On Jan. 16 at approximately 4:30 p.m. ET, Pawtucket Red Sox broadcaster Aaron Goldsmith was in the latter stages of an offseason work day at McCoy Stadium when his cell phone rang. It turned out to be the greatest phone call of his life, the phone call that every broadcaster in Minor League Baseball dreams about.
He was going to the big leagues.
Come Opening Day 2013 Goldsmith will be the No. 2 radio broadcaster for the Seattle Mariners, partnering with longtime play-by-play man Rick Rizzs. The 29-year-old's ascension to the Majors, after just six seasons in the independent and Minor Leagues, is especially significant in that it marks the Mariners' first full-time radio hire since the passing of Hall of Fame broadcaster Dave Niehaus shortly after the 2010 campaign. (For the past two seasons, Rizzs has been partnered with a rotating assemblage of broadcasting peers and former Mariners players).
This is an exhilarating and overwhelming situation, to be sure, but Goldsmith is prepared to the extent he possibly can be.
"There's nothing to do but buckle up the seatbelt and get ready," he said.
Many call, few are chosen
Most fans are aware of the long odds that face players as they attempt to reach the Major Leagues -- approximately 10 percent will at least attain that proverbial "cup of coffee," while far fewer are able to carve out a productive multi-year career. But such a scenario, daunting as it may be, pales in comparison to the challenges faced by broadcasters, who are perennially competing for a perpetually miniscule (and at times non-existent) number of job openings.
The talented and fortunate few who are already in the Major Leagues often hold their positions until retirement or death, and many of the jobs do become available go to former players who provide star wattage via their new role as color commentators. This is simply the reality, and as a result, many eminently capable broadcasters with nothing left to prove are left to languish in the Triple-A ranks (or lower).
There are 160 teams in Minor League Baseball, and Goldsmith was chosen out of 160 applicants for the Mariners job. Coincidence or not, there's no doubt that he was competing against many of his colleagues in the world of affiliated baseball.
"Any Minor League broadcaster is going to be automatically attracted to an opening in Major League Baseball, it doesn't matter where it is because Major League Baseball is the ultimate goal. You can't be picky," the St. Louis native said. "It behooves us all to send our stuff in, and then once the process gets going, you learn about whether or not it will be the right fit."
Goldsmith sent the Mariners a tape which he thought contained "good examples of my voice quality and the way I describe the action" and the team was impressed enough to schedule a wide-ranging phone interview that lasted for an hour and 15 minutes (and which included Rizzs, among others). This led to an all-day in-person interview, which doubled as Goldsmith's first trip to Seattle.
"That [interview] was the first time I learned that, from my vantage point, the Mariners would be a terrific fit," he said. "The atmosphere was very welcoming, and I started to cross my fingers that much harder. I could not have been more thrilled that they wanted to bring me on."
Utilizing the springboard
Goldsmith, a history major who later attended a broadcasting school in the evenings, started his career in 2007 as an intern with the independent Gateway Grizzlies. This led to similar positions with the Cape Cod League Bourne Braves and the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs, and he then landed a full-time job with the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders. He spent two seasons as the team's manager of broadcasting and public relations before transitioning to Pawtucket for the 2012 campaign.
Like anyone working their way through the Minor Leagues, Goldsmith refined and improved upon his skills as he moved along. He cites Eric Nadel of the Rangers and Dave O'Brien of the Red Sox as his primary influences, remarking that "they have different styles, but I could listen to either of them 162 nights a year.
"Eric is the best I ever heard at describing the baseball game. No one makes you feel like you're at the ballpark the way he does, and that's a quality I'll try to emulate the best that I can," continued Goldsmith. "And with Dave O'Brien, the big plays just sound bigger when he calls them. He's so easy to listen to, and I really gravitate toward his style."
Goldsmith got to know Nadel during his days with the Rangers' Double-A affiliate, while in Pawtucket, he was located firmly within the Red Sox nation of which O'Brien is a part. In fact, the position that Goldsmith landed with the PawSox prior to the 2012 season was perhaps the most highly sought broadcasting job in Minor League Baseball at the time. The team has long held the reputation of being a springboard to "The Show," as seven former PawSox broadcasters are currently working in the Major Leagues (including Gary Cohen of the Mets, Don Orsillo of the Red Sox, Dave Flemming of the Giants and Andy Freed of the Rays). Meanwhile, Goldsmith's Pawtucket predecessor Dan Hoard now serves as the radio voice of the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals.
While PawSox employment doesn't guarantee a big league job (No. 2 radio broadcaster Steven Hyder quit this past December under less-than-harmonious circumstances), Goldsmith was well aware that the promotion to Pawtucket had put him on the cusp.
"To say that I had a target on my back might be too strong, but when you're doing play-by-play in Pawtucket, you know that on any given night someone's tuning in because they know that you're supposed to be the best," he said. "You've really got to bring it, always making sure that you do your homework."
Goldsmith says the Pawtucket front office, led by president Mike Tamburro, takes pride in the team's remarkable track record.
"When I was hired, they asked straight to my face, 'Are you going to be the next Minor League broadcaster to get a job in the Majors?' I nervously laughed, I had no idea, but it turned out that I was," marveled Goldsmith. "Most teams also want the broadcaster to sell tickets, run the website and write press releases. The PawSox? They want those things too, but their primary objective is always to get somebody who has a real shot of going to the bigs."
The new reality
Receiving the news of his promotion was surreal enough, but that was just the beginning. The following week Goldsmith was flown to Seattle and officially introduced to media and fans at the Mariners' annual FanFest, an event which gave him his first real taste regarding what to expect of the 2013 season.
"It was a whirlwind. In addition to finding a place to live I was doing radio and TV interviews and attending luncheons," he said. "No one knew who Aaron Goldsmith was, nor did they have any business knowing. The Mariners did a nice job of holding my hand, putting me in front of the right people so that the fans can get to know me."
The fans will have 162 such opportunities in 2013, as Goldsmith's vocal cadences and descriptive powers will become a daily part of their existence.
"[The Mariners] decided that now was the right time to bring in a full-time guy, and I'm that guy," he said. "They have such a great history of baseball on the radio, and to be part of it means more than I could have ever imagined. I'll never get to the level of Dave Niehaus in terms of skill and popularity, but it's like I told Rick [Rizzs]: If I aim for that level then I'll still end up in a good spot."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog.