final season. He will be the secondary play-by-play announcer and postgame host, filling the role previously done by Jim Day (2018) and Jim Kelch (2010-17).
Before Thrall makes his 2019 Reds debut on Saturday's spring opener, he will be a guest on Cincinnati Edition at noon Thursday. Call in and talk to him! (After the show airs, I will put up a link to the interview here.)
When I set up the interview, he seemed truly humbled and honored by the Reds' opportunity.
"The fans really have been spoiled with some great broadcasting in Cincinnati. Their expectation level is pretty high. So I just hope when I get a chance to settle in, I can do a serviceable job and keep things on track," said Thrall, who turned 35 Feb. 17.
He doesn't think of it as an audition for Brennaman's seat in 2020.
"I can't. I don't want to get caught up in all of that. I just want to sit back and enjoy what's going on in front me. To be part of this season with the Reds, and with Marty's departure, it's pretty special. So I really want to take all that in and enjoy that. And when I get a chance to broadcast, I just want to do the best job I can."
Thrall grew up in Smithville, Mo., about 30 minutes north of Kansas City. He attended Northwest Missouri State University, where he called football, basketball and baseball games, and was a radio DJ playing classical music or oldies. He was the first and only voice of the Blue Wahoos since 2012. While in Pensacola, he did freelance TV sports reporting and radio play-by play for University of West Florida football and basketball.
The Reds offered Thrall the secondary play-by-play job in December, a month before Brennaman announced his retirement. Jim Day will do only TV this season.
"This is something that I wanted to do since I was about 10 years old. I don't really remember ever wanting to do anything else," says Thrall about being a radio baseball announcer.
RAISED ON RADIO: "I really think I kind of liked radio first, and then not long after I fell in love with baseball… I remember thinking: What a cool thing. You get to watch baseball for a living. And with how much I loved radio, I thought, boy, that's a great gig. You get to combine two things that you love to do: radio and watching baseball. And travel around. That's got to be awesome."
DOING REDS GAMES LAST SEPTEMBER: "It was a tremendous feeling. When I looked out the stadium and saw just how big it is, that's when the reality sank in. Once the game gets going, the game is the game, but there are a couple more decks on the stadium, and about 35,000 more seats. It was just really cool, and a great experience. And getting to work with Jeff Brantley was a blast. He made me feel comfortable. He made the whole thing easy for me, which was extremely nice, because naturally you're going to be a little nervous. Certainly there were some nerves there. But he settled those, and we had a great time."
INFLUENCE OF HALL OF FAMER DENNY MATTHEWS: "Denny Matthews was the radio voice I listened to every night. I remember listening to games as a kid, and one night Bob Hamelin hit a home run for the Royals late at night, in extra innings. It was so cool because ... the radio broadcast was so vivid that you felt like you're there. That always stuck with me. That's one of the important things: Making people feel as though they're at the game even though they're not.
IMPORTANCE OF CROWD NOISE: "Crowd noise -- ambient noise -- is one of the most powerful things you have at your disposal as a broadcaster, because it's amazing how much the crowd reaction can tell a story in the background. And sometimes you have to make sure you don't get in the way of that…
"I was once doing a game -- it might have been Opening Day the first year for the Wahoos (2012). There was all this energy around, the stadium was packed, and the game came down to the last out. Our closer's in the game. The crowd is on their feet. They're going nuts. It was a full count. And I said:
"The crowd will tell you what happens. The pitch --
"And the crowd went nuts. And once they started to die down, I said: "By the way, he swung." Because you could tell they won by the crowd reaction. And I thought the only thing they need to know is: Did he swing? Or was it looking?
"You know, some people get wrapped up in calls, these big moment calls. I've told young broadcasters that my philosophy has always been that it's never the call, or what you say that makes it. It's the moment that makes a call great. And you must make sure as a broadcaster that you don't get in the way. You give the moment its justice, as long as you say what happened. Just don't get in the way of it."
WHY NORTHWESTERN MISSOURI STATE?: "My first Friday on campus, as a college freshman, I was announcing a high school football game on our student radio station. And I was pretty much on the air the next four years. It was a blast. For somebody who was a broadcast junkie, I couldn't get enough."
"At one point, I remember doing a high school football game on a Friday night; and on our NPR station I had the late-night shift from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. playing classic music; and getting up and having the early shift at the commercial station in town, KNIM-AM, playing oldies; and then I went over to the football stadium and broadcast for our student station the Northwest Missouri football game. All in about 24 hours."
DID YOU KNOW THE REDS JOB WAS POSSIBLE WHEN YOU DID THE SEPTEMBER PADRES SERIES? "Not really. I think you take every opportunity that you can, as a chance to showcase what you can do. So you have to treat it like that. But no, I didn't know what the future had in store at all."
HOW DID YOU GET THE JOB? "This was something the Reds presented to me…. They called and offered the job in early December while I was covering the Alabama AAA state football championship game at Auburn. It was about 20 minutes before kickoff, and I was in the back of the Auburn press box. So I tried to be as quiet as I could while getting offered a chance to broadcast in the Major Leagues. I was trying really hard to control my emotions so I didn't create a scene there at Auburn."
THE SPECIAL BOND BETWEEN BASEBALL AND RADIO: "Without any question, that's one of the things that make baseball so unique. Because baseball is so constant, it's every night in the summer. That's really special and unique to baseball, the connection that broadcasters have with the fans."