Pittsburgh Pirates’ Announcer Joe Block reflects on his first year with the team – what he’s learned, loved and looking forward to in 2017.
It’s been a little over a year since the Pittsburgh Pirates added Play-by-Play Announcer Joe Block to their roster and it’s safe to say that he’s settling in well. We caught up with the amiable 39 year-old, who boasts a soothing voice, bald head and vast knowledge of two decades of Hip Hop and R&B hits, as he prepared for his second year in the Bucs booth.
Block’s connection to Pittsburgh is well-known. His wife, Bethany, and her family hail from the Steel City. So, when a spot opened up on the Pirates broadcast team in 2016 it was as if fate stepped in. It created the perfect path for Block, who was calling games on the radio for the Milwaukee Brewers, to move into a bigger role as a broadcaster as well as move his family, which now included daughter, Nancy, closer to a doting extended family in the Keystone state.
“We have loved our daughter being around family,” he said of their move to Pittsburgh. “Everyone lives in the South Hills. We’re about 20 minutes or less from one another.”
And while that was, he admitted, the biggest draw of his new job, it’s just one of many things that he enjoys about working for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“The camaraderie with the other announcers, our TV crew and my bosses has been a delightful bonus,” he said.
Yes, no matter what some misinformed viewers of the Pirates’ recent play-by-play guys versus analysts Spring Training broadcast might have thought – these guys all really do have great affection for one another.
Block described his role as a play-by-play announcer simply. “I want to inform and entertain and add to fans’ enjoyment of the game,” he said.
His secrets to doing that?
“Be prepared, don’t rush or force anything and have fun.”
He spends several hours getting ready for each broadcast. For a night game at home, his workday starts at about 1 p.m., he related. Once at PNC Park, he spends time studying and reading up on the teams until Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle has his daily meeting with the media (which is around 3 p.m.).
“Then, I’ll chat with our guys and the opposing teams in the clubhouse and/or on the field during [batting practice],” he said. “Once I’ve got a good mix of stats and info from reading and stories and info from the people involved in the night’s game, I eat dinner with the guys and get up to the booth, set up and do the game.”
Know your Audience
It’s his ability to mix the cerebral with the human element that has fans, the sabre-metric nerds and “baseball story” aficionados alike, hanging on his every word.
“I’d like to think I offer a balance, because stats alone don’t tell the story. I like to use them to quantify an assertion. Without context, they’re just a number, but if I can add life to a stat that maybe folks have heard about but don’t understand, that can add to their enjoyment of the game, in my opinion,” he said.
Knowing your audience and how to connect with them is the key to hosting an engaging broadcast. Block works to educate listeners/viewers and is especially skilled at teasing stories and baseball knowledge out of his co-workers, analysts Steve Blass, Bob Walk and John Wehner.
“It comes from a mindset that the audience doesn’t give a flying fig about me and my ideas all that often,” he said, wit and humility shining through. “It’s about the game, and those guys played at the highest level and our audience wants to hear their expertise.”
A Year with the Bucs
Block is the type of guy who thrives on information. And he’s accumulated quite a bit of it since joining the Pittsburgh Pirates January 30, 2016.
Most surprising to him is how the Pittsburgh Pirates grow their talent.
“I’ve always wondered how the Pirates have been able to maintain a highly rated and productive farm system while being highly competitive at the major league level. That just doesn’t happen often,” he said. “I think the Yankees and Dodgers are the other teams to have had top 10 records and farm systems over the past half decade or so, and of course they have more resources.” Block knows a little about that Dodgers system – he once served as their post-game radio show host.
His favorite memory from his first season came on a road trip to Nationals Park, when a young fan endured the highs and lows of being a Pittsburgh Pirates fan in an epic extra-innings spectacular.
“Four year-old Nick Golnoski from Ellicott City, Maryland, captured our hearts in that 18-inning game just after the All Star Break. He was so into the game — and credit his parents — they stayed with a four and two year-old for six hours!” he said. “MLB made a short commercial about his reactions and it captivated us all. That’s what baseball is all about.”
Reading the Team’s Tea Leaves
Someone who is so steeped in the team must have some good predictions for stand out players for the regular season based on Spring Training, right? No so fast, he cautioned.
“In spring, we guess who they might be and we’re almost always wrong!” he exclaimed. “But one thing to keep in mind, there are 60-plus participants and almost all of them will factor into the Pirates’ season at some point. Many will be inconsequential, but there are always surprises who play bigger than expected roles,” he added.
The biggest storyline for 2017 isn’t surprising to Pittsburgh Pirates fans who watched the team struggle last season.
“As with any team, so goes starting pitching, so goes the team,” he said. “Last year, it was inconsistent and so was the team. In three previous years, it was a major strength and the Pirates excelled.”
A Bright Future
Just six years into his career calling MLB baseball games and Joe Block is already gaining a reputation as a broadcaster’s broadcaster with people inside baseball circles heaping compliments on him. He scoffed at any mention of individual accomplishment, letting his dry wit seep into the conversation.
“This business is entirely subjective and while someone thinks an announcer is very good, someone else wishes they’d move to Wyoming and become a cattle rancher. I can’t tie a lasso, so I’m here to stay,” he said.
Humble as he may be, with all of the praise he’s received since coming to Pittsburgh, it would be easy for Block to focus firmly on his future as a broadcaster. He relies, instead, on insight from the Pittsburgh Pirates’ skipper to keep him grounded.
“Clint Hurdle famously says to keep your mind where your feet are,” he said. “Just trying to be mindful of the present and enjoy this experience every single day.”
Featured photo courtesy Joe Block/RootSports Pittsburgh